Moving on From Harry Potter

So maybe you love Harry Potter and are trying to find other books like it to read. Or maybe, like me, you were disappointed with the books and want to read something that is similar but better. Here are my suggestions.

Kids Save the World: A common characteristic of fantasy novels is that the hero is usually someone unexpected. In the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter is just an average boy until he gradually discovers that because of the actions of the evil Voldemort, only Harry can destroy Voldemort for good. Here are some of the books/series I really like where the hero(es) are just ordinary kids destined to save the world.

The Dark is Rising sequence: If you haven’t read these books yet you need to stop whatever you are doing and pick these up instead. Written by Susan Cooper, this five book award winning series follows the efforts of five children, one of which is the last of the Old Ones, who are fighting against the Dark. The individual books can be read alone or out of order (I personally started with the middle book and then went to the beginning) but you’ll eventually want to read them all. The entire series has an otherworldly feel to it that I don’t think I’ve gotten from any other series, especially not one that was theoretically intended for juvenile readers.

The Chronicles of Narnia: C.S. Lewis’ extremely popular books for children describe the adventures of various children who are brought into Narnia by Aslan. Technically Aslan is doing all the saving that needs to be done but that doesn’t mean that the children aren’t heroes too. I appreciate these books more now that I am older but I have always been in love with the movies that have been made. A great series for young children to grow up reading.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Deliciously morbid and extraordinarily clever, this thirteen book series starts off slow but picks up steam by the end of the third book. The three Baudelaire children are orphaned at the beginning of the first book and then spend the rest of the series bouncing from inept guardian to inept guardian while also trying to save their considerable fortune from the evil Count Olaf. And while the Baudelaires aren’t trying to save the world, they are desperately trying to hold on to their world. It’s a fast read with a sly humor and while some parents may find it too dark for their young children, if you or your child can make it through Harry Potter, this should be no problem at all. Written by Lemony Snicket, pen name for Daniel Handler.

Magic in Real Life: One of the greatest appeals of the Harry Potter series and most other magical fantasy books is the idea that magic could be possible in real life. While us Muggles might never have the joy of using a wand and discovering our magical abilities, here are some books to take the sting off.

The Magicians: Written by Lev Grossman, The Magicians was touted as Harry Potter for grownups. Disclaimer: I have not yet read this book. It is actually sitting in my library book stack as I type this so I will theoretically be reading it within the next 3-6 weeks. (And I’ll probably write my thoughts here when I’m done.) But the book is about Quentin Coldwater who grew up reading and loving a fantasy series very similar to the Narnia books. And then Quentin is admitted to a very secret magical college in New York, where he finds that magic is not everything he thought it would be. There is also a sequel out now which I should hopefully be reading soon after I finish The Magicians.

The Rook: I read this book back in March and fell in love with it almost immediately. Here are my thoughts on it. It’s definitely more X-Men than Harry Potter but if you’re interested in people dealing with extraordinary and unusual powers, this book should appeal to you.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: This one is a bit of a stretch for Harry Potter fans, I think, but still worth the effort. I’ve only read this book once, and that was a few years ago, and my initial reaction was that I didn’t like the story. However I have been unable to forget the book since then. It’s set in Regency England (a period I have had a soft spot for since getting hooked on Jane Austen early) and follows the only two real magicians left in England. The details of the time period and the fairy tale/magical aspects are incredible and Susanna Clarke‘s book of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, is also well worth reading.

Epic Series: Perhaps your favorite part of Harry Potter was the sheer size and length of the series. Well you’re in luck. There’s nothing that fantasy authors love more than writing really long book series. Sometimes that’s a good¬† thing and sometimes it’s not. Here are a few examples of it working well.

A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones): There are five books so far in this series with another two books planned. That might change though since the series was initially begun to be a trilogy. This is definitely not a series for children and make sure you have a high tolerance for sex and violence before beginning. Despite that, it’s an extremely good series that has exploded in popularity recently thanks to the excellent HBO miniseries. Magic plays a part in the plot, as well as dragons and White Walkers, and it all revolves around the fight for the Iron Throne. Written by George R. R. Martin.

Alvin Maker: Another series by Orson Scott Card (who also wrote the excellent Ender’s Game and related books), the Alvin Maker series is an alternate history of early America. Many people in this America have certain “knacks”, much like magical powers. Alvin is the first Maker in a long time and the series follows his life from birth to young adulthood as he attempts to discover what he is meant to do with his extraordinary skills. This series may or may not be finished; I suppose another book will come if Card decides he has more to tell. It is, however, at a good ending spot.

The Black Company: I don’t remember how many books are in this series but they are all really good. I’ve heard a rumor that another book is forthcoming, which would be really interesting to see where Glen Cook took the story. The Black Company is a mercenary company that works for a wizard who is part of a group of wizards called the Taken. There’s fighting between the wizards, fighting between the company and fighting between the company and outside forces. Magic in various forms plays a huge part of this series and it is well worth reading. It’s also a fast read which is good considering how many books there are.

Honorable Mentions: Here are some books that are just generally superior to Harry Potter in every way.

Lord of the Rings: This is a given. I suppose it’s because the movies came out at about the same time but the two series have been compared to each other numerous times. No surprise there as Rowling unashamedly borrowed quite heavily from Tolkien. Can’t blame her for that since he is the master. A vastly superior book, Lord of the Rings should please any fantasy fan.

His Dark Materials trilogy: Written by Philip Pullman, this trilogy follows the two main characters of Lyra and Will as they travel between worlds fighting a conspiracy. I started reading this series when I was in middle school and never picked up on the religious controversy surrounding the book until the movie came out (which was terrible by the way, don’t see it). I still think it’s a great story despite that and should be entertaining for any fan of Harry Potter.

Some of these books have been surrounded by a fair amount of controversy. If you’re a parent looking for something for your kid, I would recommend that you read or skim the books yourself. If you don’t think it’s appropriate than don’t let your kid read it. Or if you like, let them read it and then use the books to start some interesting discussions.

I’d love to hear some other suggestions for similar books!

Harry Potter

I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter. I was never swept up in the craze when the series was being published and I didn’t actually read the books for the first time until one of the later movies came out. Order of the Phoenix, maybe? Or perhaps it was Half-Blood Prince. I had seen the previous movies and found them entertaining so I finally decided to read the books. I didn’t like them. At all. Recently I decided to read through the series again.

The first time I read the series, I think it took me about a week to read them all. The only thing I took away from it was that J.K. Rowling was not a particularly good writer and that I didn’t actually like Harry Potter. Or Hermione. If I don’t like two of the three main characters, there’s a problem. And the writing! I’ve read a lot. And the good and bad thing about reading a lot is that you know what you like and are able to make quality judgments on what you are reading very quickly. The Harry Potter series is good. But it is not great.

So I read through the series again over the past month or so. I still have a lot of the same problems with the series that I did the first time I read it. I still didn’t particularly like Harry or Hermione and I still don’t think that Rowling is a particularly good or creative writer. The idea of Hogwarts is pretty cool but the wizarding community is hopelessly insulated. Muggles know nothing about them as a rule except when a Muggle child happens to have magical ability. If they do, they get taken to Hogwarts (or Durmstrang or Beauxbatons) where they spend the next seven years learning about magical abilities. Hope they didn’t want to re-enter the Muggle world! Although I’m not sure pureblood wizards/witches have it much better. What are they going to do? Auror, journalist, teacher, or some other weird bureaucratic job at the Ministry I guess.

Harry has always bothered me in the books, as has Hermione. Harry has always accepted his destiny way too easily for me and his continued insistence on not accepting help from anyone on anything is pretty annoying. For somebody whose magical abilities never seem to be much more than average, Harry seems to be overbearingly conceited and self-confident that he, as an average teenage wizard, can overcome the most evil Dark wizard the world has seen in a long time. I realize that as the smart girl, I’m supposed to love Hermione but I can totally see why she doesn’t have any friends. She really is a nag and a know-it-all. (As a side note, what does Rowling have against librarians?)

Draco and Snape bother me as well. Draco is an appropriate villain for the first book. He’s a bully. But please explain to me why Draco is still an issue for these kids after 7 years? After their first year together, Draco should not have been anything more than a mild irritant. He’s a coward and a total jerk. Snape is absolutely ridiculous too. I know Alan Rickman as the sinister and darkly handsome Snape with the voice of pure silk is all the ladies’ favorite, but Snape in the books? He’s cruel and malicious for no reason and it’s kinda hard to buy into or care about his final redemption.

And that’s why I like the movies much more than the books. They are able to take the stories that Rowling wrote and improve a lot of what Rowling is not very good at, mainly characters. Harry, Hermione, even Snape and Draco in the movies are able to become characters and not the caricatures they are in the books. Yes, they had to leave a lot out of the movies that was in the books, including some material that probably would have improved the plot of the movies. But I own the movies and watch them. I don’t own the books and have no plans to buy them.

Overall, I think my main problem with Harry Potter is that their overwhelming popularity means that when I tell people I like to read a lot of fantasy, they immediately ask “Oh like Harry Potter?” If Harry Potter is your gateway drug to reading in general or fantasy in particular, awesome. Couldn’t be happier and many thanks to Rowling. But please don’t try to tell me that Harry Potter is quality fantasy material.

I’m going to try and pull together a list of books/series that are similar to Harry Potter and of a much higher quality. It might be my next post. It might not. (EDIT: I pulled together my suggestions for books that are similar but better than Harry Potter. Read them here!)

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am about Harry Potter!

Ray Bradbury

I’m a reader. And a librarian. Books are a very important and beloved part of my life. I have my favorite books and there are a handful of authors that I will always read because I know they consistently put out good material. Ray Bradbury, though, was the best. None of my other favorites could even compare. So this morning when I read that Ray Bradbury had died at the age of 91, I felt almost as heartbroken as if I had lost a dearly loved family member.

I was first introduced to Ray Bradbury when I was in the sixth grade. We had to do a book report so we all went to the school library one class period to look for books. I was browsing along, when my teacher, who happened to be next to me, pulls down a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, turns to me and says “I think you would like this one, Mary”. The cover was pretty amazing (see above) so I checked it out. My final book report was not very good but I fell in love with the book and the author. For the next several years, every time I entered a library I would always check the shelf to see if there was anything there by Bradbury that I hadn’t read yet. (Actually, I still do that. In libraries and book stores.)¬† I don’t know how that teacher knew that I would love Bradbury but I’m eternally grateful to her for directing me to him.

There is so much out there about Ray Bradbury that I don’t really feel the need to talk much about him. His official website is always a good place to start though, if you’re wanting more information. Or if you want a good introduction to his writing try his large collection of short stories (which have always been stronger than his novels in my opinion). His short stories, his novels, his plays, screenplays, tv shows, poems, essays. I love them all. Equally at home writing about Mars or small town Illinois, Bradbury had a range unlike any other author. I wish I could do justice to this incredible man, but I can’t. So I will continue to read his books and his stories and be grateful for the man that had such a long, full life and contributed so much to my life through his writing.

One of my favorite book flap pictures of Ray Bradbury.

Rest In Peace, Ray Bradbury.

Game of Thrones Update

Well, Season 2 has just finished. I haven’t seen it yet but at least I have internet at home now so it’s only a matter of time.

Season 3 has already got the green light, of course, and the good news is that it’s going to be split over two seasons. This means that less of the book (A Storm of Swords) will have to be cut and it gives Martin more time to finish up Winds of Winter. Theoretically.

The best thing about season 3 will be the new characters involved! According to this article, here are the characters that have been confirmed to appear in the next season:

-Mance Rayder

-Daario Naharis

-Jojen and Meera Reed

-Edmure Tully

-Ser Brynden Tully

-Lady Selyse

-Shireen

-Olenna Redwyne

-Beric Dondarrion

-Thoros of Myr

-Tormund Giantsbane

You can read the original article for a little more information about the characters.

But if you’ve read the books, those are some especially exciting additions. I’m personally looking forward to the Reeds and Dondarrion and Thoros. I realize that the fight for the Iron Throne is a major plot line of this series; however, I feel that the story is most interesting when Martin is setting up the fight between the ice and the fire. Lots of theories about what that could mean but the Reeds, Dondarrion and Thoros play a part in that plot line more than the fight for the throne. No casting decisions as yet that I have heard of, but I will definitely be paying attention to any announcements.

On a slightly related note, if you haven’t bought this book yet, you need to.

It just came out on May 29th and the book is amazing. Trust me, if you cook, if you like the books/show, or are just a fan of medieval cooking, just go ahead and buy this one. There are lots of pictures and the recipes are mostly easy. I say mostly because there are a few recipes like Dornish snake and honeyed locusts that probably would not be very easy to acquire the main ingredients. Although if they could, surely I can too, right? Even if you don’t want to get the cookbook, their blog Inn at the Crossroads is still a great site to check out with a great community.