Book Total: 8
So for April I took part in Book Roast’s Magical Readathon, which involves revising for your O.W.L.s by reading a book that relates to each subject’s prompt. I attempted to pursue a career in Alchemy, but fell short by 4 books. Setting myself a target of 12 books in a month was a bit of a stretch considering in March I only read 3, so I’m pretty proud of finishing 8!
Book Roast runs these readathons twice a year and I would definitely recommend – I met lots of new bookstagrammers and found it really good motivation for picking up tomes I’ve been avoiding for a while.
I’ve split this post into two so I can give an in depth review of each of the books, hopefully, without you getting bored!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Subject: Care of Magical Creatures
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in sixth form for A-Level English. I’ve been meaning to reread it ever since Channel 4 announced they were airing the TV series and now I finally have. I think I enjoyed it even more on this reread than I did the first time, partially due to the lack of pressure to truly understand it for my coursework and also due to my developed understanding of the political framework.
For those that haven’t read it, The Handmaid’s Tale introduces you to a dystopian world where the American government has been overthrown by a totalitarian regime that restructures society to conform to an exaggerated, old fashioned family model. High society husbands work while their wives remain at home with Marthas who help with housework and a handmaiden who carries their offspring. The story follows the fate of Offred, who is part of the first wave of Handmaiden’s. The narrative switches between Offred’s life as a Handmaiden, her past life and the path that connects the two.
Many have commented that the book seems to remain relevant despite being published 35 years ago. This is partly because the world Atwood constructs always seems only a few steps away – big steps, but not unimaginable. However, I also think it demonstrates how much more there is to achieve in sex equality, by which I mean both equality between the sexes and sexual equality. Although this is obviously an extreme depiction, it is based on an evolution of ideas that many people subscribe to today. For example the idea that women don’t enjoy sex and it is an obligation required of them. Or that a women’s role is to raise children and a family cannot be complete without them.
Atwood builds a fully formed world in which it is easy to imagine yourself within. Also, unlike other novels in which it sometimes seems contrite that you happen to be following the one person who acts against evil, Atwood includes several characters with similar outlooks to Offred. This complexity gives you a sense that you are following one of many narratives rather than a bespoke singular perspective.
Conclusion: It is not an original opinion, but I think The Handmaid’s Tale is a must read. I’m incredibly grateful that I got to read it as a young adult and I am really happy that the TV show has bought the story to a whole new audience. The first time I read this it was more of a fascinating imaginary world, while the reread helped me to see the reflections in today’s society. Consequently I am now really motivated to read more feminist writing, both fiction and non-fiction.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
Subject: History of Magic
I was so happy that I could include my Harry Potter reread in the readathon. Once again I loved revisiting the magical world of my childhood, but this time with the addition of some beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay.
This reread made me realise the parallels between Voldemort and his followers with Hitler and the Nazis were realised in the books much earlier than I first thought. For the first time in the books we really see the prejudice within the wizarding world, a prejudice based on family lineage, which takes centre stage later in the series. I know this is a much used framework in literature, but I still think it stands as so many modern day prejudices are based on differences that people are born with, whether this be race, sexuality or any other. So stories that teach children and adults alike that prejudiced actions are unjustified are always welcome.
Asides from this new appreciation for the depth involved in Rowling’s story telling I was also reminded of how much I enjoy the witty rhymes that she includes. From Peeves’
Oh Potter you rotter, oh what have you done,
You’re killing off students you think it’s good fun
… to the Valentine Dwarf’s
His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard,
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord
I think the one thing I tend to forget about when I haven’t read Harry Potter in a while, is just how much it makes me laugh.
And I can’t review the book without mentioning some of my favourite illustrations. I think one of Jim Kay’s strongest skills is drawing animals so naturally the depictions of Fawkes the phoenix and the basilisk are amongst my favourites. However, in my opinion the most breath taking illustration is Harry being transported into Riddle’s diary, the colour and movement are incredibly dramatic and a wonderful representation of something I would have thought would be so hard to illustrate.
Conclusion: As with every Harry Potter reread I discovered something different with this one, and appreciated that Harry Potter is probably partly responsible for my moral compass. I was also reminded that sometimes the best thing to do is to forget about life and just laugh. We’re all having our own struggles during lockdown, whether they be big or small, they are all very real and losing myself in my favourite fantasy world helped me to feel better about my current situation.
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Subject: Ancient Runes
I picked this up a couple of years ago in a charity shop along with Fleming’s second Bond novel Live and Let Die and wasn’t really sure what to expect, having never really read any spy books except for the Alex Rider series. I found the introduction, written by Alan Judd, really informative and thought it helped to bring an extra level of authenticity to the story, knowing Fleming’s background.
I’m going to get the misogyny out of the way right away. Some of the descriptions of women in this book from the narrator and from Bond are appalling, to the point where I had to reread lines several times, because I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. If you manage to see past Fleming’s less than satisfactory descriptions of women you can begin to appreciate his elaborate illustrations of places and clothing.
The story is well thought out and full of suspense. I found myself unable to put the book down, constantly wanting to know what happened next, even though I had already seen the movie and knew the general plot. I somewhat expected the action and pace to be impeded in comparison to the film, but I was wrong. The action is fast paced, but you still get a clear picture of the entire scene which is something I was really impressed by.
Conclusion: If you can ignore the sexism this is a really enjoyable read. I can completely understand why movie makers chose to transform Fleming’s stories into films and why these plots have remained popular ever since. The mixture of mystery, luxurious lifestyle and action make for an enthralling read that was hard to put down.
Rating: ★★★★ (This is a rating that ignores the sexism- something that I would not normally do, but I hope that the majority of people who read this will laugh at the absurdity of the misogyny rather than take it seriously, even though I don’t think that this was Fleming’s intention)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay
So not only did I manage to include CoS into my readathon but also Prisoner of Azkaban! Whenever asked I’ve always said this is my favourite Harry Potter book, I don’t know whether I will change my mind after I’ve finished rereading the series this time, but I once again really enjoyed PoA.
Because it has been so long since I have read the series and I have watched the movies plenty of times in between, my favourite thing about this reread was rediscovering the smaller characters that the movies give little or no screen time to. The Weasley twins really made me howl with laughter and I loved getting to see why Lupin becomes such an important part of Harry’s life, something that I think is slightly lost in the films.
I also appreciated the introduction of Harry’s faults, his reckless behaviour and the guilt that he feels. I remember feeling as a child, that this made Harry much more relatable. He wasn’t a beacon of sainthood, but a normal kid that misbehaved and made mistakes whilst still being a morally good character.
One of my favourite elements of the book is of course the time turner. The story really cemented my understanding of time travel (fictional not scientific) and every reread has always entertained me with the hints here and there of Hermione disappearing and reappearing almost immediately, while Harry and Ron have no idea what is going on.
In my opinion the illustrations are the best so far of the three Jim Kay editions I have read. Again the depictions of magical creatures are amazing, I loved seeing the hippogriffs come to life on the page and I thought the portrait of Lupin was perfect.
Conclusion: I still absolutely love this book and I was reminded how much I love some of the “smaller” characters. The richness of the magical world just makes me feel like I’ve fallen into it and could go exploring in any direction. For me this is the book where the action really starts and I feel there is a fully outlined backstory that begins to explain Harry’s connection to Voldemort, so for now, it remains my favourite of the series.