Thursday, September 24, 2009

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling (1999)

Book 3 starts out with the familar: Harry "causing" some disaster at the Dursleys. This time it happens to be accidentally blowing up the horrible Aunt Marge. Harry needs to get away very quickly, and is picked up by the Knight Bus, but not before he catches sight of a Grim (a giant scary dog) stalking him in the darkness. He also makes the unpleasant acquaintance of the Dementors, spooky creatures that are supposed to be on the lookout for the escapee from Azkaban, Sirius Black. The Dementors are horrible, and suck all joy out of their victims' bodies.

Safely at Hogwarts, the school year begins with a new class: Divination with Professor Trelauney, who promptly predicts Harry's iminent death! And there is again a new professor of the Dark Arts, Professor Lupin, who has some very strange habits.

The book is filled to the brim with magical drama: the Marauder's Map that helps Harry find his way to Hogsmeade Village for forbidden visits, the conflict between Crookshanks (Herminone's cat) and Scabbers (Ron's rat), the great Quidditch final, Herminone's big secret (which enables her to attend more classes than anyone else), the hippogriff (part horse, part bird) Buckbeak's death sentence, the appearance of Sirius Black who turns out to be Harry's godfather, and the discovery that Harry's father James was an Animagus and could turn into a stag. As always an exciting, whirlwind of a story!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008)

I LOVED this book, devoured it, savored it, completely enjoyed it. It made me think about things in a way I hadn't before, about marriage, being a woman sacrificing her career and identity to a husband...

And the funny thing was, when I first read the review of this last year I thought I would not like it. After all, the premise of the book is a fictional account that very closely follows the life of former first lady Laura Bush. Yes, the names are changed and the state they come from is changed (Wisconsin instead of Texas) but many of the larger events remain. And I was never a big fan of Laura Bush so I never gave it another thought until a fellow blogger suggested it a while back. Thanks, because I loved it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Voices, by Susan Elderkin (2003)

I bumped into this book at the library when I was looking for something else in the E's. The cover, a picture of an aborigine girl with a stark blue sky and red earth behind her, intrigued me. So I picked it up, thinking I could read it for Books Around the World Challenge for Australia.

The main character is Billy, whom we meet as a 13 year old boy who has a special connection to kangaroos and loves collecting rocks and minerals. He lives with his parents in a small outpost in Western Australia. We also meet Billy as he is admitted to the emergency room as a young man, seriously injured in some mysterious way and very delirious. As the story unfolds, we learn bit by bit what happened to Billy over the course of his life.

The novel weaves Billy's history together with white and black members of his town, gives us some insight into the situation of the aboriginal community and modern Australia off the beaten path. The author has a canny ear for the way Australians speak - having watched lots of Australian TV series here in Belgium (Neighbors, Flying Doctors) when I was reading the dialogues I could just hear them in my head! The imagery of the landscape, especially the otherworldliness of the mining set up, is well drawn.

Apart from the landscape, the wild animals, the colorful inhabitants of the town, the other main element in the book are The Voices, who seem to be aboriginal spirits who lie in their hammocks all day and argue with the wind. The Voices are having an existential problem - no one wants to believe in them any longer and they fear for their existence. Through a young girl they call the spirit child, they have put their last hopes in Billy for their redemption.

At first the interruptions by The Voices are jarring, but little by little it becomes clear what thier role is in the story, and their hand in Billy's fate.

This novel really grew on me and I felt like I learned something about Australia, not only information about what it is like for people there, but also what it feels like to be there.