Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (by J K Rowling)

I'm completely hooked on the Harry Potter books, even though they're intended for children. JK Rowling is an incredible writer. It's no surprise that these books have taken the world by storm, encouraging reluctant readers, and appealing to children - and adults! - of all ages.I first read 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' in 1999 and thought it excellent - better than either of the first two in the series, and I had enjoyed them very much.

The first chapters see Harry, now age 13, living with his ghastly 'muggle' (ie non-wizard) relatives in Primrose Drive, eagerly awaiting his return to Hogwarts School. All the books follow this opening pattern, which has the potential to become repetitive, or even dull - but JK Rowling's writing ensures that this has never happened so far. In each book there are different situations, evoking humour as well as sympathy for Harry's plight.

The book is fast-paced, full of action and excitement. The family hear on the TV news about Sirius Black, an escaped prisoner who is on the loose and considered extremely dangerous. Shortly afterwards, Uncle Vernon's sister Aunt Marge arrives for a visit. Harry dislikes her even more than he dislikes his other relatives, but is determined to keep quiet .. unfortunately, disaster ensues and Harry has to escape.

Events move rapidly, and when Harry arrives in London he learns, to his horror, that Sirius Black is not just an ordinary escaped prisoner, but a wizard who has managed to break loose from the supposedly impenetrable wizarding jail. What's more - he appears to be after Harry himself!

There are some frightening moments, such as when Harry is faced by the horrible Azkhaban guards, and plenty of continued character development as Harry is reunited with his friends, and continues to enjoy school life at Hogwarts. There is also a new teacher for 'Defence against the Dark Arts' - Professor Lupin, who seems to be expert at what he is doing, and teaches some useful skills - and yet there is something suspicious about him.

The end of the book involves an exciting chase, an unexpected villain unmasked, and several surprises in store for Harry and his friends.

Highly recommended for adults, teenagers and children of about eight or nine upwards - and it's excellent to read aloud.

(A longer version of this review can be found at the Ciao site, and this book blog has a review after my third reading of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' two years later)

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