A(nother) Review: This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This Is Going to Hurt is an unexpectedly politically charged memoir from Dr Adam Kay. It starts with Kay being struck off the medical register – this is the story as to why he’s being struck off.[1]

 

Kay tells his story in diary form, all entries from his diaries at the time – although I suspect some entries have been omitted – with footnotes[2] added for context. [3]

 

Each section of the book takes us through Kay’s career in obs and gynae[4] job by job and brings us stories that are touching, bizzare and sometimes downright hilarious.

 

Some of the entries are only a few lines long, but often hysterical, others are longer but all of them are illuminating peeks into medical life that the likes of Holby City and Casualty[5] can’t quite deliver.

 

When I say hysterical, I cannot express how much I laughed at this – from the mildly amusing game of spotting the minor Harry Potter characters[6] to the exploration – literally! – of the different objects that people insist on inserting into themselves.[7]

 

There is only one problem I have with this book.[8] But I can see the reason why, I can begrudgingly accept their use here.[9]

 

Sadly, there is a reason why – other than sheer exhaustion – that Kay decided to leave the profession and the book gets less and less funny as we start to move through the years. I won’t spoil anything, but the book ends with an open letter addressed directly to Jeremy Hunt.

 

As a layman, this book seriously brings into focus the challenges our medics face, and how much we as a society take for advantage.

 

I was going to say that next time they go on strike, they would get my full support[10] but actually they shouldn’t have to go on strike. They shouldn’t be working 90+ hours. We should be spending more money on our NHS to help support these people. These heroes.

 

Sorry[11] for getting all political on there, but you should count yourselves lucky, the first version of this blog was mostly a political rant.

 

This Is Going to Hurt is published by Picador on 7th September 2017[12]

[1] The truth is, he resigned back in 2011, he hasn’t practiced for six years and his qualifications have lapsed. All of that is revealed in the opening paragraphs, so no spoilers, I was just trying to create a sense of intrigue.

[2] That’s these things at the bottom of the page

[3] Something I’m experimenting with on this blog post – and for this blog post only. Don’t worry.

[4] Vagina doctor

[5] Don’t get me wrong, I love the ‘Holby Cinematic Universe’ – a phrase that Marvel uses, and that I have borrowed – but they don’t quite always ring true. There can’t be THAT many gay doctors. Can there?

[6] A trick Kay uses to avoid mentioning real names, thereby avoiding lawsuits

[7] My favourite the person who put a condom on a remote control.

[8] The footnotes. I hate them. In most books. I mean they’re seriously distracting, I tend to lose track of what I’m reading each time I turn the page and see there are footnotes – because I’m then skimming ahead to see where the footnotes appear.

[9] The only use of footnotes, I actually liked were in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde – a series set in an alternate version of Swindon (really) in the 1980’s, where literature is alive. Thursday Next ends up using a device called a footnote-phone to have conversations. In this instance, the footnotes actually progress the story.

[10] Not that they didn’t last time, but I’ll mean it more this time.

[11] Not sorry.

[12] Buy it.

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A(nother) Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Do you have a book case? Most people do in some form or another.

 

And I’m assuming because you are reading a blog about a book, then you do too. (Unless I’ve tricked you into coming to this website by adding in some random tags like ‘Beyonce’ or ‘Zoella’) Whether you have one book or a hundred, or twenty thousand (Jacqueline Wilson claimed this last week), you’ll have somewhere in your home that is the home for books.

 

But how many of you us ever re-read a book? I’ve got around 200 books on my bookshelf. All of them there for different reasons, they’re either signed books, or someone special gave them to me, or they remind me of a friend.

 

Or they’re just a very special book.

 

The truth is, apart from the Harry Potters last year, I don’t re-read any of them –  which kind of makes you ask… why do we keep them?

 

Maybe it’s the memories the bring back when we look at them on the shelf. Maybe it’s to show off to our friends… or maybe we know one day we’ll need them again.

 

I was recently in the mood for a book I could trust. I’d just finished Little Deaths which… I didn’t love. I found it hard going. It took me two weeks, when most books take me on average around five days.

 

In the middle, I read Tinman by Sarah Winman which I loved. So, I was left in a position where I was going to find it hard to find a book to match up to the one I’d just read and loved, but I needed to find that I knew I would enjoy more than the other one I’d just read.

 

So I turned to my book shelf for a book I could trust. And that’s where I found The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, a book that I hadn’t read in over twelve years.

 

For those hat don’t know, the plot concerns Henry DeTamble who first meet his wife, Clare, when he is 29 in the library he works in. She first meets him when he travels back in time and lands in the field outside her family home.

 

Henry is a time traveler, not through choice, but through a random genetic defect. He can’t control it, nor does he know the cause. Largely, he travels back to places along his own timeline.

 

This is the story of the Doctor and River Song long before Steven Moffatt came along, and told in a much simpler way. The trick, is not to follow the time traveler, but to follow time itself.

 

Niffenegger tells us the story of Henry and Clare in a largely chronological way, often this means that the Henry we see is both older and younger than the previous and subsequent versions of Henry that we’ll see.

 

At it’s heart, this is a love story, an exploration of fate versus free will. Like all good books, it explores that one emotion that binds us all. The one that defines all of our lives. Love.

 

And it’s just so effortlessly perfect, and simple, and sad and happy, and everything all at once. There are sometimes, just one too many peripheral characters to keep up with, but this is an inevitability when you’re exploring the whole lives of two people.

 

Re-reading The Time Traveler’s Wife was like a warm hug, like seeing an old friend. It sounds cheesy, but these are clichés because they happen.

 

If you’ve never read The Time Traveler’s Wife then it would always have been at the top of my recommendation list, so go read it now.

 

If you have read it before, maybe it’s a trip back in time (geddit?) and read it again? Alternatively, give your bookcase purpose again, visit it and pick up another book that you love, one that you trust, but haven’t read in years and rediscover the reason why you decided to keep it hanging around in the first place.

A(nother) Review: Tinman by Sarah Winman

Sometimes we need healing.

 

We talk about the healing of physical injuries, of taking time to rest up, to avoid possible infection.

 

I sit here, a rainy Wednesday night, a glass of red wine held in a hand that sports a magnificent red welt and an ever shrinking scab. The result of careless handling of a pan of hot water a week ago.

 

It sploshed. I swore.

 

In the week since, it has drawn concern, it has stopped more than one meeting at work as the injury becomes clear. It is obvious. And so is the advice dispensed from every would-be doctor.

 

We don’t talk about the healing of the soul, of the mind. Not really.

 

I only mention this, because today, I needed healing.

 

Not the scald on my hand, which will heal without my intervention. It may scar. It may not. To me, it’s sort of irrelevant. It’s skin. It’s part of me, but it’s not me.

 

Right now, I am emotionally, physically, mentally exhausted. It is my fault. I’ve not been looking after myself – I’m not only burning the candle at both ends, but I’m burning it in the middle as well.

 

I’ve been pushed and pushed myself too far, both in work and socially. All of this, for little old introverted me, is too much. The fear of letting anyone down, of making anyone’s life harder has all but crippled me.

 

So, today, through the post at work, I receive a copy of Tinman by Sarah Winman. I’m excited. I’ve been dying to read it since learning of it’s existence back in early January. Five weeks or so ago, but it feels like an age.

 

Winman herself told me of the premise, and I wanted it there and then. Opening that package today, I realised it was exactly what I needed. A treat. Something I had been looking forward to. I could sit with this book, something I knew I would enjoy and just shut out my world, my life, and take refuge in someone else’s a for a short while.

 

Taking some time for me. That sounds quite trite, quite… 90’s American self-help (“remember, you’re you”), but sometimes we need that.

 

Tinman is the story of love. Of first love, and loss. The story of Michael, Annie and Ellis. It is the story of healing.

 

At a little under two hundred pages, it is but a snapshot into their lives. We stand on their doormat and glimpse in at their home, we don’t see everything, but gosh does that glimpse make us feel we know them.

 

By page thirty four, I was Instagramming a line from the book (the modern equivalent of underlining, of highlighting):

 

He staggered up and felt so much space around him he almost choked

 

By page forty eight, I was on the edge of tears. In fact, Winman took me to the emotional edge, and left me there for the rest of the book.

 

That’s a hell of a talent to have you feeling those things by that point. Most books haven’t even got started by then. For comparison’s sake, at page forty eight Arthur Dent has only just made it into space (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Harry Potter has only just learnt he is a wizard (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). The latter, a famous plot point in a short book, that somehow manages to pack a lot in.

 

And there’s Sarah Winman, making me cry. Like I’ve known these characters for years. I don’t want to say too much… In short, early on, Annie sends Ellis off to find ‘him’.

 

You think you know who ‘him’ is, but then things start to become unclear. Maybe it’s Michael, maybe it’s someone else. I’m left with a feeling that it might be his own self that Ellis is looking for.

 

Tinman is simply a beautiful book, writing that draws you in. Short elegant sentences that are more than the sum of their parts.

 

I want company, I don’t want company.

 

It is desperately sad, each of the three characters representing a different kind of heartache. You wish things were different, you’re sort of glad they’re not…

 

Sometimes we all need healing. My hand. Ellis’ heart. Your stress.

 

That might take the form of a bandage for your hand, closure for your broken heart, or something to help you switch off and mentally de-clutter.

 

For the first two, I can’t really help, but for the latter, for those time when you just need to switch off and delve into something ‘other’, escape your own life and lose yourself in someone else’s. Sometimes all you need is a good book.

 

And this – pardon my French – is a fucking good book.

 

Although, you may have to wait… Tinman by Sarah Winman is published on the 27th July 2017 by Tinder Press.

 

If you’re nice, or if you need healing, I might lend you a copy.

My Top 10 Books of 2016

 

About this time last year I revealed my Top 10 books of the year (check what they were here). I enjoyed doing it so much, that I’m going to do it again this year. One little rule – I’m excluding all the Harry Potters because otherwise my Top four would be dominated by him,.

 

Like many TV clip shows at the end of the year, you’ll have seen most of this before, but there is also some brand new content to keep you interested – as well as the drama of a countdown.

 

We’ll start – as is often traditional in Top Ten countdowns – at Number Ten…

 

  1. This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

 

A story about the construction then the subsequent demolition of the relationship between Daniel and Claudette. We witness all the moments around the big arguments and the big decisions, and the characters are richer for it. The ending seems inevitable, but it makes it even more satisfying when we get there.

 

  1. The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley

 

A deeply mysterious book, one that describes the cold, wet countryside of England so well, that I feel cold even thinking about it now. What’s it about? It’s hard to describe. A pilgrimage of sorts to the eponymous Loney, an attempt to cure the protagonist’s brother. But it has an ending that stays with you.

 

  1. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

 

A retelling – or in my case, just the telling – of the story of Lizzie Borden. A brilliant piece of writing that presents the facts of the case, plus some suppositions to help the reader come to their own conclusion to what happened on that August day. Fascinating and creepy in equal measure. Definitely one to keep on the bookcase for a re-read.

 

  1. Seven Ways We Lie – Riley Redgate

 

A bit of a guilty pleasure, and am a bit surprised to see it so high up my list for 2016. It’s a fluffy and throwaway story about an American high school and a rumour that rockets around its corridors. I found it very funny, and a great bit of escapism from some of the heavier fare I usually read.

 

  1. Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon

 

One of two non-fiction books on the list…  It’s a book about mental illness, specifically Bryony Gordon’s, but also about YOURS because it’s hard to read about Bryony’s experiences without comparing and contrasting with your own. Some bits make you feel better, some bits make you feel worse, but you’ll come out of this book knowing yourself a bit more (gosh, that sounds American). If you read this and don’t recognise yourself in any of it, then you’re lucky – but hopefully, you’ll understand the rest of us a little bit more.

 

  1. And I Darken – Kiersten White

The tale of Lady Dracul, a take on Vlad the Impaler. A Game of Thrones style epic that pulls you into the politics of a country a million miles and a million years away from where you are. I’m looking forward to reading more books in this series.

 

  1. The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

 

A tough one – because this is real life. My biggest problem when it comes to Non-Fiction, I either don’t care because there’s no sensible narrative (spoiler, there is no sensible narrative in real life) or I care too much because ‘this really happened, damn it!’. This definitely falls into the latter – with the tragic story of a girl growing up coping with the result of a tragic accident involving her brother.

 

  1. The Stranger In My Home – Adele Parks

 

The only title on my list this year that I haven’t done a full review for, so here’s a mini one, right here.

 

I read this back in August, and the main reason for not writing a review is that I didn’t know what to say that I’ve not said about Adele before. This is her first contemporary novel since The State We’re In, which is one of my all-time favourites (And FYI, I’m still waiting for a movie adaptation?), and it tells of a couple who learn that their only daughter may in fact not be theirs.

 

Is everything as it seems? Tense in places, it builds to a wholly surprising but satisfying ending. This is my favourite thing about Adele’s writing. You’re sure you know where it’s going, yet you know there must be something else to it, and there is always something else to it, but until it happens you have absolutely no clue what it is. The clever bit, though, is that it makes perfect sense.

 

This is Adele’s take on the domestic noir genre that The Girl on the Train spawned, but there is more weight to this, more investment in the characters and much less reliant on a cheap twist. Currently only available in e-book, it’ll be released as a real book in January

 

  1. Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

 

A book that starts off as normal as any other, but soon descends into gothic horror. It blends the contemporary world with the ritualistic world of the past and slowly builds it from a calm acceptance to a complete breakdown of civilisation that leaves both hero and anti-hero in a state of shock.

 

  1. Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

 

I called this way back at the beginning of the year. The sheer poetry of the writing alone was enough to make me fall in love with it, but the characters and plot drag you along with it. There’s no more that can be said that I haven’t already said. Just go and read it.

 

 

 

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

There are stories that we all know, they’re woven into the fabric of our society so much that we can all recite a version of them at the drop of hat. Stories like Cinderella, Aladdin and Harry Potter.

 

(Ok, maybe just me on that last one)

 

Then there are stories that we all think we know, the kind that would have us smiling confidently if they were the beginning of a question on a pub quiz, but would then leave us completely flummoxed by the end.

 

Robin Hood for example, we all know what happens there right. Robin Hood lives in Sherwood Forest, and he takes money from the rich and gives to the poor and Tony Robinson runs about sporting a rather dodgy goatee. There’s a love interest as well – Maid Marian – and she… well something happens to her probably. Kidnapped or locked up.

 

Alan Rickman turns up as well at some point… and where exactly does the cartoon fox come into it?

 

If you’d asked me a week ago if I knew the story of Robin Hood, I would have sworn blind that I did, but now that I think about it, I actually can’t quite pinpoint all of the plot details.

 

Why am I talking about him? Only because I’ve just finished reading another book about a familiar figure whose story I thought I knew and I was fishing around for a comparable figure.

When I saw the rhyming couplet on the back of the proof copy of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, I immediately gave a knowing nod:

 

Lizzie Borden took an axe,

And gave her mother forty whacks

 

When saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one

 

 

I thought I knew the story of Lizzie Borden. A little girl (probably blonde with pigtails and pink dungarees) who went crazy with an axe and killed her family in some remote house in America. No one knew if she had actually done it, or was the sole survivor of the massacre.

 

Like I say, I thought I knew the story, but when I heard about Schmidt’s novel I realised I wasn’t all that certain.

 

I had, as it turns out, slightly misunderstood the story. I definitely would have lost points on that pub quiz.

 

Lizzie Borden was no young girl, she was in fact, thirty two.

Nor was she the sole survivor of a massacre – it was just (!) the double murder of her father and step-mother.

 

So, what is the story? I’m not sure I’m going to tell you. Either you know it already, in which case my explanation will be pointless, or you don’t, in which case reading the book will be all the more rewarding.

 

Schmidt clearly knows the story, both the elements that are known and those which are not. She uses a narrative split four ways between Lizzie, her sister Emma, their maid Bridget, and – as far as I can tell – the thoroughly fictitious Benjamin, a low-life thug-for-rent.

 

The fact that Andrew and Abby Borden are killed on the morning of the 4th August 1892 is no secret, and Schmidt uses that to her advantage, allowing her characters to split the storytelling – Lizzie and Emma’s viewpoints starting moments after the death of their parents, and Bridget and Benjamin’s viewpoints starting the day prior.

 

Straight away Lizzie is a thoroughly unreliable narrator and Schmidt’s writing is clever enough that even through her own internal monologue she never reveals whether she ‘done it’ or not.

 

Benjamin is a clever invention from Schmidt to help tie up some of the unanswered questions from the events of those two days (my ‘research’ on Wikipedia tells me at least) and Bridget is built up well to the point that you could believe she many have been the culprit.

 

It is Emma, Lizzie’s elder sister, however that is perhaps the most interesting figure. A sad figure whose life seems to have been wasted in service of her younger, spoilt sister. She almost certainly didn’t do it – unless a convoluted theory involving a well-timed thirty mile round trip has any legs – and has the hints of a happy ending.

 

That is until you read on Wiki that she actually died just a week after Lizzie – a fact that makes her life seem even more melancholic, tied so closely as it was through her younger years to Lizzie’s.

 

Nobody knows who killed the Borden’s – so how does Schmidt end the story?

 

The truth is – SPOILER ALERT – she doesn’t solve the mystery, but she gives the reader enough information and supposition to make their own mind up.

 

See What I Have Done is a masterpiece in storytelling, planting the reader as the ultimate (and literal) fly on the wall of a house that is beset with unpleasantness, both before and after the murders.

 

The incidents of those few days seen through the eyes of all four characters could seem repetitive, but Schmidt cleverly avoids that by allowing the readers to embody the characters and witnessing the events as if for the first time.

 

Perhaps the most imposing character throughout the entire book is that of the Borden house. Schmidt’s description of it is so vivid that it feels instantly familiar and suffocating.

 

See What I Have Done is an intriguing, claustrophobic novel that instantly made me itch to know more about these gruesome murders. It is clearly a subject that Schmidt knows a lot about, but she manages to avoid the pitfalls of showing off, and instead presents a fantastic take on a tale we all thought we knew.

 

See What I Have Done is published in Hardback on 4th May 2017

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince & The Deathly Hallows

I haven’t done much reading lately. I started reading a book while I was in Los Angeles in May and I wasn’t enjoying it.

 

After getting home, by the time I finally got around to starting to read again, it was three weeks later. I just wanted to read something that wasn’t going to test me, something that I knew I would enjoy.

 

So, I settled down to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Last summer I started re-reading the series, ready for my trip to see the stage-play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in October this year, and I have been periodically dipping into it since last June.

 

When I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I wrote that it was the book in the series that really opened up the wider wizarding world. I also spoke about how annoying Harry was as he started to go through puberty.

 

In Phoenix, Harry is still kind of annoying, but his anger here doesn’t feel out of place. He went through a lot during Goblet and so it feels completely justified. His arrogance is still present, particularly in his refusal to fully embrace the Occlumency levels, but equally Dumbledore is frustrating, in his absence, in his reluctance to share things with Harry.

 

The beginning of the book, as you might imagine following the events at the end of the previous book, is pretty bleak, and Rowling seems to know it. There’s a line about a third of the way through where Hermione is looking out of the window and says ‘here’s something that should cheer you up. Hagrid’s back’.

 

And though not my favourite character, my heart did lift at that moment. And I remember my heart lifting the first time I read it as well. Perhaps because of the absence of Dumbledore and the in-fighting between Harry, Hermione and Ron anything familiar is a welcoming sight.

 

Books 1 to 5 of the Harry Potter series are probably some of the books I am most familiar with. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows less so, mostly because I was eighteen and twenty respectfully when they came out. There was simply less opportunity for me to re-read the books when I became an ‘adult’.

 

So, reaching the end of Phoenix, I had to go into Prince and Hallows straight away to find out not what happened, but to remind myself how it happened. I read all three across the space of three weeks and it felt so good to be reading books that I enjoyed again, looking forward to picking up my book at the end of the day and not wanting to put it down.

 

I even woke up in the middle of the night worrying about Harry and Hermione while I was reading Deathly Hallows.

 

The last three books work so well together, like one huge book rather than just three big ones. They flow into each other well and Harry matures nicely into a character that you actually like, a great achievement for a character that comes close to being the worst character in the series during book four and five.

 

The last book neatly sews up pretty much every loose thread that had been left dangling from the previous six, even ones you didn’t know were loose. Every minor character gets a moment to shine, a shining example being Hermione saving Lavender Brown from Fenrir Greyback.

 

It’s a small moment, but the previous year, their relationship had been left frosty after Lavender went out with Ron, and Rowling doesn’t forget, she tidies it up, even with a small as interaction like that.

 

And yes… I cried at the end. It’s impossible not to.

 

For those wondering:

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix scores 4.1 out of 5 (same as Goblet of Fire)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince scores 4.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows scores 4.6 out of 5

 

What lets Deathly Hallows down? It’s *not* quite as funny as the previous books, and if I’m completely honest the epilogue set nineteen years later… I could do without. Nearly ten years after first reading it, I feel slightly better about it as a precursor to The Cursed Child but it still feels like a bit of a mis-step to me.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we’d started a new YA book club at work, and while we haven’t quite gotten around to the club part, I have now read the book.

 

And I Darken by Kiersten White boldly bills the lead character as the latest in a long line of heroines that includes Ellen Ripley, Elizabeth Bennett, Hermione Granger and Buffy Summers.

 

Books that make these sort of claims tend to fall into two categories, the vast majority of them are perfectly good books that are the victims of over eager publicists, or they genuinely are that good a book.

 

The latter are, unfortunately, rare. The reason good characters stand out so much, male or female, is because of their relatively small number among a vast sea of their merely adequate counterparts.

 

Telling your readers that this is the next iconic name in books is a bit like purposefully trying to write a tweet that goes viral. It should just happen naturally.

 

Having said all that, does Lada Dracul warrant being added to the list of slayers, spies and Scarlett O’Hara?

 

It’s a tentative ‘yes’ from me – and here’s why:

 

And I Darken is not just the tale of Lada – it’s also the tale of her brother, Radu (here’s mistake number one in the marketing – it’s not just for girls, Radu is as strong and compelling character as his sister).

 

They are the younger children of the leader of Wallachia, and he is absent from much of their early lives. However as they grow, he begins to sense something about them both. When it comes to leaving the country, he takes them with him, but ultimately has to leave them behind with the Sultan in order to safeguard his homeland.

 

Radu, younger, sensitive, but with a gift for charming people (you can see where this is going) starts to adapt, while Lada contrarian ugly duckling that she is resists, however they both befriend Mehmed, a boy they later discover is the son of the sultan.

 

And so we have our threesome. Every good story needs a trio of central characters be they Harry, Ron and Hermione; Kirk, Spock and McCoy; or Wakko, Yakko and Dot (the Animaniacs for those uneducated of you who need telling) – and And I Darken is no exception

 

Some of the peripheral characters are vague and forgettable, a trait that is unfortunate when a few of them pop up unexpectedly later on, causing me absolutely no degree of the intended surprise as I have no clue who they actually are – but our core characters are well defined, and not just our central threesome.

 

Plot wise the story is a little Game of Thrones-esque, a little hard to follow at times, but you get the gist, and understand all the important bits. There’s also some gratuitous nudity, although no dragons (SPOILER ALERT: Or are there? – that’ll make sense when you get to the end, it’s amused me).

 

I was surprised to discover that the book is largely based on true facts – Radu the handsome exists, albeit largely as a footnote in the story of Vlad the Impaler. Here our writer has taken some poetic licence, namely, taking Vlad and turning him into a teenage girl named Lada.

 

I know when I’m reading a good book, not only do I race through it, but I break my rules of how long I’m going to read for – and on this one, not only did I do that, but I also found myself desperately reading every part of the proof copy jacket to find out if any more were planned (yes they are, this is the first in a trilogy).

 

Does it live up to it’s promise? As I said at the beginning, it’s a tentative yes – I don’t believe anyone would have listed Buffy Summers or Katniss Everdeen great female characters of our time after their first outing, but the promise was there.

 

The promise is definitely there with Lada, but this is more than her. Radu plays a huge part in this book, sharing the narrative as equally with his sister. I await the subsequent books eagerly and hope that Radu continues to share this story with Lada. Together, the two of them could usher in the next big series in teen fiction.

 

And I Darken scores 4.1 out of 5 from me. It is published on 7th July by Corgi Books

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

 

Regular readers of my blog will know two things:

 

  • How important JK Rowling is to me (if you’re not clear on this then click here to read more)
  • Since the summer of 2015, I’ve been re-reading and reviewing the Harry Potter series.

 

(FYI – You can read the first three reviews by clicking these links: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

 

My plan was to re-read them all by October 2016 – which is when my mum and I are going to see the eighth story in the series – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

Of course, JK Rowling has gone and ruined my plan by choosing to publish the script of the play on Sunday 31st July (Both Harry’s and Rowling’s birthday fact fans)

 

Aside from causing me a lot of extra stuff to do at work, this means I now have two months less in order to complete the series.

 

It shouldn’t be a problem, but the complication is that starting with Goblet of Fire the books triple in size.

 

In my head I’ve always referred to Goblet of Fire as “The One Where They Stopped Editing Her” – when the books are lined up on the shelf, the jump in size is very apparent, so I found myself approaching this reading what ‘extra’ is in there.

 

If Goblet of Fire had been the same size as the previous three books what would they have cut out?

 

My initial thought was obviously SPEW, the society Hermione forms in response to the unfair treatment of house elves, since this is the biggest subplot that the film cuts out. I also remember being incredibly frustrated by it at the time I first started reading it.

 

But I started thinking about the point of it. There’s a line from the fake Mad-Eye Moody which says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the best way to get the measure of a man is to see how he treats his inferiors.

 

That’s an allegory for the central point of the Harry Potter books. Voldemort wants to rid the wizarding world of half-bloods and mudbloods. They are less than him, inferior.

 

It is telling that it is Hermione (the mudblood of our main group) that is the one to notice the injustice of the house elf situation.

 

In retrospect, the frustrating part of this plotline is that nothing actually changes. It’s not mentioned again in the subsequent books (to the best of my knowledge) and the situation doesn’t improve for the house elves – although it is often stated that the house elves themselves don’t want change.

 

I’m not sure how true that is. It feels like a loose thread to me, but maybe it’s one we’ll see developed in The Cursed Child nineteen years later.

 

So, is there anything else that could have been cut out?

 

The answer is probably, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Maybe some of the scenes in the pensieve didn’t need to be explored in quite so much detail, but the beauty of this book is the level of detail it goes into.

 

If Philosopher’s Stone was about introducing the wizarding world, and Chamber of Secrets was about expanding Voldemort’s story, then Goblet of Fire continues the expansion of the entire wizarding world that was started in the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

The detail and the plot really help set up where the series is going and for that it needs to be this big, what’s a shame is that in all those pages, there’s not an awful lot of room for character development.

 

As we travel from the Quidditch World Cup through each of the Triwizard Tasks right to the final climax in the graveyard where Voldemort rises again, it does just feel like we’re moving from event to event.

 

All three of the main characters are equally annoying throughout, from Harry and Ron’s stupid male pride to Hermione’s unfailing belligerence, it’s a good job we know these characters from the previous books, because going into this one cold, I can’t imagine that anyone would like any of them.

 

There is a little character development – this is certainly Hermione at the peak of her annoyance, and thankfully Ron’s dented pride doesn’t rear its head again until Deathly Hallows. As for Harry, the events at the end of this book certainly do change him, and he goes from annoying to just plain angry in Order of the Phoenix.

 

The stand out moment in Goblet of Fire are the final few chapters, from when Harry and Cedric Diggory land in the graveyard. SPOILER alert – Cedric’s death up to Harry’s desperate attempts to return his body to his family are pretty darn tear-jerking, especially considering we know what is to come.

 

Despite the lack of character development and the lack of humour (I honestly don’t remember laughing out loud at any point in this book, even Fred and George are too busy tied up in their own subplot to provide any light relief) it’s still a Harry Potter novel, which means it’s going to score highly with me – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire scores 4.1 out of 5.

 

I think going forward, I’ll think of this one as “The One Where They All Begin Puberty”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

There’s something about time travel, that I struggle to resist.

A good time-travel story is like a farce – in fact, I’m specifically thinking of an episode of Frasier named The Ski Lodge, which sees the characters going skiing for the weekend.

Both Frasier and Niles are hoping to get their end away, and the girls they’re with as well as the handsome gay ski instructor are all hoping for the same. The sad thing is that none of them want to sleep with the one who wants to sleep with them.

The episode works for two reasons. The first, a setting designed to allow the story to take place without hinder it (a large ski lodge with three bedrooms and interconnecting doors) and tight plotting, which results not in a flat sitcom performance, but a well choreographed dance.

The best time travel plots have to be like that as well. They contain plots that revisit the same scenes over and over again, viewed from a slightly different perspective, with the added danger of the characters running into a future or past version of themselves.

The plotting has to be tight and the setting has to be established, or else you risk running up with a mess.

That is exactly what you get in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – which before re-reading it I would have said was probably my favourite instalment of the Harry Potter series.

Now, having re-read it, I can tell you, it IS my favourite. The whole novel, short though it may be in comparison to the subsequent books, spends its time building up to the climax, the moment that begins at the point where Hermione, complete with a melodramatic lip tremble (I imagine) informs the boys that Hagrid lost the appeal for his Hippogriff Buckbeak.

From there, Rowling barrels through plot twists and developments that she’s had simmering along nicely, some since the first and second books, with a wonderful time travel section that I just adore.

However, my favourite part of the book, and maybe my favourite part of the series comes early on. Shortly after escaping the Dursleys and being put up in the Leaky Cauldron, Harry spends his last two weeks of the summer holidays in Diagon Alley.

It seems to me, that when Harry was looking for his happy memory in order to conjure his Patronus, he should have looked to that sunny fortnight in London. It’s the first moment of the series where we truly get a sense of Harry being happy, he is carefree and without responsibility.

In retrospect, it’s also the last time before the end of the series where it feels Harry experiences happiness, a true care-free time. It could be argued that his trip to the Quidditch World Cup (pre the Death Eaters arrival) in Goblet of Fire is a happy time for Harry, but it struck me as I was reading this chapter, how tense he seems to be when with his friends.

He always seems to have a responsibility to his friends, to be the middle-man in the sniping between Ron and Hermione. To downplay parts of himself to make them both feel more comfortable – one of the biggest recurring themes in the books is Harry feeling uncomfortable at having money when Ron doesn’t.

During his ‘holiday’ in Diagon Alley, the biggest worry Harry has is that his hair won’t stay flat. This wonderful little bubble only bursts when Ron and Hermione descend on the Leaky Cauldron.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is a turning point for the series. It marks the end of Harry’s more innocent years, but also fires the starting pistol for the rest of the series. It’s clear from the end of this book that the series is only going to get darker and more epic.

It’s no wonder that the Harry Potter hype that was starting to sweep the world really took hold after the release of Azkaban, it’s probably JK Rowling’s finest piece.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Earlier this year, I re-read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and have now progressed onto it’s sequel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

 

I’ve previously stated that my copy of Philosopher’s Stone was the oldest thing I owned, but actually, it strikes me as I begin writing this review that it’s actually a tie with Chamber of Secrets – getting them both for my birthday, shortly after Chamber of Secret was published.

I remember being slightly disappointed at the time, because CoS wasn’t quite as good as PS (two paragraphs in and I’ve resorted to one of those people who use acronyms), so it seems strange reading it all these years later from a different perspective

Chamber of Secrets shows a slightly more comfortable Harry, and actually it feels like JK Rowling is slightly more comfortable with the writing, flowing a little more naturally, and being ever so slightly more grown-up.

It’s also interesting how much in here sets the tone for later books. The first of Voldemort’s Horcruxes that would play a pivotal part in the seventh book is introduced and destroyed here, but also is the first clue that Harry himself is a Horcrux.

When Harry talks to Dumbledore at the end of the book about being able to speak Parseltongue, the older wizard implies that it was a gift from Voldemort himself.

Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure…

 

If he didn’t know before, Dumbledore surely realises at this point that Harry is a Horcrux and that one day Harry would have to die in order for Voldemort to truly be banished. As a reader knowing this, it may put a different angle on how Dumbledore behaves in subsequent books.

I think the reason I liked it less at the time was because, rather than a new villain, Voldemort was back in a slightly different form. As an eleven year old, it felt like a cop-out for the heir of Slytherin to be the same guy that caused all the trouble in the first book.

Later, around the time of books four and five, Chamber of Secrets felt the weakest, because in comparison to the others, nothing actually happens. There is no advancement of the story. Philosopher’s Stone had a confrontation with the real thing, and Azkaban had the reveal of Scabbers and introduction of Sirius Black, while Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix had the return of Voldemort and the beginning of the war.

In comparison, Chamber of Secrets was a meaningless romp, but in hindsight it sets up a lot of things that come into play in the later books.

All these years later, I’ve changed my mind, far from being one of the weakest books in the series, it may be one of the best.

There’s one thing I haven’t changed my mind about though: Dobby.

Can’t stand him.

Talk about ending on a bombshell.