If you were to ask me what my favorite Harry Potter book was, I think my gut reaction would be Prisoner of Azkaban. After reading and watching it again, I don't think that's entirely the truth. What is true is that this book features my absolute favorite character of the series, and that character is Remus Lupin.
My love for Remus can be simplified down to two reasons. For one, he's an underdog (no pun intended): poor, not particularly well respected, and has a rather large problem to deal with through no fault of his own. For another, he doesn't look down on the children at all. He's the perfect kind of teacher that we all loved growing up, the one who encouraged us to be the best we could be and made us really feel good about ourselves for trying even if we didn't succeed right away.
For the story as a whole, I can't say it's my favorite. I have one major issue with the ending, and another major issue with something they left out of the movie version. The story formula departs from the previous books. It's no longer a whodunnit, instead we're told straight from the beginning that Sirius Black is after Harry and we're brought through a lot of twists and turns until we get to the end. This is really far more a transition book than a stand alone story; we learn a lot about the events leading up to Voldemort's defeat and the end sets us up for some key events in the next book.
While Rowling lays out plenty of evidence for the true answer ahead of time, much like in Chamber of Secrets, we are once again left in the dark until the very end. While there are mentions of werewolves and animagi littered throughout the book, and of course the Marauder's Map, there's nothing really there to tie them all together until the climatic scene. The movie actually does a better job of providing us with a clue by showing Peter on the Marauder's Map ahead of time. It makes such sense that I was surprised when it didn't happen in the book. I also think the movie does a better job of simplifying the scene in the Shrieking Shack. It's long winded and a bit of a mess in the book whereas in the movie it touches most of the right notes with a great feeling of suspense.
One thing I noticed on this re-read is that Fred & George giving Harry the Marauder's Map is a bit too convenient. They want to help Harry so that he can sneak out into Hogsmeade, I get that much, but would they really need to give him the map for that? Couldn't they have just told him about the secret passageway? It would seem to me the map's real convenience is letting you know where everyone is at any given time, something that Fred & George could still use when conducting their own mischief.
Another thing I noticed, and maybe this was obvious from the get go but I just missed it before, is the obvious way that James and his friends tie into Harry and his friends. James is Harry, Ron is Sirius, Hermione is Remus, and Neville is Peter. There are some obvious differences between all of them, but she seems to go out of her way to make the comparison. It's the Neville/Peter comparison out of those I find the most interesting, as their stories end very differently.
I also still can't determine whether Snape knows who Mooney, Padfoot, Prongs, and Wormtail are. He definitely knows that Lupin is a werewolf, obviously, but does he know about the others being animagi? It would seem like he doesn't.
For the most part, most differences between the book and movie are related to the usual time constraints, though there are some very strange and blatant changes. Harry uses magic at home in the very first scene, which contradicts with the possibility of him getting in trouble for blowing up Aunt Marge in the next one. There are talking shrunken heads on the Knight bus and in The Three Broomsticks, apparently just for comedic effect. But the most aggravating part is that they leave out any mention that Mooney, Padfoot, Prongs, and Wormtail are Remus, Sirius, James and Peter. In fact, there is absolutely nothing in this movie to explain that James Potter was an animagis at all. It completely takes away the meaning behind Harry's patronus turning into a stag. It's also such a simple thing that could have been explained in one or two lines of dialogue. We wasted time on a made up bit where the boys are eating some kind of candy that makes them sound like animals, but we can't get actual real important plot details included? It's just silly.
The biggest problem I have with the book, and it's made even worse in the movie, is the fact that Sirius must remain on the run at the end.
"The words of 13 year old wizards won't convince anybody"
This infuriates me. Maybe things are different in Britain, but in America, there is a clear dividing line between the ages of 12 and 13. Child things are pretty much always marked "12 and under." It's an acknowledgment that as we hit our adolescent years, we are gaining much in the way of maturity as well as growth. To say that no one will believe a 13 year old is complete rubbish and an insult on the part of Dumbledore. It makes a little more sense in the books - Snape is claiming that Sirius put a spell on them, but in the movie we receive no explanation at all except "You're just silly little kids, no one is going to believe you." We're also told in the book that no one will believe Lupin because he's a werewolf, which is sort of like saying no one would trust the word of a leper in our world. It all feels way too much like "because I said so" rather than any real justifiable reasoning.
One more little nitpick and then I swear I'll quit: Harry gets awfully excited to go live with Sirius rather quickly. I understand that the Dursleys are miserable people and he wouldn't want to be around them anymore, but Sirius has spent over a decade in a jail that specializes in driving its residents crazy. He may not be the actual person responsible for Harry's parents' deaths, but he's also really excited to kill off someone else and thought it was justifiable to drag Ron around and break his leg just to get to Peter. The man's clearly got a screw loose.
Overall, there's a lot of fun in this book. The quidditch matches are kept interesting, it's really great to see them finally learn some real defense against the dark arts magic, and the scenes between Lupin and Harry in the books and in the movie both really make me happy. The places in Hogsmeade and the hippogriphs are all excellent editions to this fun magical world. It's just a little disappointing to find out that the book is not as strong as I remember it being.
I'm taking a short break to read Stephen King's On Writing before I dive into Goblet of Fire, which is of course a very long read in and of itself. So I imagine it may be a bit before I get to the next entry in this series. I have to admit, there's a part of me that's going to miss these short and sweet reads!