Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #100: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling



A Big Novel About A Small Town. Rowling’s adult fiction debut could have used a bit more editing. It’s a pleasant enough diversion into the fictional town of Pagford and the lives of a several of its residents as they deal with the unexpected death of a town councillor. It’s twee and safe, good but not great. Full review is on my blog here.

Jen K’s #CBR5 Review #100: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Once I heard that J.K. Rowling had published this under a pseudonym, I knew I had to read it.  Admittedly, that sounds odd since I still haven’t read The Casual Vacancy (I really like Harry Potter, but I wasn’t sure if wanted to read about a small English town, even though I read those kind of novels all the time; I guess I was just afraid of being disappointed), but this one just sounded fun.  I love mysteries, and hopefully this is the beginning of another series.

Full Review.

Baxlala’s #CBR5 Review #23: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

(This, as the ones before it, originally appeared as part of narfna‘s Harry Potter Medicinal Reread

Um. So this is kind of weird. Less reviewy, more…make-believey.)

The Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 8-9: Why So Sirius?



I caught two mice today. My Harmony said that I was a very clever cat indeed, which should be obvious to anyone with eyes and a brain but her classmates never seem that impressed. Of course, my Harmony has more brains than any of the other small ones here. Maybe that’s why she has so much schoolwork.

All the small ones seem to speak of is schoolwork, Kwiditch (which I believe is some kind of religion), and their professors, the taller humans who run this castle. There’s Trelawney, who some like and others make fun of, McGonagall, who is respected and feared in equal measure, and Lupin, who seems to be a favorite, though I can’t be sure about him. I smell something a bit…off…in him, yet he is always kind to me. Snape, however, is much hated and I can see why, since he chases me out of his office whenever he catches me. Sometimes he throws things. So sometimes I yak hairballs on his desk.

Still. None of them, not the students or the professors, seem to sense the growing danger that lurks in the castle. Inside the very room in which my Harmony’s friends sleep. Henry and the other one…the loud, orange one. The one with the rat.

The danger is so close tonight, hiding amongst the small ones, so I hurry into the commotion of the common room. Along the way, I kill a fat spider to present to my Harmony. She seems very pleased with it, though her friends less so.

The rat is sleeping, fat and happy, in the orange one’s bag. I wait for my moment and then pounce. The small ones start screaming and try to catch me, but I’m too fast for all but my Harmony. She grabs me and pulls me away from my prey.

“You keep that cat away from him!” the orange one yells. My Harmony yells right back, defends my nature. She is such a good master, but it doesn’t placate the orange one.

“That cat’s got it in for Scabbers!” he shouts.

He’s not wrong.

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Baxlala’s #CBR5 Review #22: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

(This originally appeared as part of narfna‘s Harry Potter Medicinal Reread…IT’S SO FUN, YOU GUYS, YOU SHOULD READ IT.)

The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 16-17: Snakes be Slytherin

Charlene mentioned that Chamber of Secrets is everyone’s least favorite Harry Potter book, which I would have completely agreed with before this reread. Now I’m not so sure. Ask me again when we’re done with all of them. Maybe I’ll still agree WHO KNOWS. I don’t have a time turner (spoiler alert) so I can’t say. I’m not sure WHY this one is my least favorite. I guess it’s just because one of them has to be. Honestly, picking a least favorite Harry Potter is kind of like picking your least favorite kind of chocolate chip cookie. I mean, they’re all delicious, right?

Maybe I’m a bit more lenient this time because this whole reread experiment has been so much fun. Also, it didn’t hurt that I got some action-packed chapters. Seriously, a lot happens. Like:


So, as we learned from Mr. Ron Weasley’s diary in the last post, Ron and Harry have discovered that Moaning Myrtle was the student who was killed when the Chamber of Secrets was opened fifty years prior. They haven’t yet talked to her about it, because as we ALSO learned in the last post, it’s really hard to sneak around Hogwarts when you have professors watching your every move.

Luckily, the mandrakes are ready, so Professor Sprout will soon be making them into a cure for the Petrified students. Ron’s psyched because that means Hermione will be awake soon, and she can, like always, just solve all of their problems for them. I’m terrified because these mandrakes have just grown from wee baby-like creatures into mature adults and now Professor Sprout is going to straight up sacrifice them just so a few kids can wake up from their long winter’s naps. One of the kids is Hermione, though, so I’ll allow it. You know. The mandrake murder.

Meanwhile, Ginny is spending her time freaking the fuck out and trying to tell Harry and Ron something REALLY IMPORTANT, but stupid Percy shows up and scares her off. Percy’s embarrassed about something, but as it’s unrelated to the Chamber of Secrets, we don’t really care. Ginny probably just walked in on him playing with his wand.

 photo boys_zps8645e474.gif

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Baxlala’s #CBR5 Review #21: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling

I find myself rereading Harry Potter a lot. If I’ve had a bad day, one of the quickest cures is to start a Harry Potter reread. It’s a comforting world, even though so many bad things happen there. Harry’s parents are dead, after all, he’s been orphaned and forced to live with relatives who can’t stand him and, in fact, abuse him on a regular basis. And yet, JK Rowling has created a world of hope for us. No matter how bad things may get in Harry’s world, he’s still loved and he still loves others. It’s beautiful.

I love this series so much that I was absolutely delighted when Ashley (narfna) asked for volunteers to be part of a Harry Potter Medicinal Reread. In it, we’ve all been assigned specific chapters of each book, and in turn, recap and review each chapter. So far, I’ve written posts for Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban. My review for Sorcerer’s Stone is below and I’ll be posting the others STRAIGHT AWAY.

You can also, if you like Harry Potter and FUN, start here with the very first chapter. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this project as much as we’ve had writing it.

(Big thanks to Ashley for organizing such a fun project!)

The Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapters 3-5: YOUR MOM GOES TO HOGWARTS

I signed up for Ashley’s Harry Potter reread immediately because A) I will use any excuse to reread these books and B) I love hearing about how people discovered Harry Potter. How old they were. Who their favorite character was. Whether they fell in love right away, like I did, or if it took a couple of books for Rowling to reel them in.

I’d wager I came to Harry Potter a bit later in life than some of the other contributors here. I was in high school when they came out and, as luck would have it, working at a library at the time. One Saturday, I was the only one of my friends working and, during my lonely break, noticed that someone had left a book on the break room table. There was a picture of a bespectacled young boy on the front cover, riding a broomstick and trying to catch a golden ball with wings, and JUST BECAUSE, there was a unicorn running in the background.

“What the fuck?” I thought.

The children’s librarian happened to come in while I was staring at this strange book. She was an older woman, always fluttering about, her hands waving this way and that, adjusting her messy hair, her numerous layers of clothing, or the thick glasses that always seemed to be slipping down her nose. Had I already read Harry Potter at the time (and, you know, had Prisoner of Azkaban existed yet), I would have said she reminded me of Professor Trelawney.

I will be forever grateful to this librarian for pushing me to read this book. If she hadn’t, I would have missed out on the hours of enjoyment (and, sure, heartache) this series has given me and (maybe worst of all?) never would have gotten to experience this batshit project with you crazy nutbags.

(No offense.)

Ashley covered the first two chapters in the last post, chapters in which we meet some important characters and are given but a glimpse of the magical world we’re about to become immersed in. Even in the chapters I’m about to cover, we’re really only beginning to see what Rowling has in store for us.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


Harry is in mondo big trouble because he set that snake loose on Dudley and, you guys, I still get super pissed about how illogical the Dursleys are about blaming Harry for everything. Yes, I realize they’re supposed to be horrible people but COME ON how is it Harry’s fault that the glass disappeared?

(OK, YES, I realize it really IS his fault but he didn’t mean to and the Dursleys don’t want to believe in magic ANYWAY so why would they just assume Harry could make glass disappear DURSLEYS YOU MAKE NO SENSE AND YES I UNDERSTAND THAT IS THE POINT OF THE DURSLEYS WHY AM I SO MAD ABOUT THIS RIGHT NOW? I should calm down. I still have two chapters to go.)

Harry and Dudley are preparing to return to school, Dudley to a private school called Smeltings, where they wear actual knickerbockers and smack one another with sticks, and Harry to public school. You guys, I’m so excited for Harry that I can’t stand it. I just want him to be at Hogwarts already. I always want to skip over these setup chapters when I read these books because I just want to get to the Hogwarty goodness. It’s like when I used to read The Babysitter’s Club and I’d skim over the part in the beginning of every book that introduced all the girls. Kristy is a tomboy! Claudia has dyslexia and wears funky clothes! Dawn is from California! Mary Anne is SHY! Stacey has diabetes! With their powers combined, THEY ARE CAPTAIN BABYSITTER! (Just don’t feed Captain Babysitter any candy.)

captain planet

Softball! Fashion! Vegan! Braids! INSULIN!

Anyway, the important thing about this chapter is right in the chapter title. Harry gets a letter addressed not only to him, but to his cupboard. It was this exact detail that made me fall head over heels for this book:

Mr H Potter
The Cupboard Under the Stairs

Fuck. Stop being so damn perfect, Rowling, let the rest of humanity try to catch up.

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narfna’s #CBR5 Review #72: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

the cuckoo's callingYou thought you could keep this a secret, didn’t you, Jo? WELL TOO BAD.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, the latest novel by J.K. Rowling, originally written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, features private dick Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary, Robin, as they become involved in investigating the supposed suicide of supermodel Lula Landry at the behest of her grieving brother, who doesn’t believe it possible Lula could have killed herself.

I am beyond glad that J.K. Rowling is writing genre again. She’s just so good at it. And sorry, Jo, I’m also beyond glad your lawyer’s wife leaked this to the public, because otherwise I never would have read it (or if I ever did, it would have been much farther down the road when you were like six or seven books in or something, as it seems the only time I ever hear about mystery books is if they last long enough to be notable to those who normally don’t read inside the genre). I know this probably makes me a bad friend fan admirer thingy whatever, and for that I apologize . . . but damn. I just love your words so much.

Shit. This has gotten weird real fast, even for one of my reviews.

Also, it’s more than slightly ironic that I have just written a chunk of this review as if I knew Ms. Rowling and was addressing her personally, when a great part of The Cuckoo’s Calling is devoted to an examination of fame from the other side. At one point, our hero Cormoran Strike literally wonders how it is that some people feel as if they know celebrities, even think of them in terms of friendship, when the reality is they don’t know them at all. The fact that it’s Jo who’s writing this — one of the most famous women in the world, a woman who fiercely values her privacy, and who spent a large portion of the latter Harry Potter books reacting via writing to her growing celebrity — leads me to wonder if she really doesn’t understand the impact her books had on an entire generation of kids. I admire Ms. Rowling’s public persona very much, but it’s her books that make me think of her so fondly.

But it’s not just on Lula Landry’s behalf that Strike ponders the strange behavior that can surround celebrity. Strike has cause to be prickly about fame, as well. His father is a famous rockstar who he’s only met a handful of times, but that doesn’t stop everyone who finds out about his parentage from making certain assumptions. He’s also ex-military police, and is still recovering from losing the lower half of one of his legs. He owes a ton of money, he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, and things aren’t looking so great for him in general. His temp secretary, Robin, is delightful. She doesn’t get as much characterization in this one as Strike does, but I’d imagine that will change in future books, as he lets her do more and more work for his cases. This was very much a first book. She had to take time to set up Strike’s initial character, then slowly but surely allow Robin to worm her way in to a permanent job, and I think more importantly, allow her to be someone that he can let see the embarassing bits of his life (for nearly the whole novel Strike tries to pretend to her that he isn’t living out of his office on a camp bed, when it is glaringly obvious to both of them that he is).

The mystery in this was really good, really thorough, and Rowling does a nice job of setting up red herrings, but at the same time laying clues so it’s obvious in retrospect who the murderer is. (This is something we already knew she could do, as she did it so well in all the Potters.) Strike is very good at his job, and Robin finds she has a talent for it as well (much to her delight, as she confesses early on that she’s secretly always wanted to work in a PI office), so it’s fun to watch them work. Even though I really liked the mystery, there wasn’t really anything there that made me go YES. I do, however, love Strike and Robin as characters (Jo is so good at characters, you guys), and I can imagine myself easily re-reading this after future books in the series have been published and retroactively giving it five stars, once I know where the series is headed. It’s not love yet, just really, really like.

Recommend highly for mystery and crime fiction fans, and for all those who were disappointed by The Casual Vacancy. This one has a distinct adult feel to it without making you want to smash your head into hard furniture in utter despair (so, yes, children, there is sex and swearing; it’s not a big deal, and please grow up, why won’t you?) .

[4.5 Stars]

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #17: The Casual Vacancy

For more thoughts on this and other bits of British nerdery, consider my eponymous blog: The Scruffy Rube.

Picturesque, pristine, and pleasant.

That’s the general tone that surrounds a lot of the English villages in my favorite British literature. Jane Austen wrote about scores of them, John Fowles’ beloved Lyme has the same tenor. So I wasn’t terribly surprised when I started reading JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy to find that she too had chosen to write about a seemingly serene little town, but Rowling’s setting was far seedier than her predecessors might dare to write.

The Casual Vacancy is about as far from the world of Harry Potter as you might care to go. The depressingly mugglefied air of Pagford village, could seems like a town so run-of-the-mill that it defies anything to be dramatic. But Rowling thrives when describing self-contained worlds that struggle for security and, to some extent, secrecy. That’s where an insular, overly-protective small town jives neatly alongside the vanishing charms and invisibility cloaks of the wizarding world.

The Casual VacancyThe two worlds connect again when Rowling turns her focus to writing about local teenagers, jaded by familial outrage and dedicated to personal interest. She has a masterful method for writing the tortuous logic and emotional angst that typifies teenagers, but her real talent lies in reflecting that same behavior in adult characters. Thus helping teens seem less immature and more relevant to the adult world that surrounds them.

At times it felt like Rowling dropped “gritty” bits of writing (profanity and eroticism) as a way of proving: “I’m not just the Harry Potter lady”, even if they weren’t terribly relevant or valuable to the story. But at its core, The Casual Vacancy shows the same strength of authorial imagination that put Rowling (and Harry) on the map in the first place.

It doesn’t take much to see The Casual Vacancy in a post-colonial light. The most powerful residents hold tightly to a sincere belief in their own superiority, condescending to tell another group of people how they should be living their lives. When some make an effort to put the powerful and the powerless on a more equitable footing, those in power do all they can to stop it. [And that doesn’t even touch on the overt disdain reserved for the one Indian family in town, a particularly bitter–though likely accurate–pill to swallow]

HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #4: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Based on earlier reviews I read of J.K Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter release, I had fairly low expectations for this novel. It’s definitely not Harry Potter, but I found it enjoyable once I got into it. In The Casual Vacancy, a city councilor in a small town dies unexpectedly, leaving an opening on the city council just when a historically contentious issue is coming up for a vote.  Rowling builds the town, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, local store by geographic landmark, until you almost feel like you live there.

Having grown up in a small town mired in its own constant controversies over flood control and developments, I actually kind of liked this novel. The political maneuverings were funny, and interesting, and sometimes its nice to read a book where the stakes are something small like winning a local election rather than saving the world. I related to the town, and to the characters, and the suburban struggles they dealt with.

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