Harry Potter vs. Harry Dresden


artemisiconThis was a concept I’ve been tossing around for a while. Working in the book store people always gave me the title of their favorite books, and wanted something similar, so I was constantly trying to compare books. Our computers had a fun little function where it did that for you, so it was interesting to see what the computers pieced together.

Now, on that tangent, a long, long time ago a friend found out I was reading Harry Potter (this was before the last book even came out) and said if I like harry Potter, I’d like this series called the Dresden Files. It took me many, many years but I eventually picked up the first Harry Dresden. After plowing through the first several books I couldn’t understand HOW one book was compared to another, there was literally NOTHING similar. Literally, both main characters are named Harry, and they’re both Wizards. That’s it, the only similarity.

So, I thought it would be fun to start a Versus series with comparing the very first “If you like that, you’ll like this!” I ever dealt with!

Before we delve deeper into the actual story, the biggest difference is the books themselves. Harry Potter is classified as 9 – 12 (though “adult fiction” versions have been released so adults don’t feel so embarrassed reading them in public – I wish I was kidding), whereas the Dresden Files is a Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Potter is read through a third person’s point of view, where Dresden is 1st person. This gives both books a very different feel, and allows for Dresden to be as sassy as he wants to be.

Both our characters are named Harry, but Harry Potter is a 11-year-old, and Harry Dresden is in his 30’s. Potter is a child from Britain; whose parents were killed by an evil Wizard and to protect him, sent him to live with his cruel Aunt and Uncle. Dresden lives in Chicago, where he works with the police on crimes that are a little to weird for their paychecks, and runs his own business for people who need a Wizard to solve their problems. His mother was killed when he was a child, so his single father raised him. After his father’s death Dresden is sent to live with his Uncle, where he learns about his magic and how to use it properly. Admittedly, both characters are somewhat similar. They have a lot of the same traits (as do most hero-type characters) determination, strength, honesty, what have you. And later in the books Potter does get quite the sassy attitude. But Dresden has a bit of an edge because of his age, and the fact that although Potter has been through a lot in his short life, Dresden has been through more. This is already aimed at two different demographics. Not saying that each age group can’t read either book, but I wouldn’t recommend Harry Dresden for anyone in the 9 – 12 range.

Now, we can’t talk about Wizards without talking about the most important part; the magic! We all know how magic works in the Harry Potter world: swish and flick, and it’s Levi-OH-sa, not levio-SA. Potter’s magic is based on spells that were created and handed down, only being used through the magic of a wand. Most of their magic is wand and incantation, but there are potions, made from odd magic-based ingredients (gillyweed anyone?). Dresden’s magic is the complete opposite spectrum. Magic comes from within, and the only time a wand (or blasting rod) is used, is as a tool to focus their magic through. Dresden is good at LARGE magic, mostly for blowing stuff up, so if he needs to do a spell with a much smaller radius, he funnels it through his blasting rod. Wizards use incantations, but the language is their choice. Some use ancient latin to sound better, others use their own language, and some just use gibberish! Harry’s most common spell is “Flickum Bicus” …and if you think hard enough, I guarantee you can tell where it’s from. They aren’t using handed down spells, they are creating their own, sometimes using other people’s spells and spellbooks if they want to try something new, or are in a situation the spells they created can’t help. And their potions are completely different. I really loved how Dresden did his spells, it kind of rooted the story more in our reality, giving it a “what if?” feeling. He doesn’t use some obscure magic creatures blood, or a magically growing full moon mushroom. He uses ingredients that require all our senses, and usually uses pop as a base. He uses money in a love potion, or sunlight in an energy drink. And because Dresden is completely broke his spells seem completely thrown together and desperate, but lets his natural strength come through!

Potter is a boy thrust into the limelight because of surviving a killing curse. The books follow his life through school, and the slowly growing power of his greatest enemy. Even though they are kids books, they are absolutely phenomenal. They bring up issues many adult aimed books won’t even touch, and has created a generation of open minded, politically savvy, and creative children. Children who know the media lies, and that being different (in colour, sexual preference, nationality, etc) isn’t bad. Dresden doesn’t hit notes like that, but that doesn’t make it less of a book. Dresden is a Wizard for hire that works with the police in cases containing magic or anything occult. Dresden has to deal with werewolves, vampire courts, fairy courts, evil hidden in the Wizard council, and just all around bad luck. Dresden hits a different note through this; he’s not rich, not overly handsome, not overly strong or athletic, but he’s smart. And determined. Those factors get him through any situation thrown at him. He shows that you don’t have to be “special” to make it through life, you have to be determined and face any challenge head-on without giving up. Even if life kicks your ass the first few times.

Now, the point of this review wasn’t to say if one was better than the other. It was to compare because all these years, I had no idea how one could be compared to the other. And if someone is interested in reading one series because they like the other, I don’t want them to be disappointed because they are nothing alike.

I found Harry Dresden actually closer to the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. Anita’s series is a female lead, and has a hell of a lot more sex, but at it’s root they are very similar. Both are written through the characters eyes, and both characters are quite spunky and sarcastic. Anita is a Necromancer for hire, who works with the local police on cases involving anything supernatural (though her cases are a little more bloody and gruesome). And Harry Potter is much closer to Percy Jackson – a demi-god raised by a single mother who spends his summers at a half-blood camp learning to harness his powers and inevitably saving the world.

I hope this review was interesting to everyone!

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“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot


asteriaiconI cannot believe we have had this blog going for this long and I have not yet done a review about this book. This is another one of my go to Swiss Army recommendations for just about anyone looking for a good book!

The book follows the life of Henrietta Lacks, or more importantly her family. Henrietta was a working class black woman, trying to make ends meet as a tobacco farmer. She was suffering from cervical cancer, and was receiving treatment. During the course of her treatment, cervical cells were taken from her without her knowledge or consent, and smeared in a Petri dish. Science had not yet been able to get cells to grow before, not until Henrietta came along, and changed the entire path for scientific research.

Lacks’ cells were the first scientists were able to reproduce, and reproduce they did. HeLa cells, as they became known as, are a huge multi-billion dollar industry today. They have helped the world over to create vaccines for such things as Polio, as well as other cures and medicines and treatments which have helped millions of people. Thanks to HeLa cells, we can understand gene mapping, which it’s a subject that hits home for me, and they can help millions of couples conceive through in vitro fertilization, a technique we could never have accomplished had it not been for HeLa cells.

Skloot, a journalist, has chosen to tell the story more through talking with the Lacks’ family. Her family is still working poor, and cannot even afford the health care that Henrietta’s cells helped to create. They did not receive one cent of the money generated from the production and sale of HeLa cells.

It really makes someone think. Life back then was so vastly different from what we know today, probably more so for a poor black woman. Her care would have been different than that of a white woman’s with the same illness in those times. Is it fair that her cells were harvested without her knowledge or consent? Certainly today this would not (or should not) happen in a first world country. Is it right that the family did not receive any monetary compensation from the sale of Lack’s cells? How it is right that the family cannot afford healthcare that might not exist yet without HeLa cells?

On the other side of the coin, where would healthcare the world over be without HeLa cells? How many people have benefited from the medicine and technology created by them? How much would we understand about various illnesses and how they evolve? Is the consent of one woman worth literally millions of lives?

It is a very interesting and thought provoking read. I believe this is also being made into a movie, and if I am not mistaken, I do believe Oprah is involved, which will definitely get the word out about who Henrietta Lacks was, and her unknowing contribution to science and modern medicine. At any rate, I dare you to read this and not debate where you stand between ethics and science.

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“The art of racing in the rain” by Garth Stein


asteriaiconThis book was recommended to me while I still worked at the book store by a local physician. He promised me that I would never look at a dog the same way again, and he was right. It quickly became one of my favorite reads and one of my Swiss Army picks when giving recommendations to people.

The entire story is told through the eyes of a dog named Enzo. Enzo is dying, and he is reviewing his life and all that he has learned. He believes that he is near the last stage of the reincarnation cycle, and the last stage is human. He is desperate to learn and remember everything he can about being human, in hopes that it will give him an advantage in his next life.

Enzo has a master named Denny Swift who is a race car driver. Enzo tells the story of his life with Denny, as Denny traverses  life from single to married to children and beyond, and relates it to all that he has learned about racing.

The novel just touched a part of me I didn’t even know I had. It was so lovely and sweet, yet sad at the same time. I laughed out loud at Enzo trying to understand what it is like to be human and how hard life would be without opposable thumbs. I cried when life took unexpected turns for Denny and Enzo, and how Enzo learned the downsides of being human and how much we can hurt and feel.

The writing is so beautiful, and I found myself loving the racing philosophies, a topic I know nothing about, yet it added such a uniquely wonderful element. I am more of a cat lover than a dog fan, but I loved watching life through Enzo’s eyes, and could envision any animal really trying to understand human behaviour and thoughts and feelings. I can also admit that I cried at the ending, it’s a five alarm snot-bomb so make sure you have tissues handy, but for a pet lover it still was the best ending imaginable! It left me with a magnificent feeling of hope for any pet. Stein was able to really convey that life simply isn’t about going fast!

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“Station Eleven” by Emily St.John Mendel


asteriaiconThe story starts in Toronto where a plague is unleashed. A flight from Russia landed at Pearson International airport, where the passengers were infected with the Georgian Flu. It soon spread very quickly in the city, and throughout the world, leveling the majority of the human population.

In the meantime, an actor, Arthur Leander, dies onstage while performing King Lear. In the city, we start to see the best and worst of humanity, as some people try to help each other, while others start looting and try to hole up in their homes until they are forced to leave.

After the plague has taken hold and society as we know it has crumbled, we fast forward to the Traveling Symphony, a band of survivors who travel through the area that used to be Southern Ontario and Michigan, entertaining what little of the human population is left. As the story progresses, we see how some of the survivors lives are intertwined, and seem to lead back to Arthur Leander.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, though admittedly, I read it right before I got on a plane to Toronto. It wasn’t a great idea, and I was mildly paranoid for a bit. But you can see just how easily an airborne disease can spread very quickly in such a huge city. Think of all of the public transit, the business core, the tourists coming from all over the world, and let’s not forget the PATH. I now pack hand sanitizer!

The author does an incredible job of writing about an apocalypse and yet keeping it exceptionally human. She focused so well on how people can touch each other’s lives, yet still feel so lonely and isolated.

The author has some of these survivors tell their children and grandchildren of what life was like before the plague wiped out everything. It really makes you think of what it would be like if the majority of people just disappeared tomorrow. What would you have to say about our lives and what our society was like?

I liked how the author told the story through different points of view, and how they bounced back and forth in time between the pre and post Georgian Flu. I also loved that she illustrated that even in humanities darkest days, we rely on art and entertainment to help us understand the world around us. If this has not been picked up for a movie, I really hope that it does. It would transfer to the big screen so beautifully!

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“Everything Everything” by Nicola Yoon


asteriaiconI picked up this novel after hearing it was going to be a movie (a movie that skipped over my small city), and honestly the pretty cover intrigued me.

The story follows Madeline, a young teenage girl who is incredibly sick. Maddy had a rare disease where she is essentially allergic to everything. She cannot leave her house, and basically lives in a sanitized bubble.

One day new neighbours move in next door and Maddy watches the new family as they unpack, from the strange gymnastic teen son Olly, to the extremely abusive father. Olly catches her looking out the window at them one day, and decides to come over and introduce himself. Naturally, a romance ensues, as these things often do. If you are going to ask how a relationship can happen when one party lives in a bubble…well…you are just going to have to read the book to find out. I can’t give everything away!

The novel was a fast read. I was done in a few hours, which isn’t easy for me, I tend to be a slow reader, but with quick simple words, some small drawings and journal entries on full pages, it is easy to fly though.

While I do like a romance, especially in a teen book, the story really isn’t believable, but I tried to let it slide, I really did try! I liked how the author used modern day and old fashioned methods for the teens to communicate such as using online chatting but also window miming. I also liked that the author made mention of the fact our lead girl is Japanese-American, yet didn’t make a huge deal of it. She was just a normal teen girl with normal teen feelings…who happens to be sick.

The ending really ruined this for me. First, I found the ending rushed. I wanted to know more of what happens to Maddy and Olly. But ultimately my biggest problem with the whole thing was the representation of someone with an illness or disability.

I applaud the author writing about someone with a disability; it really is an area with little representation. Yet I felt that there wasn’t enough research, and was not overly supportive of people with disabilities.

I can understand why Maddy was reluctant to tell Olly of her condition, but I felt that it was more due to shame. Why be ashamed? Yes she is sick, but she is also highly intelligent, and loves to read, among other things. There is more to her than her illness, and I felt her being ashamed took away everything else that she was.

The ending itself seemed to give the idea that one cannot have a happy ending if you have a disability, which really bothers me. Some of the decisions made by both Maddy and Olly seemed extremely reckless and dangerous, not to mention highly improbable. Yes, Maddy has to live her life still and not be confined by her illness, and teens will be teens, but it just seemed to give the impression of not taking a disability seriously.

Ultimately, I felt like the author tried to capitalize on a teen novel trend. The book is similar in nature to The Fault in Our Stars and All The Bright Places, and I loved both of these novels, yet these books were well researched, well thought out, and took nothing lightly. This book to me just missed the mark entirely. I am no longer upset that the movie didn’t make it in my city anymore.

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“Confessions of an ugly stepsister” by Gregory Maguire


artemisiconThis story, as you can probably imagine, is an alternative take on Cinderella. Gregory Maguire writes fiction based on fairy tales or older stories, but writes from a different point of view – the bad guy. His other story, that was turned into a Broadway musical, was based on the Wizard of Oz, and told from the Wicked Witch’s side.

Confessions did the same thing. He wrote it from the stepsisters point of view. Now, because of the route he chooses to take with his stories, hard-core fans may not approve. He writes his stories in such a way that the “bad guy” we have come to know, is a misunderstood good guy. And the “good guy” is less so. I love seeing a different side to some of my favorite stories. The original stories are written to glorify the good guy and make them seem innocent and sweet, and the opponent horrible and cruel. But what if that story was mis-told to make the heroine seem better than she actually was?

Confessions is told from the point of view of Iris, the younger of the two sisters. Their life doesn’t start when Cinderella’s story does, it starts much earlier. After their father was brutally murdered by an angry mob, their mother took them and fled England in the middle of the night. She took the girls back to Holland where her family originated. Expecting to find a warm welcome at her Grandfathers house, she instead finds new owners that have no ties to her or obligations to help her, and a funeral notice for her Grandfather. The small family is forced back out onto the street, hungry and tired. Margarethe is then forced to beg and look for some kind of work. They eventually find an old painter who is willing to house them, so long as they clean his house and gather flowers for his paintings every day. He has no money to pay them, but instead houses and feeds them in exchange.

Another family commissions the Master to paint their daughter Clara, after seeing his painting of Iris. Clara is a willful and borderline cruel child because she has grown up raised on a platform and protected from the world. Her family has money because of her mothers dowry and their sales of tulip bulbs. She is exceptionally beautiful, but sheltered. Her mother keeps her indoors, forbidding her to go outside except for the small backyard and shed where they grow their tulips. Because Clara can not leave the house to have her painting done, the Master must go there. In return, they make a deal that as long as he is painting Clara, Iris is to assist and tutor her, and Margarethe and Ruth can help in the kitchen.

With this job Margarethe gets a small payment, and is in control of a much larger house. When Clara’s mother Henrika announces that she is pregnant, Margarethe becomes more important to the household. She has made herself indispensable, so that they have no reason to be rid of her, even though her words are cruel and she openly argues with the van den Meer’s.

Through the entire story you feel sorry for Iris and Ruth, even though Disney portrays them as ugly, cruel adults, the girls are in fact quite young and kind. Iris looks after Ruth because she is slow and cannot look after herself. Iris is actually quite intelligent, even though her mother has refused to give her any kind of schooling. She is imaginative, and the Master asks her to apprentice under him (along with his other that Iris falls in love with) because he believes she has talent in the arts.

There are very strong themes of beauty in this story. Clara’s visual beauty versus Iris’s internal beauty. The Masters ability to capture beauty, the beauty in a flower, and the beauty of charity. It’s quite interesting to read the different views Maguire has on the subject. I am a firm believer in internal beauty, and Margarethe, in her own weird way, tries to reinforce that within Iris as well. External beauty fades with age, but internal beauty never does. And Iris’s kindness and wit makes her a truly beautiful character. The way she looks after her sister, does what she can to protect and look after Clara (even though in the beginning Clara was incredibly rude to her) the way she still looks after her mother after everything Margarethe has said to her.

After Clara’s mother passes, the story starts to take a familiar path. Margarethe marries into the van den Meer family and Clara becomes her stepdaughter. Clara refuses to acknowledge her and does everything to go against what Margarethe wants.

This is where it gets really interesting. Clara is now allowed to venture outside but becomes so terrified of the town and the people that she takes to doing chores so she can stay busy and stay inside. She even goes so far as to hide whenever the door is opened, to make sure she avoids the prying eyes of older men. So instead of being forced into servitude, she goes willingly. She even starts coming up with nicknames for herself and eventually “Cinderella” becomes the commonly used term.

It is a very different take on the fairy tale. It follows the same line, but instead of clear “good” and “evil” like most fairy tales adopt, this one is just shades of grey. Margarethe is just trying to provide for herself and her daughters, and Clara is just trying to be comfortable in her own home. It is a very interesting look at the story, and it is really well written.

Even though there is no magic and fairy godmothers, there is still the sense of magic and mystery. I really enjoyed the alternate telling, and liked the different light the “stepsisters” are shown in. I really recommend this book.

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“Golden Prey” by John Sandford


asteriaiconThis review is more about the entire series than this specific book. I first picked up a book in the series when I was in university as something to read on the drive back home. Since then I have been hooked and have looked forward to the next installment every summer, and have amassed the entire collection!

The series follows Lucas Davenport, a cop with the Minneapolis P.D. He prefers to work alone as he tries to solve the Twin Cities grizzliest homicides, but there are a few detectives who make repeat appearances throughout the series. Davenport is an incredibly interesting character. He is considered to be good looking, yet has a hint of danger about him. He is also very intelligent, and very rich, having developed computer games and sold them for a hefty sum. He likes fast cars and beautiful women, yet can mingle with the cities less than reputable citizens easily, and has many informants that trust him and help him out on cases.

What sets Sandford apart from other crime authors is he tells the story not just from our protagonist’s perspective, but also from the prey’s perspective. We as readers get to watch as the characters make decisions which ultimately bring them closer and closer together. Sandford also develops his characters throughout the series. It is incredibly refreshing to watch a beloved character grow. I have read series where characters never change, they never really develop to their full potential, and it always feels so stagnant and can get boring. We read along with Davenport’s life as he goes through various relationships, eventually getting married and having kids. These characters sometimes play vital roles in the novels, while other times they have very minor parts or mentions.

Sandford’s stories are always a fun read. They are fast paced, and full of action, with smart, clever writing, and usually a heart-racing ending. The great Stephen King himself plugged Sandford’s latest book, quote “if you haven’t read Sandford yet, you have been missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time”.

In this particular novel, Sandford’s 27th in the Prey series, Davenport is now a part of the U.S. Marshall service, who has set out to find Garvin Poole, an armed robber turned killer. Poole had gone underground for a number of years, but came out of hiding for one last big score. Poole robs a drug cartel, killing a number of people in the process, including a little girl. Now he is wanted by both the police and the drug cartel, and it’s a race to see who gets to him first!

If you haven’t read Sandford yet, I highly recommend giving him a try! The first in the Prey series is Rules of Prey, and I can guarantee you will be hooked!

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