Todd’s Review of The Second Messiah by Glenn Meade + GIVEAWAY

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As most of you know, the book reviews that I write for this blog are mostly for books that I’ve bought or Kim has gotten for me.  However, today is my very first review of an ARC!  Known as an advance reading copy, these books are given out for people to review before the book is published.  Based on the publisher’s description, I was very interested in reading this book.  I throughly enjoyed other comparable books, such as The DaVinci Code and other novels by Tom Clancy.  In short, I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

The story begins with a tragic car accident on a desert road near Jerusalem, where an archeologist couple, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Crane, are killed and two teenagers riding with them severely injured.  Additionally, their driver, a local Bedu man named Mr. Malik is killed, along with two occupants of an army truck that struck the Cranes’ car.  A mysterious scroll that the Cranes uncovered in a recent dig that was being transported in their vehicle is presumed lost in the ensuing car fire.  Twenty years later, we are again present at the site of the accident, this time following Jack Crane, one of the teenagers of the crash whose parents were the ones killed.  The other survivor is Lela Raul, who was working with the Crane family on the dig and became close friends with Jack.  Currently, Jack continues the work of his parents, digging in similar sites to the ones he grew up on and uncovering various ancient artifacts.  He maintains a small gravesite near the accident site as a memorial to his parents.

At the same time, we are introduced to John Beckett, a cardinal that is elected to the position of Pope after the previous pope’s death.  He is a dark horse candidate, brought in at the last second to put a halt to a deadlock in voting amongst the college of cardinals.  No one expected him to win, and what happens after his assention to the Papacy is even more astounding: he orders that all Church documents and secrets be made public.  Every record that the Church holds in its secret archives are ordered to be dug out and made public.  Beckett believes he is turning the Church back to its roots of a meager beginning, more of an open congregation as Jesus would have wanted.  However, Beckett has his own secret, one that if revealed would devastate not only the Church, but any hope he would have to hold on to his position as Pope.

Meanwhile, Jack is elated to have found a mysterious scroll in a recent dig that threatens to turn the entire religious world on its head with a revelation about Jesus himself.  However, before he can share it with the world, death again makes an appearance, with the sudden murder of Professor Donald Green, the head of the site that Jack digs on.  Additionally, the scroll is stolen.  Jack again meets Lela after he finds that she is currently an Israeli police detective, assigned to investigate the murder.  Lela informs Jack that he is currently the main suspect.  Jack decides to try to escape the dig site and investigate the scroll disappearance on his own.  He enacts the help of Green’s niece, Yasmin, as he tracks the scroll to a small church with a mysterious priest.  This is just the beginning of Jack’s journey, as he links up with Lela again to chase down the scroll and decipher its contents.  Additionally, he must dodge the attacks of Hassan Malik, out to avenge his father’s death in the car accident that killed Jack’s parents.  He misguidedly blames Jack and his family for the accident.  Will Jack and Lela be able to survive this barrage of attacks and suspicion?  Will Pope Beckett’s secret ever come to light?  Will the scroll’s contents ever be understood?

First off, I have to give Meade a ton of props for juggling so many storylines and keeping them straight.  The way he intertwines the threads and reveals the elaborate plot that runs throughout is amazing.  The seemingly separate storylines come together at the end for an explosive finish, and I was rapidly turning pages at the end trying to finish as fast as I could.  Additionally, speaking of fast pacing, the novel was structured in a way that always made it seem to move quickly and efficiently.  Meade writes multiple quick chapters, 142 in all.  While this may seem like a lot, it allowed Meade the freedom to remain with a particular storyline for a few chapters or quickly jump back and forth, creating cliffhangers that made me want to read more. 

There was little extraneous detail in the novel, as there wasn’t really any time for it with the multitude of characters to keep track of.  That is where this novel differs from some others that I’ve read in this genre.  Often, I read these action/adventure stories that include additional detail and cheesy references to the hero that make him/her seem less authentic.  However, there is none of that in Meade’s work.  Jack is an honest archeologist that is not invincible.  He is down to earth and just reacts to the extraordinary circumstances that he is placed in.  Most of all, Jack is believable.  It is that believability that made me happy to read through this novel.  Meade has a great hit on his hands, one that is definitely worth a read!

5 out of 5 stars

The Second Messiah by Glenn Meade
Simon and Schuster (2011)
Hardcover 496 pages
One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a copy of The Second Messiah  by Glenn Meade.  For your chance to win simply leave a comment in the thread below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight of Saturday August 13, 2011.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday August 14, 2011.  Giveaway open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck!!  Special thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me the book to review and giveaway!

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of The Godfather

Hello all and welcome back to another film Friday.  For the next three weeks, I am going to be reviewing the Godfather trilogy, which in my opinion is the greatest trilogy in film history.  Winner of three Academy awards: Best Picture, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay, this tale of family, mafia, and loyalty is considered to be a classic of the late 20th century.  I am ashamed to say as your esteemed film reviewer that I hadn’t seen any of the Godfathers until a month ago.  However now that I have, I had to review them!

The Godfather begins at the wedding of the Don Vito Corleone’s daughter.  Don Vito (Marlon Brando) is required to take requests from the wedding guests since it the Don’s daughter’s wedding.  Also at the wedding we meet his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), who is just home from fighting in World War II and is reluctant to take part in the family business; Sonny (James Caan), his eldest son who is a bit of loose cannon; Fredo (John Cazale), his middle son who is generally considered to be the weakest; and last but not least his adopted son and business lawyer Tom Hagan (Robert Duvall).  After a failed assassination attempt on Don Vito, questions of loyalty and power are thrust onto this family, and an unlikely candidate stands to hold the future generation of the family business.

Like I had previously stated, I am quite ashamed that it has taken almost 25 and a half years for me to see the Godfather films. However, I will say that it was definitely worth the wait.  Part one was a perfect introduction to the series and an all-around amazing film.  From the story, which is based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same title, to the acting and music, everything in this film screamed masterpiece.  The acting was superbly top-notch.  Not many films cast every role perfectly, but this film somehow did it.  Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, who is the glue that holds this family together, was unbelievable.  He is one of, if not THE greatest actor of the 20th century.  Every character he played he became, and this role was no different.  Two other standouts, were Al Pacino in his breakout role as Michael and James Caan as the hot-headed brother Sonny.  It was really interesting to see these two actors play brothers, seeing how different their characters were and how they portrayed the differences between themselves.  Al Pacino’s performance was much more quiet and reserved, which really worked for the character, as Michael is the cautious brother, the quiet thinker of the family who is also very apprehensive about being a part of the family business. On the other hand, Sonny acts off of his emotions making James Caan’s performance a lot flashier and louder.  How neither of them won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor is beyond me.

Francis Ford Coppola is a genius behind the camera.  He has a way of making even the smallest shot count in really making the film.  Whether it was a pinnacle moment of the film or just a scene which showed people walking or eating, Coppola really made that scene feel important.  Every scene in the film counts and the finale is really a culmination of the entire piece.  Sometimes in films, little things happen and the director throws them to the side and kind of forgets that they happen.  The finale of this film really showed the progression of the characters and the story, and set up Part II outstandingly.  You really understand each character’s motives and how they got to the point in which they did.

All and all, The Godfather is one of the very few films that actually deserves the title of masterpiece.  The acting, director, screenwriting, score, and everything else about this film is perfect.  Like always, I will end my review with a question, and this one is based on a decision Michael has to make in the film.  Do you think it’s more important to stay loyal to the family, despite their wrongdoings, or do you think it’s more important to be good and lead the straight life? Until next time, happy viewing!

5 out of 5 stars

Todd’s Review of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I consider myself an avid science fiction fan, so I already had an inkling that I would enjoy the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Add to this the fact that Kim loved the series and continuously bugged me to read it and you could say that I had my work cut out for me.  So, with the first book in the series already read and reviewed, I turned my attention to the sophomore novel, Catching Fire.  In this work, we meet up with Katniss and company soon after she and Peeta triumphantly conquer the 74th Hunger Games.

At the start of Catching Fire, we follow Katniss as she prepares for the “victory tour”.  This is held every year for the victor of the previous Hunger Games, as he or she tours all of the 12 districts as well as the Capitol to commemorate his or her victory in the games.  Of course, this year the tour will feature two tributes: Katniss and Peeta, who triumphantly conquered the previous Games and defied the Capitol with a double suicide attempt that was blocked at the last second.  Although Katniss attempted the suicide to rid herself of the oppression and hate that embodies the Capitol, she was conversely hailed as a hero along with Peeta; their act was viewed as the spark that ignited rebellion in several of the districts following the Games.  Therefore, facing this potential threat, President Snow visits Katniss in her home, telling her in no uncertain terms that he will kill her family and those that she loves (most especially Gale) if she makes an attempt to incite further uprising amongst the districts.  Determined to save her family and friends and please Snow, Katniss tries to act as if her actions are those of a girl disillusioned by love, and acts out her infatuation to Peeta in the fullest.  However, the turning point comes when Katniss again meets with Snow on stage in the Capitol, discreetly asking him whether or not all the work she put in was enough to save herself and Panem from full-scale rebellion.  Sadly, he answers no.  Not only does Katniss feel a sense of dread that Snow will carry out his threat, but she is further faced with the revelation that for this year’s Hunger Games (a quarter quell, as it is known), will consist of tributes being pulled from the pool of existing victors of the previous Games.  In short, she will have to face the Games again for the second year in a row.  Will Katniss be able to survive the games?  Will she be able to save her family, Gale, and Peeta from the threat of President Snow?  Will they be able to survive a full-scale rebellion against the Capitol by the districts?

As I stated in the opening of this post, I really enjoy a good sci-fi story.  Of course, often these go hand-in-hand with a dystopian society, such as Farenheit 451 or 1984.  Collins’ Catching Fire had both of these elements: a cool science fiction component that integrated futuristic technology and ideas, as well as the totalitarian regime of the Capitol presiding over all of the outlying districts.  Perhaps what I like most about these two elements is that they dovetail so well into a story of revolt and rebellion against overwhelming odds.  The mixture of years of oppression coupled with the inequality between those have control versus those who don’t makes for an amazing and inspiring story.  This is perhaps why I liked Catching Fire so much.  You can easily feel the aggression and anger that all of the citizens of the districts carry around as they watch the Capitol parade around in their wealth, using the Hunger Games as a means of cruel and sadistic entertainment.  They are so removed from day-to-day life that the only thing that brings them the greatest joy and entertainment is the killing of others.  Therefore, when this illusion is broken and the citizens of the districts begin to rightfully revolt and take back what is theirs, I can’t help but feel excited and root for them as I read.  The only complaint I had with the novel was that it took a while for the plot to build.  I realize that in any good story it takes time to lay the groundwork, but at times I felt that Katniss’ inner turmoil over her love life was a bit too drawn out and over-analyzed.  However, despite this I truly enjoyed the novel.  Watching Katniss grow from her position in the initial Hunger Games to what she becomes in this novel is inspiring.  Katniss unwillingly becomes the greatest symbol and unifier of these people, and makes her journey that much more important and inspirational.  Collins definitely does not disappoint in this follow-up to The Hunger Games, and it’s definitely a powerful addition to the series.

4 out of 5 Stars

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, Inc (2009)
Hardcover 400 pages

Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of The Shining

Hello all and welcome back to another week of Adam’s Film Friday.  For this week’s review, I will be reviewing one of my favorite genres of films: horror.  This week’s choice is the classic horror film The Shining, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.  This film provides chills, thrills, and even a scream or two.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a retired school teacher and now author, gets a job over the winter to be the watchman of a hotel that is closed for the season.  He moves his family, wife Wendy (Shelly Duval) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd), to this secluded hotel to live in from October until May, when the hotel will open up again.  Danny has ESP, and begins to have terrible premonitions and visions about what will happen to the family at the hotel, particularly regarding room 237.  Everything seems to be going perfectly fine until Jack begins to slowly unravel as the months of seclusion start to get to him.  He begins to see ghosts in different locations, mainly the bar (Jack is a recovering alcoholic), and repeats the mantra “All work, no play makes Jack a dull boy”, until he snaps.  Will Danny’s premonitions prove to be true, or will the family not make it out of the hotel alive?

The Shining was a horror film masterpiece, all the way from the acting performances to the brilliant direction of Stanley Kubrick and the music.  One of the greatest shots is in the very beginning of the film where Jack is going to the inn for his initial interview.  It is an aerial view of his car going up the mountain and  around the curves of the cliffs.  It was just a beautiful shot and an eerie way to start the film.  Stanley Kubrick had a way of making every shot count, and filmed everything in such a way that made the film have a lot of these gorgeous shots that make you think that just maybe you weren’t watching a horror film.   Kubrick often showed the full size of a room or a hallway in his shots, making the viewer feel that he/she was right there with the characters.  It made for a creepy experience for most of the film.  He also used music very well, adding to the suspense of the film and playing off of the character’s emotions.

The acting MUST be discussed as well.  Jack Nicholson was pure psychotic genius in this role.  As the film progresses, you see his character break down and slowly lose his sanity.  As a viewer watching this you truly feel like Jack Nicholson has also lost his mind.  As his character loses touch with reality, you see Nicholson’s mannerisms change bit by bit.  In the beginning he accurately portrays a man who is very excited about the job he has, but at the end he has all the touches of someone who has truly lost his mind.  Danny Lloyd was a very strong performer as the son Danny, and I truly think his voice chanting “red rum” will haunt my dreams for the next month.  He did very well despite the mature subject matter of the film, and in my opinion was a lot stronger than most child actors of the day.

All and all I thought the film was really well done.  From the strong performances, to the beautiful direction, to the eerie music, this is a film that people should watch every Halloween to get them in the mood.  Like always I leave you with a question: do you believe that all work and no play makes someone snap?

Until next time, happy viewing.

4 out of 5 stars

Todd’s Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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After hearing countless times that I should try a certain series by Suzanne Collins, I finally gave in and read the first novel in the series: The Hunger Games.  The increasing discussion and buzz surrounding this book as it is soon to become a movie made me interested in giving it a try.  I’ll admit, I am already a big fan of dystopian sci-fi, so I already knew I’d be interested in this book; I was still seriously impressed by not only the scope of Collins’ writing but her ability to make a story that has so many layers and interesting character development.

Our story begins with a continent called Panem, located in what was formerly North America.  Panem is comprised of 12 districts surrounding a central governing state, called the Capitol.  74 years before the start of the novel, a 13th district attempted a coup, which was subsequently put down and the district was destroyed.  In light of this, every year an event called the Hunger Games is held by the Capitol to remind the remaining districts of this insurrection and punish them.  In the games, a male and female teenager from each district, known as tributes, are chosen to battle each other to the death in an arena created by the Capitol.  The sole remaining tribute is showered with praise and gifts, bringing temporary wealth and gifts such as food and luxury items to his or her district.  The winner is also given a large home and is exempt from further participation in the games; the only caveat is that the winner must subsequently act as a mentor to all the other tributes chosen from his or her district in future games.

The novel is told from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old from district 12 who enjoys hunting in the woods surrounding her district and lives with her mother and younger sister, Prim.  Although she lives in relative poverty and must hunt every day in order to support her family, Katniss enjoys the relative safety and quiet that the woods provides her.  As the reaping (the yearly selection of Hunger Games tributes) occurs, Katniss does everything in her power to protect her younger sister from being chosen.  Unfortunately Prim is selected despite her attempts, and Katniss is forced to throw herself into the games as a substitute for her sister.  Terrified, Katniss must rise to the occasion and sharpen her survival skills enough to survive in the deadly arena.  To top it off, her co-tribute is a classmate who she never really liked named Peeta, and their mentor is a drunk named Haymitch.  Will Katniss be able to survive in the arena?  Will she be able to get along with her team enough to prepare in time?

When I first heard about this novel, I had serious flashbacks to a movie named Battle Royale, a Japanese movie about a bunch of students sent to an island in a battle to the death.  That movie was both the strangest and one of the most interesting movie’s I’ve ever seen, so I was interested to see how this book turned out.  In short, it takes the brutality and frankness of that movie and turns it to a touching and amazing book that is definitely worth all the hype.  The way in which Collins handles this bloody subject matter is quite good, telling us more about human nature and showing us what happens to relationships under stress rather than focusing on the killings themselves.  Katniss learns more about herself and how much she means to others during the games than she would ever have known if she was never chosen for the games.  Colllins’ character development is superb, making us learn more about ourselves and our own relationships with others through Katniss and her experiences in the arena.  Katniss’ story is one of love, loss, bravery, survival, and defiance.  Her struggle is representative of struggles we all go through ourselves, and we can learn a lot from her story.  All in all, this novel was an amazing read.  It made me think a lot more about myself and what is important to me.  I definitely recommend it as a story of survival and defiance that will make you excited to dive into the rest of the series.

5 out of 5 Stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, Inc (2008)
Hardcover 384 pages

#42 A Guest Review of A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen

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I recently had the opportunity to review a new Jane Austen fan fiction novel for the Austenprose blog.  The novel was A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen.  The novel is a “what-if” variation of Pride and Prejudice.

The variation asks the question: what if, after Darcy’s realizes Elizabeth overheard the dreadful comments he made about her at the Meryton assembly, he goes to apologize rather than ignore that it ever happened.  After apologizing, Darcy begins to see the playful witty side of Elizabeth that he missed before and begins falling for her.  But when duty and honor come in the way he must decide what is more important: following his heart, or following his aristocratic roots.

For a direct link to my review click here

This is my eighteenth completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

Harry Potter Blogsplosion Day 15: Zach’s Film Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One

Guest blogging for us today is friend of the blog Zach Naiman.  Thanks for the great post Zach!

Maybe my expectations for the Harry Potter series have been too high.  Maybe I got too hung up on how far from the books they’ve come and how many story lines were abandoned along the way.  From The Sorcerer’s Stone, where they somehow managed to forget Snape’s riddle guarding the Stone, to changing wizard dueling into Cirque du Soleil sword fighting, to forgetting the massive battle scene at the end of Half-Blood Prince, I’ve been quite disappointed with most of the movies.

It took them six movies to change my mind.  Even though the ending was not as I expected, I thoroughly enjoyed The Half-Blood Prince, so I was ready for another touching movie full of triumph and despair.  The previews tickled my imagination, stirring the feelings I had when I first read the books.

And then I saw the movie.  And it was boring, slow, and drawn out, just like the book!

Wait! You just said the movie was boring?!


The Deathly Hallows is one of my favorite books, in fact I consider it J.K. Rowling’s best written novel.  The despair in the pages is palpable; the tension seems to permeate the room as you read.  The movie captures the awkward slow death, utter confusion, and doubt that infects Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they travel throughout Great Britain anxiously trying to decode Dumbledore’s vague instructions.  Whether it is the wide stunning shots of the desolate areas the three travel through or the tension filled scenes running from the Snatchers, you feel what the characters are feeling: raw hopelessness and frantic terror.  Unlike the other movies, director David Yates seems to thrive when he has less of a set description of the scenes.  The cinematography and sound track illustrate the inevitable journey leading to their capture and imprisonment in the Malfoy’s Manor.

As usual, Daniel Radcliffe is a passable Harry.  His strengths seem to rise when he has little to say during the quiet moments of the film.  Rupert Grint and Emma Watson shine in increasingly crucial roles.  Typically the films have shined by selecting incredible actors to play the smaller roles.  This one is no different.  Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh, David Thewlis, and Maggie Smith flawlessly portray their parts, not only looking exactly as I imagined but perfectly emanating their mannerisms and characteristics.  Rickman especially seems born to the part.  His slimy, oily-ness seems to leak right out of the screen.  One of my favorite scenes is the animated story of the Deathly Hallows, which is an incredible visually stunning sequence that takes the audience by surprise.  Taken by itself that scene deserved to win awards and is a true testament to the artistic vision of Yates.

The biggest issues I had with the film deal with two points of contention.  The first is the introduction of the fifth Weasley brother, unseen until this point, and conveniently slid into this film without rhyme or reason.  If they wanted to film the wedding scene then why not introduce him in the last film so that we see him attacked by Fenrir Greyback, and have some emotional tie to his character.  The other problem I had was the absence of any feeling when Dobby died.  I wanted to feel something, I truly did.  He is one of my most beloved characters, but the CGI image does not instill any warm and fuzzies.  Perhaps like George Lucas, they should have stuck with the puppets.

Despite its shortcomings, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is the best film yet.  The amazing shots of the countryside combined with the above average performances by Grint and Watson raises the level to new heights.  It was an honest tribute to the novels that have captured our hearts.

4 out of 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
Warner Brothers
PG-13, 146 Minutes

Harry Potter Blogsplosion Day 14: Todd’s Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling + GIVEAWAY

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It all has to end somewhere.  For Harry Potter fans around the world, the literary tale of The Boy Who Lived ended on July 21st, 2007.  Almost four years to the day later, the final installment of the Harry Potter film series is hitting the world.  It seems amazing to see what the tale of a young boy that becomes a wizard only to find that he is destined to do great things can do to us.  We see ourselves in Harry, and we see his struggle as analogous to the struggles that we face in our everyday lives.  Rowling’s final work is arguably her greatest, finally bringing all of the years of struggle that Harry has faced, both internally and externally, to a head.  He faces a battle of epic proportions, and it is one that he knows will either make him or break him.  It is a battle for the salvation of the entire wizarding world.

We begin this novel as we do most of Harry’s adventures: at number four, Privet Drive.  After an awkward goodbye (which I though included a very interesting sequence where Aunt Petunia, realizing what they have done to Harry over the years, almost tries to talk to him and apologize), the Dursleys leave Little Winging to be safely secured away from the Death Eaters.  Fearing that transporting Harry will attract Death Eater attention, and knowledgable that Harry is still under the trace as he is underage, the Order decides to move him with other members acting as body doubles.  Six other Harrys, along with the real one riding in the sidecar of Hagrid’s bike, race towards different locations.  After being surprised by waiting Death Eaters, the group is attacked, leading to a battle in the skies with Harry just barely escaping Voldemort as he attempted to kill him personally.  Unfortunately, the Order takes some heavy damage, with George losing an ear and Mad Eye Moody falling at the hands of Voldemort.  After finally making it back to the Burrow, everyone recuperates long enough to enjoy the marriage of Fleur Delacaur and Bill Weasley.  Unfortunately, the party is broken up by the arrival of Death Eaters, who have now taken over the Ministry of Magic and effectively control the wizarding world.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione escape in the nick of time, and hide out in the old headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix while they plan their next move.  They realize that they must destroy all of Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes in order to finally make him mortal and therefore defeatable.  However, this is no small task, as the group has little information to go on besides the fake Horcrux locket that Harry and Dumbledore retrieved in the last book.  Will they be able to find and destroy all the remaining Horcruxes?  Will Harry finally face Voldemort and fulfill the prophecy written about the two of them?  Will Hogwarts survive Voldemort’s Death Eaters?

Although a lot of people have a lot of different opinions on which Harry Potter book is their favorite.  There is no denying that this one ranks among the top of most people’s lists.  Epic in its scope and implications in the wizarding world, this novel incorporates all the major themes of the novels and provides a final showdown that is unmatched.  I’ve always been a fan of the Lord of the Rings-esque battle scene, and this book definitely does not disappoint.  It definitely makes sense that it was split into two movies, as the natural progression of the story enables two halves.  The first being the initial battle and search for Horcruxes, and the second being the battle for Hogwarts.  Rowling expertly combines the maturation of her characters with the climax of the entire plot, making the characters work seamlessly together to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  Of course, this battle has a lot of different implications and parallels to all the epic dualities in life (good vs. evil, light vs. dark, etc), but besides that it’s just an amazing end to something that has been building for six novels.  The way in which Rowling brings all of her storylines to a close (or close enough so that we have some questions left to ponder) is amazingly well done, with all the pieces falling into place that had been scattered throughout the other novels.  Character development is unparalleled, with some characters showing their true colors and others coming into full bloom during the battle at the end.  It is almost as fun to watch all the characters interact and give it their all as it is to see the entire battle.  All in all, this is definitely not one to miss!

5 out of 5 Stars

Scholastic (2007)
Hardcover 759 pages
One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Paperback) by J.K. Rowling.  For your chance to win simply leave a comment in the thread below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight of Saturday July 30, 2011.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday July 31, 2011.  Giveaway open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck!!

Harry Potter Blogsplosion Day 13: Adam S’s Film Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Joining us today is good friend Adam Spunberg.  Adam has done tons of things that I need to mention.  He is the editorial producer at MLBAM, a writer for MLB, associate editor at Picktainment,  co-creator of the Jane Austen Twitter Project, founder of The Potter Games, producer/co-host of the Hunger Games Fireside Chat, and much more! Thanks for the guest post Adam, and welcome to the Reflections family!

When Kim asked me if I would like to write a guest blog on Harry Potter, I was thrilled to help out, but I was even more excited when she told me I could choose which film I wanted to write about.  I’m actually a pretty big fan of all the movies (even Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban has grown on me over the years), but there’s a reason the David Yates-directed Half-Blood Prince was, and has remained my favorite in this wonderful franchise.

The biggest challenge in directing a Harry Potter film is finding some way to effectively keep to the source material and also appeal to the common populace at the same time.  Still, there is plenty of room for artistic liberty: Rowling might describe a wand fight, for instance, but the filmmakers can decide who’s in the fight, what camera angles to use, lighting, positioning, how much time to invest on the scene, etc.  Of all the Potter directors, Yates seems to have the best grasp on finding that balance, and then – once he establishes how loyal he wants to be to the written word – putting a whimsical stamp on the things he can control.

Every scene is deliberated over with such care, whether it be a spectacular two-minute sequence at Fred and George’s joke shop or the waves crashing against the shore when Harry and Dumbledore track down a horcrux.  We also have plenty of the gooey stuff (which I admit, I liked!), with teenage love floating through Hogwarts like pixie dust in the air – as Ron learns, sometimes to his detriment.  Catapulted by a wondrous score from Nicholas Hooper and a plethora of memorable scenes, Half-Blood Prince is simply a delight to watch, even as the conclusion leaves you in shambles.

I also should point out what an exceptional addition Jim Broadbent is to the tale, stepping in as the fame-obsessed, slightly unscrupulous Horace Slughorn.  The child leads also seem to have really come of age here, and the rest of the supporting cast – many of them A-List stars – pull their weight with considerable charm.  I’ll be curious to see if Deathly Hallows, Part II can supplant Half-Blood Prince as my favorite Potter movie, but unless those recollections in my pensieve go rotten, it will be a Hagrid-size tall order.  Still, I’m hopeful!

5 out of 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
Warner Brothers
PG, 153 Minutes

Harry Potter Blogsplosion Day 9: Todd’s Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling + GIVEAWAY

Cover ImageMoving along in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, we come to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment in the series.  We definitely have entered a new era in the Potter realm, as the impending return of You-Know-Who has changed the wizarding world overnight.  Although vehemently denied among the Ministry of Magic, Harry and a growing number of students at Hogwarts decide to take matters into their own hands and arm themselves against what they feel is a clear and present danger to their lives.  Will the wizarding world at large agree?

Our story begins in Little Winging with Harry and Dudley, Harry’s cousin, arguing in a park.  Things take a sudden turn for the unexpected when a group of dementors show up and effectively incapacitate Dudley before Harry can dispatch them with a patronous charm.  Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, obviously upset over their Duddykins, send Harry packing, where he eventually makes it to number twelve, Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.  The Order, originally established during Voldemort’s original rise to power, exists to combat the rise of Voldemort and protect the wizarding world from Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  It was originally comprised of a number of brave witches and wizards, many of whom unfortunately lost their lives fighting.  Even though most signs are pointing towards the fact that Voldemort is returning to power, Cornelius Fudge and the rest of the Ministry of Magic refuse to accept this fact.  They go as far as to install Dolores Umbridge as “high inquisitor” of Hogwarts, giving her almost unlimited power at the school to run it as she sees fit.  Being that Fudge is effectively a puppethead at this point, Umbridge begins to crack down on any resistance and attempts of the students to discuss or think about Voldemort and the Dark Arts.  Therefore, the students begin to arm themselves, forming “Dumbledore’s Army”, an extracurricular club of sorts where Harry teaches his classmates tricks to defend themselves against dark magic.  This works to a point, where Harry is able to get across the basics of dark arts defense to all the members before the group is discovered by Umbridge and disbanded.  Furious with what has happened, Umbridge is about to use the cruciatus curse on Harry before she is outsmarted by Harry and Hermione and they escape, fleeing to the Ministry of Magic, where Harry has had premonitions about a prediction made regarding Voldemort and himself.  Will Harry be able to get the prophecy and leave unharmed?  What will Voldemort do with his increasing power and influence?

In the grand scheme of things, certain books in a series do more to advance the plot instead of providing show-stopping action that can be easily transferred to the big screen.  I believe that the majority of this book falls into this category.  Yes, the end of the novel does have a great element of action and adventure that made a great transition to film, yet the majority of this novel serves to advance the plot of Harry’s attempts to mount a significant defense to Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

It is also a book of maturation: both of Harry and his fellow classmates.  In theory, they have been underprepared for the return of Voldemort, as the majority of the wizarding world has been lulled into a false sense of security surrounding Voldemort and the fact that most believed that he could not return following his fall from power.  However, Harry serves as the crucial pivot point to not only mature his own views towards what he must do to fight Voldemort, but also convinces others to join him as well.

Personally, I tend to like this book a lot, as it sets the stage for the final two novels, which detail the final preparations and battle against Voldemort and his army.  It represents a turning point in the views of not only Harry, but everyone else, as they finally begin to believe that it is possible that Voldemort is returning.  I see a lot of parallels between this mindset and current events.  A lot of times we tend to think that if we just don’t believe that something is happening, such as the genocide in Darfur, or the trafficking of humans as slaves across borders, it doesn’t exist.  However, as we all know this is far from the truth.  I give Rowling a lot of credit for attacking the “complacency” issue, where we tend to believe what others in authority tell us and take the easy path out.  I think the fact that Harry was eventually able to convince the majority of the wizarding world of Voldemort’s return helped him immensely in his final battle, and I think this book has a lot to do with that convincing.  It is, in my opinion, the turning point of the series, and as such, is vitally important and an amazing addition to the series.

5 out of 5 Stars

Scholastic (2003)
Hardcover 870 pages
One lucky winner will have the opportunity to win a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Paperback) by J.K. Rowling.  For your chance to win simply leave a comment in the thread below.  Comments will be accepted through midnight of Saturday July 30, 2011.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Sunday July 31, 2011.  Giveaway open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck!!