Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

This book is (to use a cliched term) the explosive finale to the Harry Potter series of books. Don’t read this review unless you’re familiar with everything that happens up until this book, as there may be spoilers. If you’re interested, here’s my review of the previous book in the series.

The whole structure of Deathly Hallows is different to what you’ll have come to expect from the earlier instalments. Usually they start with Harry having a dreary time at the Dursley house without much tension. But not this time. While Harry is there at the start, he knows that the magical protection around their home will expire soon, so he and the Order of the Phoenix are planning his escape. What happens is very intense.  The fact that there’s so much tension right at the start really helps to set the tone for the novel.

The other books all have Harry going through his school year and getting involved in some mystery or adventure along the way, but this time it is too dangerous to return to Hogwarts. Outside of the school, he is making preparations (along with Hermione and Ron) so that he can face Voldemort. There are some scenes which have people from the Wizarding World out on the streets with regular people, it’s unusual, but intriguing. I like that we get this contrast and it makes the world feel more strongly grounded in reality.

Let me talk, very briefly about the ending of the last novel. Remember when Dumbledore was murdered by Snape? Remember how utterly horrifying that was? And how you felt numb and couldn’t quite believe what had happened? And how his death really did feel like an enormous loss? Well, I feel like that that happening was a good way of setting the tone for the Deathly Hallows. There are a lot of shocks and a lot of deaths (though none, I felt, were so shocking as Dumbledore’s – to me, at least.)

It’s actually quite hard to talk about this book without spoiling the big events which take place in it. What I will say, though, is that we’re given a lot of new information which helps us to see previous events in a different light. It actually teaches a good lesson about not judging people (for better or for worse) unless you know everything about them. I really liked the extent to which several characters were really fleshed out.

Lots of characters had particularly exciting scenes, including Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Snape, Dumbledore (via flashbacks) and it’s pretty satisfying that they’re all used so well. One thing which was somewhat disappointing, however, was that we were given no closure for Winky the House Elf. Considering that we get closure for pretty much everyone else, this did seem quite the oversight.

To summarise, this was a fantastic end to a fantastic series. I was pretty sad when it was over, not necessarily because the ending was sad (I won’t spoil that) but because I knew that I wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading another Harry Potter book. If you’ve never read it, I strongly recommend that you give it a try. Some of my absolute favourite books.

Rating: 9.5/10

Buy it here.

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My Thoughts on Doctor Who’s First Female Doctor

On Sunday, they announced that the Thirteenth Doctor will be played by Jodie Whittaker. This will make her the first Doctor (in the main canon) to be female. This, of course, has provoked lots of responses from the Doctor Who fan community and as I am a part of that community, I felt like I should weigh in with my own perspective on the new Doctor and my perspective of other fan perspectives.

Firstly, my own thoughts: I love the idea of a female Doctor. However, while this news has excited me, I can’t imagine how much more excited I’d have been if the first I saw of her was when the Twelfth Doctor regenerates in the next story. Especially if I didn’t know that that was going to be the story in which he was going to regenerate. But unfortunately, these days they always announce all the big news ahead of the episodes. Alas.

Having said that, knowing that we’ll get the first female Doctor in the next series makes me a lot more excited for it than I was before. I liked the Twelfth Doctor very much (he was my favourite) so naturally I was quite sad that he was going. In fact, as some people had complained that he was too old, I was worried that they’d just go for a younger actor who would try to copy David Tennant or Matt Smith – knowing that we’ll be getting the first female Doctor has me a lot more excited as it will be new and different.

I’m delighted that the Doctor will finally be regenerating into a woman. This is because I like to view the Doctor as a genderless character and this cements that for me – anyone can play the Doctor, because the Doctor’s character is not attached to any the traits our culture attaches to different genders. Unlike a lot of iconic male characters, who are written as male characters, the Doctor never really is – his close platonic relationships with female friends are a nice example of that.  In the world of TV, where a person’s gender has a lot to say about their personality, it’s great to see one of my all-time favourite shows taking this progressive approach.

I do have one genuine concern, however. My concern is that everything I just said will not be the case and that the “personality” of this new Doctor will simply be that she is a woman. Each Doctor has a distinct personality and I don’t want her’s to be entirely based around being female. I’m worried about silly gender-based jokes, which will weaken her status as a progressive female role model (and cheapen the integrity of the show in general.) There’s so much potential for her to be a tremendous character and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. By all means have her dealing with sexism in different time zones, for example, just don’t make tasteless sex jokes.

It’s disappointing that so many people online have reacted negatively. I’ve seen people say that they refuse to watch the show once she takes other, while also claiming that their perspectives are not fuelled by sexism/prejudice when, in fact, deciding that she is bad before even watching her (simply based on gender) is a clear-cut case of prejudice. Others are going so far as to say that it “doesn’t make sense” which must be a stance taken by non-fans because within the lore and continuity of the series, it makes perfect sense. I can understand that some people might find it strange for a character they’ve always viewed as male to suddenly become female (my own views on gender are not very mainstream, after all) but I hope the more reasonable viewers will reserve their judgement until they’ve actually seen her in action and then hopefully she’ll do such a good job that she’ll win over lots of critics.

I’m very optimistic for the future of Doctor Who.

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Competition Driven Writing

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who told me that they felt that they needed healthy competition to motivate their creative writing. I don’t need competition (nor have I ever) so it was an interesting new perspective for me. As a result of this conversation, we now have a spread sheet where we record the number of words we’ve written each day to see who does the most and to drive us to do better. Another friend of mine has joined in too and perhaps others will in future.

I’m mentioning it, rather arrogantly, just because I thought it was a rather nice idea and I thought that any creative writers who read this blog might want to give it a try. If you’re one of my friends, send me a message and you can join in! It’s odd, because while I didn’t really think of competition as something which motivates me, knowing that I can record my word counts is actually making me want to write more. Also, since there’s a record of my work that others can see, I don’t like to not write anything at all.

If you do decide to try it yourself, I hope you find it beneficial. Funnily enough, the word count of this blog post will be added to my total! That’s why I’m going to make a bit of filler now, like wondering whether or not Richard Thomas was actually naked in the hot spring in that one episode of The Waltons (The Heritage) and, if he was, admiring his levels of body positivity and confidence. Also, I am sorry that there’s no new Finger Puppet Show strip today – the next one is ready to post, I just need to get certain permissions first!

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Spyro the Dragon

Spyro the Dragon is one of those early 3D platformers from the 1990s which helped to make the genre become very popular. At the time of it’s release, I did not own a console which could play it, so it was only very recently that I first played Spyro. A part of me worried that it would seem dated and the fact that I had not played it at the time would mean that I could never enjoy it to any large extent. Thankfully, these fears turned out to be ungrounded.

The story is a relatively simple one. The dragon citizens of the Dragon Kingdom are suddenly turned into statues as the result of an unprovoked attack from an evil monster called Gnasty Gnorc, who also stole all of their treasure.  Spyro then heads out across the lands in order to turn the dragons back to normal and recover the treasure.

So, basically, this has you travelling to several different open 3D areas (caves, swamps, mountains) and exploring them to find all of the collectables.  These levels are generally quite linear (with a set exit and check points along the way) but they all have lots of secret paths and areas. Completely clearing a level out of its treasures and enemies is actually very, very satisfying. It is occasionally very hard to find some of the secrets though.

The worlds all have a whimsical, fantastical feeling to them. It felt like exploring a fairy tale world, in fact, and I liked that a lot. The music does a lot to help capture that enchanting, mysterious feeling too. However, there are occasionally Gnorcs (a species of monster who are the enemies in the game) who use items of modern technology (like machine guns and planes) and I enjoyed the weird humour that this contrast provides. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Banjo-Kazooie – a game from the same era and an all-time favourite of mine.

However, as much fun as I did have with it, there were a couple of setbacks. For example, I don’t think that the game’s control scheme is bad, but it does take a little while to get used to. I think it’s because Spyro moves on four legs and most game characters don’t, I’m not sure. It only took me an hour or so, but at first, it did seem tricky to move around properly.

Overall, if you’ve played other games in this style, you’re sure to like it. Something about being put into a 3D world and being left to find/defeat everything in it is really appealing to me. I suppose some people might think of it as too simple, but I think it’s a formula which can lead to hours of fun. Indeed, once you’ve completed the main story, there’s a kot of incentive to keep playing. Spyro himself is pretty loveable too.

Rating: 8.8/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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The Joy of Tying Things Together

Since a very young age, I have enjoyed playing video games which star the loveable gorilla known as Donkey Kong. Earlier this year, I watched an anime called Assassination Classroom and fell in love with the main character, Koro-sensei (a superbeing with a yellow smiley face who is threatening to destroy the Earth, but who’s also a really good, caring teacher.)

Regular readers will know that I like to follow fictional crossovers so that I can tie everything together (I find it enormously satisfying) and last night I found out that there is a fictional character who has met both Donkey Kong and Koro-sensei.

Her name is Chitoge Kirisaki and she is one of the main characters in a manga called Nisekoi. In all honesty, I have never read it before – nor have I seen its anime adaptation. But I have seen her.

Where have I seen her before? Well, evidently, Naoshi Komi, the author behind the Nisekoi manga, is a fan of the Super Mario series as  Chitoge is in the game Super Mario Maker. When Mario eats a Mystery Mushroom, he’ll transform into another character and not only can you become Chitoge Kirisaki through that process, but Donkey Kong too. A year before, she had been in the fighting game J-Stars Victory VS which brings together various manga characters, including Koro-sensei.

So that’s the story of the woman who met Koro-sensei and Donkey Kong. I guess you could say that I am jealous of her. I wonder which of the two she thinks has the nicest smile? As pearly and white as DK’s toothy grin is, I don’t think there’s any chance she doesn’t prefer Koro-sensei’s emoji-like smile

It’s completely irrational and these connections have no reflection on the quality of the main body of work, but I am still utterly delighted by this.

P.S. Why don’t you read my reviews of Donkey Kong games or the first volume of Assassination Classroom?

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Bonanza Bros. games:

1990: Bonanza Bros.
2010: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing ¹

 

Connected Series:

 

Footnotes:

  1. The Bonanza Bros. are playable characters.
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Best Friends

I mentioned in one of my recent blog posts, that one of my close friends is one of only a small number who might be my “best” friend. But it’s interesting, I guess, because I don’t really have anyone who easily fills the “best friend” role in my life and it has been rare for me to have someone who does.

I remember having two different best friends in the past, one in the early days of primary school and the other during secondary school. Once in university a friend of mine kind of described me as their best friend too. All three of these people remain very important to me and are also distinct from the other “best friend” mentioned in the other blog post. It’s just that, as time passes and my role in their lives diminishes, it often doesn’t feel that it would be appropriate to call myself as such.

I know a lot of people tend to have a single best friend who they’ve known for years and with whom they, presumably, will always be best friends. But for me, I have quite a large number of friends and it’s difficult for me to value one over the other, because they all provide me with unique, positive additions to my life. I tend to find that the most important person to me, is the person who I’m spending time with at that exact moment. Overall, if I really had to think about who has had the largest, most positive impact on my life it’d still be hard to pick between about five or six people. Collectively it’s easy to say I have twenty-six best friends, narrowing it down to a single one is hard.

On the one hand, I think it’s quite healthy that I have cultivated such close friendships with lots of different people. The idea of depending too much on a single person is something which makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it can go badly. On the other hand, I do think it would be nice to have a clear best friend, as it would kind of make me feel special, as it would be nice to know I was valued so highly. Not that it’s something that gets me down, just a fleeting thought I have from time to time.

Friendship is something which is very important to me, so of course it’s something I think about quite a lot. This is a result of that.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 2 by Yusei Matsui

The second volume of Assassination Classroom picks up right after the end of the first, which I suggest you read before picking up this one. The opening contains many important things and is a good read, so don’t skip it!

Volume 2 sees the introduction of Irina Jelavitch, a new languages teacher for the class. Except, of course, she’s not just a teacher, but a renowned international assassin in disguise, there to assist in the assassination of Koro-sensei. Her unique approach is to try and use her body to seduce men before killing them once they’re vulnerable. Personally, I’m not that fond of the character, but I did enjoy the chance to see how Koro-sensei responded to her approach and interacted with her as a colleague. There’s some good, funny moments. The head teacher, Mr. Asano, also makes his first proper appearance and proves to be quite an enigmatic character.

The story also deals with two more regular aspects of school-life. The Class 3-E students have to take some exams and they have a school trip. Both of these parts of the story are very enjoyable and quite suspenseful. The end of this volume is also quite a large cliffhanger too, a much bigger cliffhanger than the one at the end of Volume 1 – it does a great job of making you want more.

As a nice little bonus, there’s also a small crossover with The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. with the main character (Kusuo Saiki) meeting and interacting with Koro-sensei. I must admit that this is a manga series I’d never heard of before, but this makes me want to give it a try.

Speaking of Koro-sensei, he continues to be an absolute delight. The more you see of him, the more endearing he becomes and the more you begin to question his strange and mysterious motives.  This second volume proved even more interesting and enjoyable than the first, so if you enjoyed that, you’ll enjoy this.

Rating: 8.8/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Life’s a Beach

Life is like a beach. The sun is shining beautifully down and the sound of the waves against the shore is hypnotic and calming. You are comfortable and happy, but you want to feel like a part of the beautiful scenery in which you have found yourself. You get down on your hands and knees and grab fistfuls of sand. It’s soft and the feeling of it in your hands is wonderful… but it slips through your fingers and blows away in the wind.

Once the sand has gone, you feel a little sad, because you miss it. It was a great feeling. Once again, you grab with both hands and feel the joy of two handfuls of sand. Once again, it’s wonderful to hold, but sad when it’s over. Eventually you’ll have lifted so many handfuls of sand, that you’ve actually manged to dig yourself a perfect grave. Then your life is over.

*

I was going to post that without any context, but then I thought that that might be a bit rubbish and pretentious. The sand represents the people in our lives and how, try though we might, we can never keep them their permanently. Quite melancholy, perhaps, but quite accurate – and just because something comes to an end that doesn’t lessen its value.

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Internet Safety

I have a little bit of a cautionary tale for everybody. Recently I tried to access my Steam account in order to take part in an ongoing Steam sale. I seemed to be unable to login, so I assumed that I had forgotten my password and then asked them to send me another. I was then told that an email had been sent to an account which was not (and never had been) mine. Naturally, this was a little concerning.

So I contacted Steam and started going through the process of retrieving my account. At one point, they asked me to provide a CD key from a game I’d downloaded, telling me that I could easily retrieve it from any of my digital receipts. Unfortunately, my Steam account was tied to an old email address which I don’t ever use anymore (other than in instances where I need to provide an email address and I don’t want to.)

Another thing I needed to do, was to get a new password for my old email. I answered a security question and got on. When I did, it seemed that another person must have had control over this old email address (and used it to access my Steam) because there were emails telling me about changes to my Steam account had been made and they were all marked as read (and I had certainly never read them.)

Thankfully, I was able to regain control of my Steam account and no harm was done. I know it’s not a particularly interesting story, but it does highlight the security risk that old email accounts can pose. I’ve now set it so that nothing can be done to that email account without first entering a security code which is sent to my phone. If you have any old email addresses (perhaps which you may have created as a teen) then you might want to check that they’re completely secure. Nothing serious happened as a result of my neglecting my old account, but it could have done!

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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