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The Pearl

Title: The Pearl : Erotica from the Underground Magazine of Victorian England.
Editor: Anonymous
Publisher: Ballantine Books, NYC. 1968.

This soft cover book has a muted color scheme for the cover. The frontpiece image of a woman in a partially unlaced corset is done in rose tinted shades with the image intentionally in soft focus. Beneath this, on the cover, is a turquoise band with the title printed in an elegant font. Beneath this, in a smaller font, is the subtitle. The back cover has a turquoise band in the approximately the same position as on the front cover with the title printed. Above this is a rose colored rectangle is the background for similarly hued text in what I believe is the Arial font. It gives a brief description of the history of the text within and an even briefer overview of the contents. At the top of the cover is another turquoise band with the notation that this book contains the full text of all of the issues of this underground Victorian magazine.

The glued binding is fairly well put together and pretty much industry standard. The paper stock used for the pages is of average composition. The text is presented in a more modern version of the font used in the magazines. At the beginning of each issue presented, with a reproduction of the headline text from the magazine at the header of the page. The text on the page is presented in a font that is of average size and spacing. It is only moderately fatiguing to the eye to read for an extended period of time.

The text itself covers a very wide range of things. Two things are immediately apparent. The writers of the works within the magazine are predominantly male and have little understanding of what women experience in the process of the scenes that are written. I confess, I was a touch disappointed when I discovered that even the works that were supposedly written from a female perspective lacked the authenticity of things written from said perspective. The descriptions of the acts, for example, focused more heavily upon the males in the equation or glossed over the female response. It had the effect of muting any interest I may have had as erotic reading for myself.

This said, I was entertained by the wider range of euphamisms used for the male genitalia and the almost poetic language used to describe the female genitalia. I was also amused by the way the males of these scenes seemed to have inexhaustible appetites and unflagging stamina. In one serial story, the hero acquires no less than 10 concubines (many of them under what the era would have called questionable conditions, but honestly it is kidnapping and rape). He speaks of having many more women under his auspices within a grand mansion that is outfitted solely for debauchery of the most sexual sort. Somehow, the hero of this series of stories manages to charm his way into the arms of all women he encounters and remain with sufficient vigor to repeat his performance in short order with another.

The list of taboo subjects (of the era) that were touched upon in the various issues of this magazine include (but are not limited to):

  • Incest

  • Rape

  • Pedophilia

  • Corprophilia

  • Birching and physical discipline

  • Homosexuality

I had hoped for some variety in the writing, as this was a periodical that was supposedly fashioned from the contributions of many. Unfortunately, the stories were very uniform in their construction, execution, and subject matter. I found the same to be the case with the limericks and bawdy ballads that were littered through out the latter issues. The high degree or similarity between the various works leads me to believe that there was a core group of writers who presented themselves under various pseudonyms who forumulated the material that made up the majority of the issues. Occasionally, there were brief points of departure in writing style but they were the outliers.

Rating: 4/10


The Art of Belly Dancing

Title: The Art of Belly Dancing.
Author: Dahlena with Donna Z. Meilach
Publisher: Bantam Books         Date: 1975

This is a lightly used, vintage soft cover book. It is in fair condition. The glued binding is still in good condition. The pages are not yellowed or, really, show any signs of age. The front cover shows the retail price of $1.95, which considering the brevity of this book is a reasonable price for the era. The front cover is white with black text and two color photos at the bottom third of the cover. The topmost text reads in a combination of bolded text and italicized text: The Sexy Exercise Thousands of women have already discovered it. Now an expert demonstrates the sensuous way to a more beautiful you. I have a few reasons for sharing this flavor text. First, we see here that there is an effort to appeal to the stereotype of the belly dancer as a sex object. While this may be a predominant concept within Western society, I am not a fan of it. This almost put me off from picking up this at the used bookstore. (I paid 50 ¢ for it.) Secondly, I wasn't impressed with how this appeal to the buyer's potential sense of inadequacy in their apperance (or keeping up with popular fads) was so blatant. I recognize that they want to sell this as a book that promotes the exercise benefits of belly dance. I find the method they used for this somewhat demeaning. While it is in keeping with the era, I'm still mildly offended by it. (I have made an effort, however, to view this text within the light of its era of production and to keep my modern sensibilities out of it.)

The title is presented in the same font as the bolded section of the flavor text. Both blocks of text are centered on the page. While this was a popular font for when this book was produced, I feel it is somewhat cartoonish. I think that the book would have benefited from a more streamlined font with less flourishes. This would have presented a cleaner looking cover and focused more attention upon the title, where as with how the cover is assembled here it is struggling with the flavor text and the photos below. The photos depict the author Dahlena in the midst of her belly dance routine. The action shot on the left side has better illumination than the still on the right side. Both pictures are presented with a rose tone tint to them. I am not inclined to believe this is the result of sunlight bleaching the cover because the rest of the cover doesn't show signs of fading.

The back cover presents the two images from the front at the top of the page. These are presented in full color. While this compensates some for the poor lighting in the images, it doesn't do very much for it. I think that the photographer who was used for these images (and those within the book) didn't put much effort into the composition or layout of the photographs. Honestly, I have seem amature photographers who have done a better job. It is rather disappointing and clearly a case of getting what you paid for here. It is an inexpensive book and there are elements of poor quality here reflecting that. The photography is perhaps the most obvious example. The blurb on the back is trite. I also disapprove of the use of italics for the entire blurb. It tires the eye and makes it difficult to tell what the important parts of the blurb are. I am sure that the primary problem here is the typefont. Again, if a more simple font was used, it would not be as tiring for the eye, I am sure.

The text of the book is, mercifully, a much more direct and focused on informative writing rather than attempting to persuade the reader of its value. The font used for the text is much easier to read, well spaced on the page, and far more crisp than what was used for the cover. It was jarring, however, to transition from the flourishes of the cover to the more sedate font used within the book. I feel that if they were going to use flourishes on the cover, they could at least incorporate them into the title page and the headings of sections. This would give the book a more cohesive feel. Instead, I come away from it feeling like they slapped a different version of the cover on with this printing after the one matching the interior was cast away for some reason.

The photography of the book does not suffer from the same lighting issues as the cover images but they look somewhat stilted. I recognize the challenge of capturing a person in motion for the purpose of illustrating what they are doing. Still, I would have appreciated if the photos didn't look like she froze in a position to be photographed. The author, Dahlena, is the woman who posed for these photos. I wish I could say positive things about them but I can't. She looks wooden and awkward. Her expression tends towards what is popularly known as 'resting bitch face', which I find displeasing and uninviting. The shots where she is smiling or at least looks like she is somewhat enjoying the experience are far more aethetically pleasing and inviting. Which makes them more accessible to the reader by making the exercise seem to be a pleasant experience rather than a tired chore or some sort of irritation to be finished with quickly.

I found the front matter of the work well researched. It is, however, clear that which of the authors that was primarially working on it has a very 'dry' presentation. It was hard to really be engaged and interested because this section had all the feel of reading a term paper written by a freshman college student. Add to this that there are photos that are so heavily dark due to the inability to translate the color graident of the images into black and white, and I found this section hard to really enjoy. This was a disappointment, because it could have been a very interesting read if the authors focused on conveying the richness of the history of belly dance as the beautiful and fascinating subject it truly is. Instead, I came away with the distinct impression that this section was an afterthought and that they rushed through it.

The exercises section of the book are easy to follow. This is one of the things that was done right. The authors broke the movements down into a series of simple steps. While the photographs were not terribly helpful in envisioning what each exercise was like, the descriptions more than compensated for this. I think I can say that this was the best part of the book. And, honestly, it was the most important part to get right. I can somewhat forgive all the things that are not exactly right or well put together for the sake of the detail and careful attention in this section. The final sections discussing costuming, music, and performance are a let down after the success of the exercises section. They felt rushed and I was left with the impression that the authors were attempting to cram in a large amount of information into a limited word count.

Rating: 3/10

Knight Triumphant

Title: Knight Triumphant A Graham Novel
Author: Healther Graham
Publisher: Zebra Historical Romances (an imprint of Kensington Books)       Date: 2002

As far as paperbacks go, this is a pretty standard book. The spine is clearly glued to the wrap around cover which is made of heavy paperstock. The front cover depicts a man dressed in plate armor, sans helmet. He is facing the viewer with his head slightly lowered. A sword is held in his left hand and obscures the right hand side of his face. The image is a bit heavy on the light/dark contrast between the armor, sword, and black background. The author's name and title are presented in raised gold-leaf text. I am not sure what type font was used, I am inclined, however, to say it is something related to Times New Roman. The spine is a slate grey color. The publisher's logo and genre designation are printed in white at the top of the spine. Beneath that is the notation that this is from a N.Y. Times bestselling author, also in white. The author's name is presented in a goldenrod colored, smaller print, version of the front text. A miniature full color image from the front cover is presented and then the title of the book is located at the base of the spine in similar type font and color as the author's name.

The back cover is slate blue, like the spine. The header of the blurb is in the same goldenrod color and type face as the title and author's name. Beneath this, in what appears to be Times New Roman font, are the three statements of the blurb. They are spaced as to be centered on the back. Below the blurb is a brief promotion for two of the author's other books. The blurb is a solid demonstration of brevity being exercised to paint a full picture in as few words possible. There is a suggestion of the conflict within the novel and it explains enough to illustrate the major points while leaving much to imagination. Compared to the text of the book, I would argue that this blurb is fairly well assembled.

I'm not entirely sure where to start in my assessment of the text. There are several things that Graham did wonderfully. At the same time, there are elements that I found jarring. I suppose I must preface what I am about to say with the following: I am an amature medievalist. I have been reading, researching, and studying the European medieval period for over twenty years. (Yes, I am that person who will be put off by how movies get it wrong. I am, however, not the person who will say it in the middle of the theater. At home, however, all bets are off.)

Graham set her work in the period around when King Edward I of England (known as Edward Longshanks for his considerable height) was at war with King Robert II of Scotland. Indeed, both kings are mentioned frequently in the story and Robert II makes a brief apperance at a battle scene. She does a very good job of showing the reader the political intrigue surrounding the capture of Langley castle with out painting it out in detail. Her description of the mannerisims and dress of the personages involved are relatively true to historical facts.

It is clear that Graham did do some research into the period she set her novel in. Her descriptions of life within the castle are close to what is historically accepted. The way she shows the characters of different classes interacting does a good job of showing the reader the stratification of late medieval society. At the same time, however, there are some elements missing that I found dissatisfying. She presents all the female characters as bareheaded most of the time. None but the poorest of the poor or the young unmarried girls of the period were bareheaded. She does not include headdress in any of her descriptions of the heroine's garb or that of most of the female characters, implying that they simply were not worn.

There is an unexpected level of familiarity between the heroine, Lady Igrainia of Langley (born of the noble house of Abelard) and the servantry. To some extent it can be understood by way of the fact that Igrainia nursed her people through a bout of the bubonic plauge. (Though this plauge is not specifically mentioned, the apt descriptions of the symptomology makes it clear that it was the plauge afflicting the castle at the beginning of the book). Still, she is rather cozy with her servants and this is not exactly correct for the period. She treats them as though they were of higher rank, in some cases as though they were close to being peers. This also irked me.

The storyline is well constructed and the pacing is very good. I found this a fairly easy book to read, the historical errors and author's playing around with some of the societal structure aside. The rising action of the story is tightly woven and blends a good deal of period events with the fictional events of the novel. The scene where Igrainia was traveling in disguise to London and beset upon by thieves was surprisingly well written and accurate. The hero (Sir Eric Graham) and his search party (who were out searching for her following her escape from the castle) coming upon the traveling party in the midst of their fight with the thieves was a bit deus machina but I can forgive that because there really wasn't a much better way to resolve that scene.

The crisis moment of the story comes very late and the falling action leaves the reader with the feeling that there is a major portion of the story missing. As this is most likely part of a series, I can only presume that a following book picks up not much longer after where this one concludes. There were some scenes that seemed a bit out of place. I can recognize that the hero of the novel being a military figure must at some point in the novel demonstrate this. I question, however, if that could have been handled better. The transition from the scene at the castle to the scene at the battlefield was rather abrupt and a bit bewildering. Where we had been following the heroine through the story, we suddenly jump to following the hero for a scene and then return to following the heroine for most of the story. It was a disatisfying disruption to the flow of the story. I am debating if I should locate the other books in this series to place this novel into context. It is clearly not the first or the last of it.

Rating: 6/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Author: J. K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (A Scholastic imprint.)          Date: 2007

The dust jacket for the seventh and final volume of the series is a stark contrast to the previous three. The dark color scheme has been abandoned. On the front piece, we see Harry Potter at the central foreground of the image. His left hand is held aloft as he gazes in the same direction. His right hand reaches downward, obscured by his robes. Something telling about this image is that the position of Harry is the same as that of the Magician in the Rider Waite deck. I think this is something intentional by the artist. In the background a semi-circular wall is depicted. The highest points of the arch are to the right and left of the cover and are approximately at the same apparent height as Harry's head. The lowest point of the arch is not visible because of how Harry is positioned but the line of the curve suggests that it would appear to be at shoulder height in the image. The image of Harry dominates the lower half of the cover as the sky presides over the upper portion. The color of the sky suggests some time near sunrise or sunset. Given that this is the final book, I would argue that it is sunset.

The spine depicts the sky and the wall with the title of the book, volume number, and the author's name overlaid in red foil lettering that is the same font as what is used within the book for the title, heading of chapters, and the header of the pages. This font is the same as in the other six books. The back piece of the dust jacket is dominated by a partial image of Voldemort. His hands are flung forward in either a grasping gesture or a warding gesture. The wall towers over him as the portion of the sky visible in the top right hand of the scene is an orange-red. The image of Voldemort continues into the back flap. This image is divided almost neatly in half. On the left side is a yellow curtain pulled back. To the right, we see Voldemort's flowing robes and hooded head. The only elements of the face that are visible are the eyes and the area immediately surrounding. The lines of this image suggests that Voldemort is grimacing. It could be argued that this is an expression of high fury.

The cover is gray with a harlequin design impressed on it. The spine is bound with yellow canvas. Red foil lettering is along it indicating the title, volume number, author's last name, and the publishing house's logo. It is in the same typefont as was used on the spine portion of the dust jacket. The fly pages on the insides of the cover are a brilliant red. In the somewhat dim light of my living room right now, it looks to be crimson. It is quite striking and appropriate for this volume. Where there was a great deal of tension and limited violence in the sixth book, the seventh book of the series raises both to a fever pitch. We see Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermoine Granger depart from the relative safety of Ron's family home and of Hogwarts to search for Voldemort. It becomes clear as the story progresses that the interpersonal tensions between these three characters has deepened along with their growth.

The oppresive air of paranoia within the Wizarding world touches the trio in unexpected ways. It becomes clear that human rights violations have become the rule of the day. In many ways, Rowling suggests the Wizarding equivalent of the anti-Semite fervor at the outset of World War II in Germany through subtle hints. At roughly the midpoint of the book, it becomes especially clear the hostility expressed against wizards and witches born of nonmagical parents. While the fantastic elements of the story softens the horror of the situation, it is still very clear what terrible things are occurring in the Wizarding world. The search for Voldemort and the means to end his reign of terror takes on a grave pathos as the struggles the three friends encounter grow progressively more severe.

On the whole, the story moves from an air of anxiety and the threat of violence to outright acts of violence and inhumanity around the trio. Through Harry, Ron, and Hermoine, we witness the darkest elements of humanity as manifested in the fantasy world of the series. Rowling handles this with a deft touch and presents just the right mix of fantasy, comedic relief, and pathos. Of all the series, I believe this is the best written of the books. The tension and pacing are exceptional. It keeps the reader on the edge of their seat up to the final conflict, wherein Harry faces Voldemort himself in a duel. Harry's victory comes with a high price but it is quite satisfying to read. And hopeful notes remain, such as Harry's foil, Draco Malfoy, is redeemed from his ways. Indeed, the redemption of Draco Malfoy leads to the redemption of his family, which had been Voldemort's staunchest supporters. And it establishes the eventual return to normalacy that is described in the epilouge.

The Craft Companion: A Witch's Journal

Title: The Craft Companion: A Witch's Journal
Author: Dorothy Morrison
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (A division of Llewwllyn Worldwide Ltd.)       Date: 2001

The paperback cover's frontpiece has a border of vines with what appears to either be mapel or grapeleaves interspersed. This, like the rest of the cover, is done in shades of green. At the center, the first portion of the title appears in a bold font that is supposed to resemble the archaic fonts from the deep past. Beneath this is a simple line drawn triquertia. The subtitle is below that in a more modern version of the first font. Unlike the title and the author's name, the subtitle is in black. The author's name is printed below in an unbolded version of the font for the title. The cover would have been semi-aesthetically pleasing if it weren't for the line drawing being in contrast to the lush border and the change in font and font color for the subtitle. The spine of the book continues the font usage from the author's name. It is in white with the line drawing of the triquertia placed between the title and the author's last name.

The backpiece of the cover is in an entirely different font than the frontpiece or the spine. This is done entirely in black text. The blurb on the backpiece is a rather trite little poem from the author. The only elements carried over from the frontpiece is the lush border about the margins of the page and the single occurrance of the frontpiece's font for the words 'The Craft'. The binding of the book is spiral bound with the spine of the cover a cohesive part of both the front and back covers and the binding passing through it at the point where it meets the back cover. For some reason, the right side of where the binding is located is a strip of white that runs the length of the book and just barely larger than the holes for the binding to pass through.

The paperstock is of rather cheap quality, like the cover and the binding. The text on the first section is similar to the text on the backpiece of the book. The section header is in the same font as on the front cover. The remaining section of the book has on the left hand page a header of intertwined vines and then a label for the flavor text in the font from the front cover. On the right hand pages, a leaf image is at the upper left and lower right corners of the lined space. A header in the same font as the flavor text gives the subtitle of the book. Oddly, the only pages numbered are the ones on the left side. This makes looking for items by page awkward. The line spacing on the right pages is wide ruled and extends from the left to the right margins with black space of approximately half an inch on either side and on the bottom margin. The leaf images slightly intrude into this blank space.

From the perspective of how this book is contructed and laid out, I am very disappointed. Looking on the back cover, the suggested retail price is $14.95. For that much, you should have better covers and binding. There should also be better utilization of the space on the page. There is an excessive amount of white space on the pages. I suppose it makes marginalia easier but I doubt that was the intent. Just on the physical properties of this book, I sincerely believe it was vastly over priced and a $1 composition notebook would serve the purposes of this book far better. Putting aside the terrible lay out and construction, I have some real issues with the flavor text.

I recognize this is written from a Wiccan perspective. I recognize that all gods are considered the face of the God and all goddesses are likewise considered faces of the Goddess. This is something that I tried to keep in mind as I read through her invocations of different deities. Her two dimensional perspective on the deities is grossly disappointing and encourages the user to take such a perspective in dealing with said deities. This is a dangerous practice that can lead to offending deities, even if you take the semi-dualist perspective, it is insulting to the 'face' of the God and Goddess to interact with said deities as though they are two dimensional items, mere masks worn for unknown purposes. These 'faces' are holy and should be treated with the respect that is due to the deity being worshipped. Her treatment of the deities as something you can ask for things with out giving anything in return is insulting to the deity. We would not do this to humans, it is viewed as improper manners. If you're worshipping a deity, proper manners convey respect and should be used vigilantly.

I found the spells and charms presented to be pedantic at best or lies of omission at worst. The example that encapsulates this is the spell for removing a bee stinger. The user is instructed to apply a paste of baking soda and water to where the stinger is present. Then to recite the formula that Morrison gives. The stinger will be lifted and it will be possible to remove it. This is not due to the recited formula, which Morrison presents as the implied reason of success. It is due to the action of the baking soda and water. Elementary first aid skills would say this.  The technique can be used sans incantation and still be successful. Morrison, however, gives her readers the impression that the formula is the cause of success. This is intellectually dishonest and made me want to throw the book at the wall.

As someone who has a background in Wicca, an understanding of magical practice, and a basic grasp on magical theory, I lack sufficient words to express my disapproval and displeasure with Morrison's work. Her appeal to authority at the outset of the book presents her as someone the reader can trust and take her words as fact. This is clearly not the case as you seriously look at the spells and charms she presents. In some cases, the problem is mearly misinformation. In other cases, it sets the reader up for a potentially very bad experience. The best example I can think of here is the invocation to Loki. She presents Loki as a merry trickster who will bring joyfulness into the caster's life. This is a complete disregard of Loki's role in the Norse pantheon and of his nature. While Loki can be described as a trickster god, he has a well established reputation for bringing change about in a brutal fashion when so inclined. This is not a deity to be invoked lightly or for frivilous reasons. (Unless that is something established in your relationship with him, and even then caution is advisable. This word of warning comes from someone who is a fulltrui of Loki. Loki can be fun but he can also be very dangerous.)

Morrison's work in this book leads me to conclude that her other texts carry on this shallow theology and casual misinformation. She claims that she has over twenty years of experience in witchcraft and is established as a spiritual leader and an experienced education. Looking at this book, I can only believe that her experience is in wish fulfillment and deception. And the wish fulfillment is not of the sort that one would think of as something like the actions of a fairy godmother. No, the wish fulfillment I refer to here is entirely in the case of what could be considered a clinical psychological problem.

I know some will find my assessment of Ms. Morrison to be excessively harsh and that I should read her other books. I may read something more from her but I do not anticipate my opinion changing for the better. What limited text she presents in this book makes me disgusted and angry. I do not recommend this book to any practitioner of Wicca, witchcraft, or any of the magical arts. Her cavalier attitude towards the subject matter is repulsive and lazy.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Title: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
Author: J. K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (A Scholastic imprint)       Date: 2005

The dust jacket of this addition to the Harry Potter series maintains the dark colorscheme. This time, shades of green are used. On the frontpiece, we see our hero Harry Potter and his mentor Professor Albus Dumbledore standing at a basin upon a pedastal. A wispy light eminates from the basin illuminating the two faces peering into it. On the backpiece the characters of Ron Weasley, Hermoine Granger, and Ginny Weasley standing in a night scene with the infamous Dark Mark depicted in the sky. The artwork is clearly from the same person as the previous covers or from someone who is intimate with their work. The cover itself is a dark purple color with a harlequin pattern impressed on it. The spine is made from dark blue canvas with the lettering embossed on it in purple foil. The font used for the title and related details on the spine is again the same as is used for page headers and chapter titles. It is the same font that was used for the other books. Continuing the theme of the other books, a little depiction of a crucial element of the following chapter remains at the head of the first page of the chapter immediately beneath the chapter title. The paperstock used is middle of the road quality. If archival quality ink was used for this printing it is only because it has become so obiquitous in the industry.

The story begins with tensions pretty much everywhere. The problems in the Wizarding world has bled into the Muggle world in the form of freak weather and strange accidents. The Minister of Magic meets with the Prime Minister (of England, wherein the books are set) and very briefly summarize the events of note. It was a bit of a slap-dash way to recap the story thus far. At the same time, however, Rowling does a very good job of showing the rising sense of panic in both worlds in the face of Voldemorte's activity. The following scene shows Albus Dumbledore recruiting assistance and reminds the reader of Harry's place as a primary figure in the story (though I felt this was rather unnecessary given the title's obviousness). From here, we move to witnessing the division and tensions within the ranks of Voldemorte's supporters.

A theme is built of divisiveness, quarrels, and tension that runs through the whole story like a live wire. If we only focused on the angst of the teen characters coming of age, you could have a very full and complex story by itself. Focusing only on the war between Voldemorte and the Order of the Phoenix, the story itself is again complex and well rounded. Viewing the interpersonal tensions between Harry and Severus Snape makes for a surprisingly deep story as well. Rowling's genius in blending these dispariate elements together is not something to be denied. The fact that as this series progresses and the characters develop the story develops into greater maturity and complexity is a stroke of brilliance.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Author: J. K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine (An imprint of Scholastic Books.)         Date: 2003

The artwork of this dust jacket is markedly different from previous ones. The figure is done in the same style as in the previous jackets. The image presents the hero, Harry, in some sort of library setting. While there are candles featured in the foreground, they provide no apparent illumination. The overwhelming shelves of books engulfs Harry and gives the sense that he is trapped. He is looking over his shoulder at something out of the scene that would be positioned to the onlooker's right. His expression is cautious and his wand is raised in what may be a defensive gesture. The scene is presented in shades of dark blue, complete with the lettering taking on this ominous color scheme. The image gives a claustrophobic sense of confinement and the impression that Harry is trapped in a potentially hostile situation.

The paperboard cover is dark blue with a harlequin pattern impressed into it. The binding is grey with lettering in blue leaf on the spine. The typefont used for the printing on the spine matches the typefont used for the headers of pages and chapter titles. The inside covers of the book are navy blue and smooth. The text as the headers and for the chapter titles remains the same as it was in the previous books. At the head of each chapter, there is a small image that encapsulates a vital element of the chapter within. The paper stock used is fairly run of the mill. The spacing of the text on the pages and the size of the font used lend themselves well to reading for a period of time uninterrupted.

The action of the story continues the descent into darkness from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Again, we start in the middle of action. The opening scene depicts the tension between Harry and his family. It then proceeds to present the supernatural dangers that have become apparent in the world with the rise of Voldemort. The tension between supernatural danger and oppression is a theme through out the book. Where in the beginning oppression is present via Harry's Aunt and Uncle, it become clear that the oppression is a force operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Magic.

The most hated and reviled character of the entire Harry Potter franchise is not Voldemort. It is Professor Delores Umbridge. Umbridge is perhaps one of the most talked about of the villianous characters in the series. Where Voldemort is a figure of sufficient mythological status that the horror of his deeds are somewhat insulated by their fantastic nature, Umbridge is very much a character of cruelty that we recognize. A petty, power hungry woman with a sadistic streak and a taste for humiliating her chosen target, Umbridge is a villian we encounter in the real world. It is for this reason that she is hated even more by readers than Voldemort or the persistent minor villian of Draco Malfoy.

In someways, Umbridge acts as a foil for Professor Minerva McGonagall. McGonagall presents the icon of a serious teacher who also cares quite deeply for her students. In all of the books where McGonagall is present, she acts decisively for the benefit of the students under her care and for the school at large. She provides wise advice and leaves her students enough wiggle room to be the young people they are. Amazingly, this trait does not diminish in the light of the increasing strife within Hogwarts as a result of Umbridge's machinations. If nothing else, she becomes even more committed to assisting her students in their efforts to right the wrongs around them.

Ultimately, this volume of the series takes the reader through what changes occur with the rise of Voldemort and the growing strife in the Wizarding world. Like the previous book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ends with tragedy. The losses of this book strike closer to Harry than what happened  in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I believe this is a deliberate move on Rowling's part to show that the stakes have steadily increased and the situation grows progressively more dire as the story arc continues.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Title: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books (An imprint of Scholastic)    Date: 2000

The artistry of the dust jacket is clearly the work of the same artist of previous jackets. Unlike the jacket for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, this jacket has more figures featured. It presents Harry as a central figure on the front with three other characters behind him. These characters, it is revealed, are pivitol to the development of the story. Also there is a reference to one of the major challenges of the story that stretches from the front to the back of the dust jacket. A secondary character that is present from the previous two books is also depicted on the front cover, suggesting that they also have a cruicial role in the development of the story.  There is a contrast between Harry and the other figures putting him in high relief compared to the others, drawing the eye back to the center of the image.

The cover is a burnt orange color with a harlequin pattern impressed into it. The harlequin pattern appears to be a unifying theme between the books of this series along with the use of the same font for the title on the spine. The spine of the book is covered with black fabric. It is printed with copper colored ink with the title and volume number of the book. The inside covers of the book are a royal purple. It has the same hand as the pages of the text proper. It is a smooth page that appears to be of standard quality. The text of the title page and the chapter headings is the same as in the other books. Also, the artwork depicted at the head of each chapter continues to present some element of the chapter's focus. It is clearly depicted by the same artist who has been producing the covers and the sketches in the other books.

The story opens with a significant bit of action. While it is a bit of a departure from the other books, it is handled well and gives the reader the feeling of the excitement of the characters. As the first signs of the larger conflict of the series becoming more threatening are presented, the excitement turns to unease. This then returns to excitement as the true conflict of the book is revealed. The development of the themes of struggle and Harry facing odds that are against him are presented from the outset of the book rather than a few chapters in. This shows that Rowling expects her readers to have a familiarity with Harry and the wizarding world.

At the same time, this expectation of familiarity does not exclude those who may be coming to the series for the first time with this book. The characters are presented in an efficent fashion that highlights their strengths and role within the story. The use of the specialized language that Rowling has developed for her world is something that can be understood through inference. When it is not something that the reader can determine through context, Rowling presents a brief explanation of the term in a fashion that is seamless and coherent with respect to the storyline. Her development of the mechanics of her world are logical and do not feel contrived.

The storyline is presented boldly. While there are elements that seem to take the reader on tangents, these departures have a logical place within the larger story arc of the series. She gives the reader an immersive experience and uses language that can be readily understood by her readers. The complexity is a bit more increased compared to the first three books but it is still well within the young adult range.

Rowling's ability to paint a detailed world and people it with three dimensional characters really begins to shine in this book as the larger story arc of the series begins to become more complex and have a greater influence over the storyline of the individual books. She balances the needs of the two storylines well and manages not to leave the reader in a place of confusion as to how they fit together. This is a sign of an author who has done a great deal of work plotting out her books and careful attention to that plan in their construction. From a technical standpoint, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is clearly the work of a mature artist within their element.

Rating:  8 / 10

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (An imprint of Scholastic)       Date: 1999

The artistic format of the dust jacket is similar to that of the other two books. The color scheme of this jacket features more muted hues and it has less images on it. The front of the cover is dominated by an image of the protagonist riding a hippogriff before a lighted window with a shadow figure in the lower left hand corner of the image. The back of the dust jacket is also in muted hues compared to the previous two books. It only has three images pertaining to elements of the story unlike the first one which was filled with them and the second that was only slightly less filled with clues to the story within. It is clear that this jacket was produced by the same artist.

The book has dark aqua colored covers with a royal purple spine. The lettering on the spine is done in green foil and notes along with the title information which volume this is in the series. The inside of the covers are a pumpkin color. The pages of the text are an ivory color with a smooth hand. The font used for the headings of chapters and the title page is the same as was used for this purpose in the other books. Also, the same artist did the images at the head of each chapter that illustrates some key element of that chapter. The text is clear and well sized to make for an easy reading experience.

The storyline of this volume is a touch more complex then that of the preceeding books. Rowling's development of the intercharacter conflicts between the core group of Harry Potter, Ron Weasely, and Hermione Granger clearly illustrates the tensions that arise in three young people who are close friends and in a relatively challenging environment. As the book proceeds, the tension between the characters Ron and Hermione increases. This serves to underscore the rising action of the story and the building of tension in the entire setting and all characters within. The apex of this tension is handled cleverly and presents a well written plot twist that ties up loose ends from the previous books even as it explains elements of the backstory of Harry's situation.

Rowling presents a lush setting with a good deal of detail. Her handling of character descriptions becomes more deft and she summarizes secondary characters in a few lines rather then a paragraph or two. Her mechanics of magic are solidly established and become increasingly complex as the book develops, paralleling the progression of the students through their year at Hogwarts Academy. The tension established between the protagonists and the antagonists that were previously established is maintained and actually deepens in one case. This is all done in such a fashion where it has an organic, natural feeling to it.

The story is still clearly written for a youthful audience, but the increased complexity of the plot and characters reflects the older age of her readers who had started with the first book when it was released to the public. It is a well paced book that does not go over the top with description but explains things as well as it demonstrates them.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author: J. K. Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Imprint oh Scholastic Inc.)    Date:1998

Physically, this book and its format closely resembles the first volume of the series. The differences lie in the color of the binding, the image of the dust jacket, and the images at the head of each chapter. Like in the first book, these images related to material within the story and are somewhat fancifully depicted. I have reason to believe that the same artist was contracted to produce the dust jacket artwork from the first book (and I suspect they continue to do the artwork for the remainder of the series) because the stylistic techniques used are very closely related.

Content wise, this is at the same reading level as the first volume and directed at readers of the young adult demographic. The mysterious figure of Lord Voldemort becomes more of a threating image in this book, leading to a confrontation of sorts at the conclusion. The way that Rowling portrays the conflicts between the children attending Hogwarts is handled with a deft hand. The continuing rivalry between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy is still presented but it becomes a secondary focus in this book, with the primary focus on solving the mysteries of the Chamber of Secrets.

Something I enjoyed in this book is how Rowling portrays the development of Harry Potter's friendship with Ron Weasley. It is charming to see how the two boys work together and interact with each other. Along with Hermoine Granger, Harry Potter and his friends prove to be an interesting engine of action and plot with out coming off as contrived. While the book did not grab my attention and really move me, I can appreciate how young readers would find then characters of the heroes of this series highly identifiable. Rowling does a very good job of portraying how these youthful figures interact with their world and the pressures of this age demographic.

Rating: 7 / 10