Series Week IX (The Great Brain): The Great Brain Is Back

The Great Brain is Back, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1995 by Dial.

Tom D. Fitzgerald—better known as The Great Brain—has turned thirteen, and pretty Polly Reagan has put a spell on him. But when it comes to swindling his younger brother J. D. and all the other kids in Adenville, Utah, Tom hasn’t changed a bit. From thinking up the slippery soap deal and the numbers game to outwitting a band of murderous outlaws, The Great Brain is at the top of his form. And one thing’s for sure: life is more exciting when he’s around!

Rating: 2/5

The Great Brain is Back was published posthumously, cobbled together from the late Fitzgerald’s writings. It is the last Great Brain book (obviously) and ends fairly well for being so—Tom goes off to high school in Pennsylvania, leaving John and Frankie bemoaning how boring it will be with him gone. It’s a good end, though in my opinion, the series ended best after book 5, when Tom reforms. The last three books weren’t anything special.

This book starts with perhaps the meanest trick Tom has ever pulled on his brother. John is occasionally at fault for falling for Tom’s cons, but the first chapter of the book details Tom maliciously and purposefully undermining his own brother. I became so irritated that I almost stopped reading, to be honest. It ends with Tom getting his just desserts, though, so that at least makes up for it, but the ending pales in comparison to the trial at the end of The Great Brain Reforms, mostly because there’s no indication that Tom will actually change.

Perhaps it’s because this was published after the author died, or perhaps it’s because even Fitzgerald was getting tired of these books, but this book (and the two before it) most prominently displays how quickly this series fell apart after having to explain away Tom’s reform. There’s no longer any lessons, no development—just story after story of Tom swindling people and mostly getting away with it. It’s always clever, occasionally heroic, and sometimes amusing, but there’s nothing connecting the stories to each other anymore. Tom has become a villain in his own series, in a way, because all the good things he does pales in comparison to the heartlessness he shows his friends and brothers.

I’ m glad I revisited this series, but now I’m glad it’s over. Tom was becoming too annoying for me to enjoy the books, and all of the lovely learning and development was tossed aside for more of the frustrating shenanigans. I would recommend to stop reading the series after book 5.

Series Rating: 3/5

Ranking (best to worst, or most favorite to least):

1. Me and My Little Brain

2. The Great Brain Reforms

3. More Adventures of the Great Brain

The Great Brain at the Academy

5. The Great Brain

6. The Great Brain Does it Again

7. The Return of the Great Brain

The Great Brain is Back

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None. 

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s

You can buy this here: https://amzn.to/2Ba3Jah

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July 2018 Books

Around the beginning of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. There you can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge.

Books read in July: 18

I’m pleasantly surprised I managed to read that many books in July, as it was quite a busy month for me.

Reading Goals

           

Newbery Medal Winners: 2 (64/96 total)

Dear America: 1

Reading Stats:

                            

Non-fiction: 2

Adult fantasy: 1

Rereads: 2

Children’s: 2

Middle Grade: 2

Young Adult: 2

Publisher Copies (or Christian fiction): 4

Favorites:

                                            

 

June Books

I’m introducing a new feature on my blog: around the first of each month, I’ll take a look back at the books I read from last month. Since most of the book reviews I post on this blog are from books I read months ago, this gives all my readers a good opportunity to see what I’ve been recently reading, as well as how my reading goals are going!

As a side note, you can see every book I am currently reading on both the Goodreads sidebar on this blog as well as on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out the progress of my 2018 Reading Challenge (I’ve set a goal of 160 books and am almost 3/4 of the way done).

Books read in June: 26

June was a big reading month for me: school’s out and I’m not doing much work. This will probably be my biggest reading month of the year, as most months I’m lucky if I get half that number.

Reading Goals:

                                                                   

Newbery Medal Winners: 3 (62/96 total)

Dear America: 1 (17/43 total)

Reading Stats:

            

Non-fiction: 2

                                           

Adult fantasy: 3

Rereads: 6 (lots of rereads this month; four of which were the first four Penderwick novels, which I read in preparation for the fifth)

Children’s: 9

Middle Grade: 2

Young Adult: 3

Publisher Copies (i.e. Christian fiction): 1

Favorites:

                                       

 

 

Ranking The Hunger Games Movie Series

Right around the time the Catching Fire movie came out, I reviewed all three of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games books. Now, after Mockingjay Part 2 has been released, it’s time for me to talk about the movies! All three book reviews can be found on this blog, but I’ll link to them below for ease of access.

Spoilers for all three books and all four movies.

I’ll start out by ranking the books, since I never did that when I reviewed them.

1.) The Hunger Games

2.) Mockingjay

3.) Catching Fire

A lot of people do not like Mockingjay, but I happen to be one of the few who love it. You can read my reviews of the books to find more of my thoughts (linked above). I did notice something interesting, though, while I was thinking about not only my ranking of the books but also my ranking of the movies: my actual, technical ranking of the books very closely matches my ranking of the movies. So, let’s rank the books again, this time taking specific scenes and events in consideration rather than just having an average ranking:

1.) The second half of Catching Fire

2.) The second half of The Hunger Games

3.) The first half of The Hunger Games

3.) The second half of Mockingjay

4.) The first half of Mockingjay

5.) The first half of Catching Fire

By breaking it up into “halves,” roughly, there’s a lot more variance in this ranking. Catching Fire is now both first and last, while the other two books make up the middle.

Before I rank the movies, I’d like to quickly say that I think the movies are some of the best film adaptations of books I’ve ever seen, and some of the most faithful as well. They included mostly everything important and most of what they put in that wasn’t in the book only added to the world. More about that when I talk about each film.

Now, let’s take a look at how I rank the movies and see if you can catch the similarity with the list above. I’ll be giving them their full title to avoid confusion with the books:

1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2.) The Hunger Games

3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Let’s talk about each movie in turn, in the order I ranked them.

1.) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Why is this my favorite movie of the bunch? Well, let me point out my book ranking. It’s my least favorite overall, but the second half of it is my favorite when dividing the books up into halves/sections. And the first half of the book is precisely why it’s my least favorite overall, because I absolutely despise the first half. It’s boring, it drags on and on, and it makes the pace choppy. I can’t stand rereading Catching Fire precisely because I know I have to get through that awful first half to get to the better second half, and I’m not the type of person to only read the last half of a book.

So, let’s go back to the movie now. And what the movie does that makes it not only such a great book adaptation, but also probably the best “movie” out of all of them, is that it almost completely cuts out the first half of the book. Gone are the two kids in the woods, gone is the electrified fence dilemma, gone is the interesting but tedious back-and-forth with Katniss and the Distract 12 residents. What’s kept in is minimal: Snow’s visit, Gale’s whipping, and whatever else is needed to carry the plot. What it adds is great: the intrigue behind the scenes, visual depictions of Katniss’s PTSD, more of Plutarch, who is given a life and dimensionality in the movies that is not seen in the books, and small conversations and interactions. And that’s why it’s my favorite movie, because it cuts out all the boring parts and adds important things to other scenes to keep that information in there.

Yes, the movie has its flaws. The transition from a first-person book to a third-person film means that some things are lost in translation: a truncation of the tributes’ plot, confusion over why the morphling saved Peeta (it’s never fully described how all the tributes, beyond the ones in the arena with Katniss, are in on the rebellion plot), and some other things that are best done in a book rather than in a movie. But that’s something to be expected and does not, in my opinion, cast a very large shadow over the other parts of the movie that are phenomenal.

2.) The Hunger Games

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s the first movie and it’s incredibly faithful to the source material–perhaps the most faithful of all of them. It leaves almost everything in and the things it cuts is minimal. And it adds scenes with Snow and Caesar Flickerman that add to the world of Panem. It’s visually lush and beautiful, the music is great (as it is in all the movies), and the suspense is carried throughout the movie well. The shaky cam is irritating, but understandable in a movie targeted for teenagers that’s incredibly violent at heart.

My main quibble with this movie is that the transition from a first-person narrative to a third-person film completely distorts Katniss’s motives. My friend recently read the books for the first time, after seeing the movies, and told me that everything was so different when reading solely from Katniss’s perspective. It’s not just her voice that’s lost in translation, but her motivations and thus a part of her character. I’m not sure how many people understood, just from watching the movies without having read the books, that Katniss was faking her relationship with Peeta in order to get help for him, that she was playing to the audience. A vital side to Katniss’s character development is distorted, and so in a way Movie-Katniss is different from Book-Katniss. They’re not the same Katniss. And that’s okay, but it still is prominent in my mind when I watch the movie, thus spoiling my pleasure of it slightly.

3.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

This is the most brutal of all the movies; appropriately so, since Mockingjay is the most brutal of the books. Once again, the movie leaves out some things from the books, but I didn’t mind: the movies have already communicated Katniss’s PTSD well enough without having to show her descent into drug addiction. Most of what they added I also enjoyed, such as the conversation between Gale and Katniss after Prim’s death, something that was much needed in the book. Gale’s character is much more sympathetic in the movies than in the books, in my opinion, but that conversation did a lot to make viewers not necessarily feel sorry for Gale, but to feel sad at the destruction of a lifelong relationship. “I was supposed to protect your family, Katniss. I’m sorry.” Those words do a lot to make me feel more for Gale as a character than I ever did in the books (and in the first three movies, for that matter).

Other things I enjoyed from the movie: the musical cues (especially right after Coin’s death), Jennifer Lawrence’s facial acting during the scene when Coin is getting them to vote on a Capitol children Hunger Games and you can see Katniss’s realization that this woman has to go, the trust shown between Haymitch and Katniss when he agrees because he trusts her, the truncating of the epilogue (though it wasn’t really necessary; the movie could have ended on “You love me; real or not real?” “Real” and it would have been a fine ending. Movie-Katniss didn’t need the epilogue as Book-Katniss did), and the overall effect of the movie. It’s grim and brutal and it punches you in the stomach at every chance, but you are feeling what Katniss is feeling and that is immersion.

This movie’s not ranked higher because it came after the disappointing Mockingjay Part 1 and it’s simply too brutal and grim to really be a stand-out, or stand-alone, film. I would watch Catching Fire by itself; I could not watch Mockingjay Part 2 by itself without watching the first three again.

4.) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The movie makers must not have realized what a fantastic thing they did by cutting most of the first half of Catching Fire out because they decided to make the first half of Mockingjay its own movie. And unfortunately, they only highlighted the weaknesses of the first half of Mockingjay. Almost nothing suspenseful happens in the first half of Mockingjay, to the point where the film had to create its own action (by showing the rescue of Peeta) to get some conflict going. But showing the rescue of Peeta led to a completely made-up scene between Katniss and Snow, which made an already long movie drag on forever.

Speaking of “long movie,” when I saw this movie I could have sworn it was 2 1/2 hours long. I walked out of the theater and realized that it had only been about 2 hours long. That is not a good thing when a move feels half-an-hour longer than it actually is.

I did like some aspects of the movie: the cheekiness of the propaganda movies, the inclusion of the Hanging Tree song, and the shock of Peeta attacking Katniss (which is where the movie should have ended, in my opinion). But most of the movie dragged on, stretching out the little conflict there was and trying to generate more through a rescue attempt that simply made me more irritated at how Gale was being portrayed. Mockingjay Part 1 is definitely the weakest link of the film series, which is a shame because it also drags Mockingjay Part 2 down with it.

So there you have it! Those are my thoughts about the Hunger Games movies. Again, like I said at the beginning, problems aside I do think these are some of the best and most faithful film adaptations of a book/book series made today. I’m sad that they’re over, but excited that I can relive the world over and over again through both the books and the movies’ vision of the world of the books.

Series Week VII: Wrap-Up Of The Dark Is Rising Sequence

Series Rating: 4/5

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence is beautifully mythical, with a dash of British adventure that reminds me of C. S. Lewis and E. Nesbit. Cooper strikes a nice balance between the mythical aspect of the series and the more “natural” aspect so that they flow smoothly from one to another, although at times things can get a little strange.

One thing that puzzled me throughout the series was Cooper’s attempts to distance her symbolism from its obvious place in Christianity. She does this by brushing aside the significance of the crosses in the Signs, by having Merriman state that there’s no “second coming,” and by making everything centered on the importance of man and the charity and good that stems from man, rather than from the Light. What was so puzzling to me is that she ultimately fails to distance the two, even with her not-so-subtle attempts: she has a line in Silver on the Tree which talks about hope not lying dead in a tomb and has blatant symbolism lying in the Signs that can drive back the Dark and in the entire concept of the Light versus the Dark, good versus evil–with good ultimately winning and completely driving back evil. If the series was a person, it would be basically saying, “No, no, don’t read too much into this. Crosses don’t mean Christianity. Look, this is how the Light and the Dark actually work,” but while saying that, it’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Look at all the symbolism that’s rooted in reality and Christianity!”

Puzzlement (and quibbles about the representation of the Light and the Dark) aside, I do really enjoy this series. I would probably enjoy it even if it didn’t have that odd back-and-forth between “this is Christian symbolism” and “no, this isn’t Christian symbolism.” The books are beautiful fantasies that, yes, are slightly odd at times, but have a nice grounding with the presence of Simon, Jane and Barney. And although they all read a little similarly and Will and Bran sound much older than they are, the books stand out as unique, classic fantasy for their audience.

As always, my favorites, ranked from most to least:

1.) The Grey King

2.) Silver on the Tree

3.) Greenwitch

4.) The Dark is Rising

5.) Over Sea, Under Stone

Next week I’m back to my normal schedule of Tuesday and Thursday, with fairy tales on Friday!

Wrap-Up of Redwall

Series Rating: 3/5

It was a long journey, but I finally made it through all 22 Redwall books! Here’s a series that follows that old rhyme about the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead: when it’s good, it’s really good (or at least pretty good), but when it’s bad it’s horrid. Jacques recycles plots and character types like mad, resulting in stale and predictable stories, sometimes with forgettable heroes and useless villains.

However, there are also times when Jacques spins a wonderful yarn, with engaging characters and subversions of his own formulas. He also can pull at your heartstrings with the deaths of sweet, innocent characters (the most notable example is Rose) or the deaths of awesome warriors (Clary and Thyme!). The entire Redwall series revolves around a strict Black and White, Justice Prevails system, which can be quite refreshing–and makes the books with more “grey” characters stand out from the rest,  in a good way, as subversions of his own theme. His best books are those that have most or all of these good things, coupled with a focused plot and a decent villain.

I must admit, though, that it’s not necessary at all to read all of the Redwall books. The top four on my list below, and the first book Redwall, are the ones I would recommend reading from the series. Redwall and/or Mossflower are sufficient to get a look at what the series is about, but the other three feature the most unique (in my opinion) plot and characters (Taggerung); the most heart-wrenching story (Martin the Warrior); and the best Invasion/War plot (The Long Patrol). I’ll even go a step further and name the books to read for specific categories:

For Best Puzzle Quest, read Pearls of Lutra (although Redwall has a good one).

For Best Villain, read The Sable Quean.

For Best Redwall Story, read “In The Wake of the Red Ship” from The Legend of Luke.

For Best Female Warrior, read Mariel of Redwall and The Bellmaker, because even though I didn’t like Mariel much, Mariel and Bellmaker also feature Hon. Rosie, who is awesome.

These are all entirely based on my opinion, of course.

Speaking of opinion, here is my list of favorites, from most to least:

1.) Taggerung

2.) Martin the Warrior

3.) Mossflower

4.) The Long Patrol

5.) Rakkety Tam

6.) The Sable Quean
7.) The Bellmaker

8.) The Legend of Luke

9.) Pearls of Lutra

10.) Marlfox

11.) Redwall

12.) Mattimeo

13.) Lord Brocktree

14.) Doomwyte

15.) High Rhulain

16.) Loamhedge

17.) Triss

18.) Mariel of Redwall

19.) Outcast of Redwall

20.)The Rogue Crew

21.) Salamandastron

22.) Eulalia!

Thanks for sticking with me for this enormously long series!

 

Ranking the Pixar Films

I absolutely love Pixar. Their movies are some of my favorite movies of all time, and definitely some of the best computer-animated films of all time (the How to Train Your Dragon movies, especially the second one, and some of Disney’s films are also on the list). I recently watched all of their animated films, in order, and decided to give them my own ranking. They’re loosely ordered from “most favorite” to “least favorite” but other factors affected my ratings, too, such as technique/animation, plot, setting, and story. Many of the middle films on the list (the ones with the 4 rating) are interchangeable.

What are your favorite Pixar movies?

1. Wall-E

Who knew a movie about robots with barely any dialogue (at least in the beginning) could be so charming and sweet? I absolutely love the opening music and the beginning exposition—the newspapers, holograms, advertisements, little snippets like that. The nonverbal exposition completely matches the nonverbal nature of the (first part of the) film. The choice of music from Hello, Dolly! is utterly perfect; it embodies that element of nostalgia that just would not have been as powerful with a more recent film. And yes, Wall-E does not go home before he kisses the girl. 5/5

 

2. Ratatouille

The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar movie, but stylistically I think Ratatouille is superior. And it stands out even more after the lackluster Cars (the movie that came out the year before). It’s a film about food and cooking, but its simplicity is fleshed out into a wonderful story, with some beautiful scenery and great moments—like the rats taking out the health inspector and Chef Skinner. 5/5

 

3. The Incredibles

This may be my favorite Pixar movie. Not only is it a fun, action-filled superhero movie, but it also has a fantastic message on the importance of family and on not living in the past. We all have some sort of “Glory Days” of our own, but, like Bob, we have to learn not to dwell on them so much that we ignore the people around us. We need people, and we need family. 5/5

4. Brave

I think I might like Brave better if it wasn’t a rebellious princess story (and those who regularly read my blog know that I don’t like rebellious princess stories) and if the message was less generic. However, the animation is gorgeous (Merida’s hair, oh my goodness), and Queen Elinor is awesome. Walking through a room and making fighting people get out of her way, her hilarious time as a bear, and that fantastic bear fight with Mordu…definitely the best character. 4/5

5. Up

I know, I know, you’re probably wondering why Up isn’t higher up on the list. Let me just say, first, that Up has a fantastic story—it punches you in the stomach in all the right places, it makes you cry, it’s about family, letting go of the past and of unimportant belongings, and letting people into your life. It’s visually gorgeous and Russell is a gem. However, I’ve always found the premise of this movie a bit hard to swallow. It just feels unrealistic to me, and most of what happens in the last quarter of the movie is extremely over the top as to be farcical. 4/5

6. Finding Nemo

To be fair, I’m not sure if I like Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. more. I like the message behind Finding Nemo more (family, not stifling your children, letting them explore and figure things out for themselves, overcoming tragedy) but I like the world of Monsters, Inc. more. Anyway, one of the things that stands out the most to me in Finding Nemo is how colorful it is. It’s a visually beautiful movie, and the different character attributes of the different ocean species (especially the seagulls (Mine! Mine!)) are so memorable. It’s also a very quotable movie, with dialogue that just sticks in your mind. 4/5

7. Monsters, Inc.

This movie has a fantastic world as its premise. Building the concept of “monsters in your closet” into a literal world is amazing; the added twist of monsters actually being scared of children at heart is genius. The rollercoaster of doors is still something that I wish to see implemented in real life at an amusement park. Also, Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski makes this movie. And Boo is adorable. 4/5.

 

8. Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 takes everything good about Toy Story and expands it, making a hilariously fun, rootin’ tootin’ adventure that has toys running through airports and driving cars. The Star Wars references are slightly random, but extremely memorable, and the Toy Story films in general are very good at poignancy and with the overall theme of friendship and sticking together. This movie, I think, is really when Pixar starts hitting its stride. 4/5.

9. Toy Story 3

One thing I noticed while watching this is the precision and exactness of the animation for each toy. The toys move exactly how you think they would, and I think this is especially noticeable during Ken’s “fashion show.” As for the plot, the prison break is hilarious and so is Spanish Buzz; the ending makes me cry; and it’s a great way to end the “trilogy” with the continued theme of “getting back to Andy” with the addition of a message about growing up. This might have ranked higher on the list, but I like Toy Story 2 better. 4/5

10.  A Bug’s Life

For some reason, A Bug’s Life seems to be on the bottom of people’s lists when referring to Pixar films. It always seems to be referred to in some negative fashion. I don’t understand this, personally. As a child, I watched A Bug’s Life more times than I can count. The soundtrack is so wonderful and memorable to me, and the world of the film itself is so much bigger than that of Toy Story’s. The film is also hilariously funny and has some quite memorable bits of dialogue, in my opinion. 4/5.

11. Toy Story

I don’t think Toy Story was as revolutionary as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but it was still the first computer-animated feature length film (I think) and received a ton of critical acclaim, and its story and animation makes Pixar stand out. It also shows how much further animation in this style has come since 1995 (the year the movie came out). The plot is fairly simple, but the story itself is heartwarming and the scenes with Sid continue to be some of the creepiest I’ve seen. 4/5

12. Monsters University

The main problem I had with this movie was that it was completely unnecessary, not to mention Pixar actually retconned Monsters, Inc. A whole movie based around whether or not Mike Wazowski is scary? Come on, Pixar. You can do better than that (Okay, yes, I understand that it’s also about how Mike and Sully became friends, but even that’s not necessary, especially since it just led to retconning Monsters, Inc.). I did, however, love the animation, the college references, and the awesome moment when Mike pauses before opening the door to see his roommate and it’s not who the audience is expecting. 3/5

13. Cars

Cars isn’t a bad movie, but there’s definitely something missing when you compare it to the movies that come before (and after) it. It doesn’t have that extra oomph that movies like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles have. I do, however, love the ending. It’s always nice to see arrogance turn into compassion. 3/5

14. Cars 2

I can’t even begin to describe how boring, mediocre and just plain bad I thought this movie was. This is not a Pixar-worthy story. Sure, it has its fun moments, but the simplicity of the message just screams “kids movie,” while the rest of Pixar’s films are much more nuanced. I actually found this movie painful to watch. 1/5

Series Week VI: Wrap-Up Of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci

Series Rating: 4/5

Diana Wynne Jones has created a wonderful world (technically worlds) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, and she utilizes it in different, fresh ways for each book that just give the whole series such great charm. I have yet to meet a fantasy author like Jones, with her ability to create complex plots, unique magic, and interesting worlds in each book she writes. She can also be hysterically funny if she so chooses.

Besides worldbuilding, plots, and magic, Jones also has the knack for making remarkable, memorable characters. As much as I don’t like it, Witch Week has quite a cast of characters, and they don’t blend together; they all stand out as separate and unique, which sometimes can be quite a feat with “ensemble” characters.

Charmed Life, next to Howl’s Moving Castle, is THE Jones book for me. The rest of the series is good, but Charmed Life was, I believe, the first Jones book I read and it is near and dear to my heart because it introduced me to the world, and to Jones, and to many other books that I love, all of which I will most likely review on this blog eventually because I enjoy them so much.

Here are the books, ordered from my favorite to my least favorite:

1.)    Charmed Life

2.)    Conrad’s Fate

3.)    The Magicians of Caprona

4.)    The Pinhoe Egg

5.)    The Lives of Christopher Chant

6.)    Witch Week

I’ll be back to my regular schedule with Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde tomorrow!

Series Week V: Wrap-Up of Harry Potter

Whew, sorry for the long wait! But finally, here it is: the wrap-up of Harry Potter!

Series Rating: 5/5

Let me just reiterate how much I love this series. I think doing these reviews just made me more appreciate the genius of Harry Potter. I took a philosophy class this semester, and apparently there is a lot of ancient philosophy in the Harry Potter books. Who knew? It’s basically the hero myth with magic. There are also some fantastic themes all throughout, especially in the seventh book, and these are possibly some of the best themes in any children’s book–or ANY book in the children’s to YA range, if I may so boldly state.

Plus, the plots in the first four books are so incredibly complex (especially for children’s books) with such attention to detail, worldbuilding and foreshadowing that it really just elevates the books above and beyond a lot of other children’s books. The character development is also superb, especially Harry’s and Neville’s. And have I mentioned the worldbuilding? Rowling created an entire society and culture for these books. That’s pretty impressive for a children’s book.

Favorite characters: Snape, natch. Also Luna and Neville.

I could also go into my favorite ‘ships (that’s “relationships”), but that’s heading into fanfiction (and potentially strange) territory, so I’m going to let this one slide and just say that, although 95% of Harry Potter fanfiction is awful or just plain weird, 5% of it is amazing (also, the only reason I’m bringing this up is because I was very involved in the Harry Potter fanfic community in high school). There are awards and things given out for HP fanfiction, you guys. There are entire sites dedicated to HP fanfic. It’s that legit. People care about good HP fanfiction. If you want to tread into the world of HP fanfic, be careful. Try Googling phrases like “best HP fanfic” and narrow it down from there depending on what you want to read. I’ll throw out a recommendation: if you want to read a fantastic Snape-adopts-Harry (like I mentioned earlier, fanfiction is so great for potential. Also, Rowling’s world and story is so completely good for things like AU, or alternate universe stories, things like “What if this didn’t happen?” or, alternatively, “What if this happened?”) fic, try A Year Like None Other by aspeninthesunlight. If the notion of Snape adopting Harry skeeves you out, see if this wins you over. Or not. Actually, it’s probably better if you don’t get pulled into the world of fanfic. You might never come out.

Favorite books, from most to least:

1.)    Prisoner of Azkaban

2.)    Half-Blood Prince

3.)    Goblet of Fire

4.)    Deathly Hallows

5.)    Order of the Phoenix

6.)    Sorcerer’s Stone

7.)    Chamber of Secrets

Yes, I enjoyed OotP more than SS. OotP is superior in writing and development.

Coming Up Next: Something new! I’m planning a new “series,” of a sort, for the blog that is less book-review and more application/opinion. Stay tuned for the first “Why You Should Read…” coming up hopefully next week! Then it’ll be back to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Series Week IV: Wrap-Up of the Underland Chronicles

Series Rating: 4/5

Reading through these books again was fun. I spotted a few things on this read-through that I missed before, such as foreshadowing and other clues. The prophecies are always interesting to read and to try to decipher, and the fact that they always mean something beyond what is taken at first-glance means that the reader is figuring things out along with the characters. Most of the action scenes were well-done in terms of excitement and suspense, and there were a few scenes that were downright chilling.

Gregor and Luxa are probably the two characters that developed the most throughout the series, although both delved into stupid and annoying territory far too often when they should have known better. Their relationship at the end of the series is not something I enjoyed reading at all, and I thought it was unnecessary and completely wrong–Gregor and Luxa should not have had any sort of romance at all, not at their age. However, I thought that their connection was well-developed and so it made their parting at the end so much more difficult to read about.

The overall issue of war and hatred that the series deals with has some good points to it, and Collins delivers the message quite well throughout the books, but the ending laid it on way too thick, diving deeply into “preachy” territory, and left the characters in a sort of limbo where the reader does not know how things will be resolved and finished. Moving the family to Virginia would have been the perfect ending for this series–but the fact that Collins refused to answer that question gives the series an unfinished feel.

As always, here is my book ranking of this series:

1.)    Gregor and the Marks of Secret

2.)    Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods

3.)    Gregor and the Code of Claw

4.)    Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

5.)    Gregor the Overlander

It was really easy to rank these, all things considered. It helps that there are only five books in the series as opposed to, say, ten or thirteen.

Coming Up Next: I will be taking a couple of weeks off, but I will be back in September with The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima!