Book News: Amazon Opens Physical Bookstore, Potter Prequel Peek, Pullman Gets Golden Adaptation & More!


Fantastic Beasts 
The “Harry Potter Prequel” has some new photos and character details.

His Dark Materials
The BBC is adapting Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for TV.

The Amazon Bookstore
Continuing to stick it in everyone’s faces, Amazon has opened a physical bookstore in Seattle.

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Book News: LA Bookstores, 75 Reasons Why Margaret Atwood is Awesome, Taylor Swift & More!


Wizarding Tourism 
How to experience the fun and adventure of Harry Potter around the world.

Blank Space 
What to read if you love Taylor Swift’s Blank Space music video.

Margaret Atwood 
Not that you need them, because she’s so awesome, but here are 75 reasons proving she is just that.

[read more . . .]

“The Casual Vacancy” by J. K. Rowling (Little, Brown, 2012)

The Casual Vacancy

After the unfathomable success of the Harry Potter series, with over 450 million copies sold worldwide, likely making it one of the biggest phenomena of our lifetimes, J. K. Rowling is now back with her first new book in five years.  She now turns to a much more adult story about a quaint little English town where everything is most certainly not as it seems.

In the idyllic west country town of Pagford, where things pass at their own pace and everything stays pretty much the same, a change is about to happen.  A respected citizen of the community, Barry Fairbrother suffers a sudden brain aneurysm and dies unexpectedly.  It is a very sad time for the family and for the community, as he touched many lives during his time, as well as being an important member of the town’s council.  But Barry’s passing is also the lighting of a spark that sets off an explosive chain reaction, as the empty space on the town council starts many wondering who should fill his seat, and a number of unlikely candidates come out of the woodwork.

The Casual Vacancy is also the story about a number of the characters of this community, and how they begin to act and react when this person who had an effect on their lives is gone and is no longer there to provide aid and advice.  The book is by no means a happy novel, as these characters make terrible decisions that lead them down a downward spiral of despair.  By the end of the book, the reader is left hoping their might be some sort of cathartic uplift, but Rowling is going for a harsh true-to-life approach here, where things don’t all of a sudden get magically better.

Overall the book comes off as a letdown, slow and dragging at points, with nothing to drive the reader along to keep reading, as things get worse and worse for just about everyone it seems.  Rowling is perhaps pulling from some earlier experiences in her life before her fame and riches, as there are characters dealing with drug addiction, poverty, marital problems, and a whole host of unsavory issues.  The book also comes off somewhat amateurish, as Rowling constantly references many places throughout this imaginary town that confuse the reader, and could have easily been aided with a handy map at the beginning of the book.  Then there is the large host of characters, featuring many couples of about the same age, some even with the same first letters of their names, which often makes things confusing, and could’ve been helped with a simple cast list.  Finally, there is the constantly switching P.O.V. from paragraph to paragraph, without any break in between, so that the reader becomes quite untethered and lost at times.

The Casual Vacancy was an experiment by Rowling in seeing what happens to a town when an important member dies and all the people he’d had an effect on begin making bad decisions that then effect the rest of the town.  By the end of the book the reader is sad over the events of the book, though Rowling makes it clear that if any of the characters had made the decision to not think of themselves for a moment and to notice that nearby person suffering and help them, things would have come out quite differently.  But because this social message is buried in the clunky format and pitfalls of the book with no satisfactory resolution, the reader is left wondering what was the point of reading this book to the last page.

Originally written on January 8, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Casual Vacancy from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Tales of Beedle the Bard” by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2008)

Tales of Beedle the Bardstarstarstarstar

In this original collection, J. K. Rowling explores the mythology and fable world of Harry Potter.  So imagine all the great stories you read and were read to you as a kid, of fairy tales and heroes, with lessons to teach you, only add characters who are wizards and witches and warlocks who have real magic!  The five short tales in this collection are stories to treasure and enjoy over and over, lacking only in their short length.  Fortunately, Albus Dumbledore provides his own commentary to each story, as well as Rowling explaining some terms and concepts for Muggles.

In “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” there is a magical cauldron that has a silver foot and hops around curing everyone of their illness and problems, only it’s new owner doesn’t care about anyone and has no intention of helping others, until the “Hopping Pot” has something to say about it.  In “The Fountain of Fortune” three witches and a knight travel up a hill to find the fabled fountain and cure their problems, but they must make sacrifices along the way, and in so doing discover true things about themselves.  “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is a tale about a wizard who has always hidden his emotions from others and has never known love; through the Dark Arts he has trapped his heart away in a cage, only to finally discover love one day.  In “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump” an ignorant king and a charlatan use a witch and her powers for their own pride and fame, only to have the whole “show” backfire on them.  In the last tale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” three wizards find Death waiting for them and are each granted a wish to avoid death for now, but ultimately what they choose for a wish will determine how soon they will be meeting Death for the last time.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a wonderful collection of tales that make it a perfect holiday gift for anyone, regardless of how familiar they are with the Harry Potter world. Plus, with each purchase of the book, all sales are donated to The Children’s High Level Group, a charity co-created by J. K. Rowling benefiting impoverished children.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 6th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, 2007)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallowsstarstarstarstar

Who will die?  What will happen to Hogwarts?  Is Snape good or bad?  Will Voldemort finally die?  And is it possible Harry might die?  Many people around the world have been waiting two years for the final installment of the Harry Potter series.  As I write this, people of all ages are furiously reading; many have already finished.  This is it folks, the last one, with no more planned; and the results are in: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, weighing in at 759 pages, concludes the series in spectacular, jaw-dropping, and awe-inspiring fashion, solidly placing the fantasy series up there with Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower; possibly as one of the best fantasy series of all time.  This seven-book series, which will be published as a complete set on September 18 in a beautifully designed trunk-like box with handles and your very own lock, will be one for the ages, to be read by children for many generations to come.

The Death Eaters are slowly but surely taking over, as we’ve always known they eventually would, increasing their numbers and employing the army of Dementors, under the control and guidance of Lord Voldemort.  Rowling puts her three main characters – Harry, Hermione, and Ron – to the ultimate test here.  In the last six books Harry has gotten by with help from friends and teachers, always seemingly getting that necessary and crucial help at the last second; but now the trio are seventeen, no longer considered underage, and able to perform magic wherever and however they so please.  Rowling doesn’t hold back, leaving them to fend for themselves, solve their own problems, and get out of each and every situation on their own.  Deathly Hallows is nonstop action, one scene of fighting and almost death leading onto the next, as the three seek out the Horcruxes.  Going on the vague and barely informative words of wisdom from the late Albus Dumbledore, they piece it together, using their magical and educational knowledge – not just Hermione’s! – with the goal of finally defeating Voldemort once and for all.  And while Harry has expressed in the past that it’s up to him, he’s the Chosen One, and needs to go it alone, he isn’t given the opportunity here.

People are dying, mainly Muggles, but also Mudbloods, and any whose bloodline is tainted with that of the non-magical, leading to a growing world that hearkens back to the time of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, as well as echoing the doom and hopelessness of 1984.  With Voldemort’s rule seemingly solid and complete, Harry gets help he doesn’t want from the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore’s Army, leading up to a great final battle where the castle known as Hogwarts lives up to its name as a defensible fortress.

This is the last book folks: who will live and who will die, who will triumph and who will fall is at the mercy of the turning of the page and the next sentence.  But with the size of this book, you can be sure you’ll be on the ride of your life from the first page until the last.  And you will feel a sadness and longing at the realization that the long journey in the life of Harry Potter is finally over.  Yet Rowling has done such an incredible job with Deathly Hallows, weaving in details and points from all previous six books, that you are left with a strong sense of nostalgia.  And what’s the only cure for this feeling?  Why to begin the books all over again with the first when Harry Potter first looked upon Number Four, Privet Drive.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on July 22nd 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Unwritten Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (Vertigo, 2010)

The Unwrittenstarstarstarstar

In their first full series collaboration since the award-winning Lucifer, writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross present The Unwritten: a unique story about tales and writing and magic, taking the reader on journeys into different and unusual worlds with some familiar and recognizable characters and some very unpredictable happenings.

A bestselling fantasy series that is as big as Harry Potter features a hero by the name of Tommy Taylor.  The creator of the series, Wilson Taylor, has gone missing, disappeared, and hasn’t been seen in years.  Meanwhile his son, Tommy Taylor, is reaping the benefits of the series, attending signings and conventions, and has become a worldwide sensation.  “A literary legend made flesh.”  Only rumors have started that Tom Taylor may not actually be who he says he is; and while the well-known man flees from angry crowds, he finds himself joining up with unusual characters, as well as finding elements of the story he knows so well somehow coming true.

Mike Carey and Peter Gross have created a fresh and original series that explores a fantasy world and a world of supposed real life and then magically blurs the borders, both with powerful words and incredible art, keeping readers thinking, but completely hooked, wanting to know what’s going to happen next.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 25th, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula K. LeGuin (Parnassus Press, 1968)

Wizard of EarthseaStarStarStar

If you call this a work of classic fantasy, meaning it’s like every other fantasy series with its magic and wizards and made-up worlds, you would be wrong.  If you call this a work of classic fantasy, meaning it’s a great piece of work that set the foundation – like Lord of the Rings­ – for a lot of other series, you would be right.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in the Earthsea series and as all fantasy series should, it begins with a young wizard, Ged, who knows nothing of magic and the ways of being a wizard, other than his innate ability promising him a career as a great wizard.  First he lives with a wise mage, and learns much about the simple things in life and magic and that everything has a cost.  He soon discovers this when he performs a dark spell from a book he shouldn’t have touched.  A deadly shadow is summoned and then banished by his teacher, but Ged knows he will be facing it again.

Ged then travels to the isle of Roke where he spends years becoming a master wizard.  Upon his graduation, he faces the dark shadow once more but is unable to hold against it and flees in terror.  As a renowned wizard now, he travels around the islands, helping those less fortunate, battling dragons and other monsters.  Then once again he faces the shadow and barely survives, fleeing once more.  He returns to his old master, unsure what to do.  The wizened wizard tells him he must face the shadow and in turn face his greatest fear.  And so Ged heads out into the deep sea where none have gone before and there faces the shadow and wages a great battle, finally defeating him.  The book ends with Ged returning to land with his friend, now a true and accomplished wizard with the thousands of islands of Earthsea before him.

What makes LeGuin’s fantasy series more meaningful than most is that all the magic performed here comes at a cost, which the main character has to deal with throughout the book.  It requires time and energy, afterwards one is tired; to create illusions is much easier than to actually change or create matter.  Unlike the world of Harry Potter, here there are rules; not everyone can be a wizard.  Along with this is the magical world of Earthsea with the many islands of different peoples, many of which know little of each other.  And for a wizard to travel from one island to another is a great adventure.  The next book in the series is The Tombs of Atuan.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 21st, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.