Jul 8, 2015

They Belong To Me, or Why The Invasion of the Tearling Was Awesome

WARNING: Seriously this time, the following post contains beaucoup spoilers for Erika Johansen's sequel "The Invasion of The Tearling." Unlike other posts where I clearly say 'spoiler warning' and only hint at certain things, this is a legit 'go away now' if you plan on reading either of the books in the series and want to remain spoiler-free. If not, read on at your own risk, but I fully plan on talking about a TON of details from the book. You were warned.

OK first off: if you haven't read the first book in this series, hereafter referred to as QOTT, you need to go do that. I started reading it after BEA last year when a friend sent me a galley and I should have known there would be galleys this year too for book 2 but I foolishly skipped BEA. I am SO glad I only had to wait a couple of weeks for the release because it was much better than I expected and well worth the yearlong wait between publications.

Here's some background if you aren't  familiar with the first book: The Tearling books follow the story of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, the true Heir to the Tear throne and the Tearling kingdom. For most of her life she is kept hidden away from a life of royalty and leadership for fear of assassination, but is still taught the ways and means to be a great queen. When her mother, the Queen, is assasinated and Kelsea comes of age, she must assume the throne so her awful uncle, The Regent, won't hold power. Suffice it to say she does become Queen and basically outlaws the selling and trading of slaves, becomes a benevolent leader, etc. Everyone seems to like her at the end of QOTT, but she is really only a teenager and still learning about the world when she reaches the end of the first book. Sure, there were assassination attempts on her and she overcomes many obstacles, but by the end of the first book, there is still an impending conflict with a nearby Kingdom called Mortmesne and their evil Red Queen. It leaves a little to be desired.

Sounds like your typical fantasy YA right? WRONG. This is a sci-fi epic and I will tell you how that is possible.

Throughout the first book there are all of these references to "the crossing" and a past world that sounds much like our own. How can our world exist in the past if this is a medieval present, you ask? We don't get an answer to that in Book 1, but basically you read the entire book thinking you will maybe get a hint while Johansen references how there are "Tolkien and Rowling volumes in the library" and how "before the crossing there was modern medicines and technology" etc. You basically rack your brain: are we on a different planet? Was this a spaceship crossing? Did we discover a new land mass and did we cross an ocean that developed as a result of global warming? What gives?

To boot, Kelsea's world has magic. I mean, honest to god magic, in the form of internal powers and magical artifacts. So how does that work? Does this planet have magic? You have to go through about a hundred possible theories in your head until the end of Book 1 where you get no answers. Again, it leaves something to be desired.

Until book 2. Until you meet Lily Mayhew. Until you see The Crossing with your own eyes. Until you meet William Tear, the reason this Kingdom is even called The Tearling.

Obviously I won't recount he entire story for you, but suffice it to say that Kelsea's magical artifacts, the Tear Sapphires, allow her to have magical abilities. She recreates her appearance, she can cause pain with her mind, and throughout the book she frequently "travels" into the mind of a character who lives in a not oo distant future from ours (Lily). It's not exactly a dystopia, thank god, but more of a logical progression of what could happen if we gave a government official a bit too much power.

Lily lives in a future set about forty years from now, where the worst fears of the 'Occupy' movement have come to pass. In fact, the rich are now so rich that they literally build walls to keep out the poor. To boot, a security force exists to ensure that all folks are compliant with the laws of the country and if you defy them you basically get renditioned (they stick you in a cell somewhere and basically make it like you never existed). Lily is one of these rich folks, in a walled compound, with a crazy abusive husband and no reason to live because if he gets her pregnant she'll never be able to get away. The worst part is for years she thought all of it was NORMAL and she had a perfect life. And did I mention in this future it's okay for men to basically subdue their wives because women are considered subservient? Yeah, even more reasons to detest this future.

So how does this affect Kelsea? It turns out the two are connected in some way and are travelling into each other's mind. Kelsea needs answers to help with her war and Lily needs the strength to escape her awful abusive life, so the two women help achieve each other's goals.

I will say my favorite parts are when Greg dies and when the Red Queen can't use the sapphires. The phrase "They belong to me" is so powerful I wanted to high five Kelsea in that moment. And while parts of Lily's journey were obvious (of course she is related to Kelsea and of course she and Tear will have a baby and name him Jonathan) I NEVER would have guessed that the crossing was time travel. The question that remains now is have they also traveled to another timeline/dimension/world? And are they creating the future? And how do the Cadare, Mortmesne and the other lands get formed? Johansen clearly knows how to leave readers wanting more.

I really liked how Lily's story changed the dynamic of the books. I will admit that one of the first reasons I read the first book was because Emma Watson had wanted to produce and star in the film versions, but at that point I assumed it was pure fantasy. Even when you think you have them figured out, these books confuse and bewilder and enchant you,  much like the Tear Sapphires. That is why I am glad I stick with the series. I am all for a story that keeps you guessing.

I feel bad for Pen, getting the shitty end of the stick and there was also not nearly enough of The Fetch in this volume. I will say, however, that Johansen really writes a villain well. Also, she shows how not all heroes are perfect and everyone is fallible and subject to temptation.

Put simply, these are not YA books (a lot of graphic scenes that would get a warning on TV or an R rating in a theater) and not your typical fantasy or sci-fi stuff. This is an original story and that is why I think it will make an excellent film series.

If you need to escape, you should really read these books. They're fun, scary, romantic, adventurous, and just well-written. I recommend them for people who were dissatisfied with their last fantasy novel. They are a breath of fresh air.


I am currently on my choice for Book 4 of the 10 in 10 Challenge, "The Maze Runner" by James Dashner, so I hope to finish that in the next few days. I am also a bit behind in the HP Rereading Group, but I should have my first ten-chapter wrap-up for Chamber of Secrets very soon. Stay tuned and Happy Reading!

Jul 7, 2015

All The Nerdy References, or A Review of "Extraordinary Means" by Robyn Schneider

Warning: the following review contains spoilers for Extraordinary Means. If you are currently reading or plan to read this book, please read on at your own risk. Full disclosure: I have known Robyn Schneider personally for many years, but I was in nooooooo way asked to write this review our compensated in any way. I didn't even get a galley this time around! (JK, love you Robyn!)

I love the way Robyn writes. On one hand, she writes with such a heart and such an intelligence you can tell she is whip smart and has a lot of emotions about her characters. On the other hand, she writes the nerdiest nerd books for nerds who nerd.

Much like her previous book, "The Beginning Of Everything," this newest novel is a YA story where something sad/tragic brings unexpected adventures and young people together. But that is truly where the similarities end because "Extraordinary Means" is about loss and love and understanding that the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Lane and Sadie are living two completely different lives but with the same diagnosis (the fictional disease 'total drug resistant tuberculosis') and in the same place (a sanitarium called Latham House where young people are sent to relax, take part in light exercise and "learn").  They've met before, but their memories of each other are very different indeed.

Once they do become friends, a romance quickly blossoms. The supporting  characters at Latham are also cool: there's the intellectual gamer, the recording artist, and the anime girl to name a few. I told you: with nerds, for nerds. I want to focus on why this book is worth your time, however.

Lane is a typical Type A kid. When he arrives at Latham he still thinks he needs to maintain his perfect scores, his perfect record, and that he can still get in to the best school. What he learns is that this will not be his path because he had TDR-TB. Sadie, who has been at Latham for over a year when Lane arrives, has accepted that the life she had will not be her path, so she decides instead to become the MPDG (manic pixie dream girl) trope and redefine herself. Both are scared, but both need each other and that need is what is explored in their story.

I loved how even though a lot of these themes and ideas exist in other books, they've never been explored through the narrative of a sanitarium or during an outbreak of a contagion. It's also set in the present day, and as I mentioned earlier packed with nerdy references galore, as opposed to some weird dystopia where the contagion was the government's plot all along (shock! gasp!).

In telling this story, Robyn really taps into why it is better to have loved and lost than not to have even tried. Also important: the characters who do not survive TDR-TB aren't pained as tragic: they're shown as examples of how we can all choose our own path and that every day we have matters.

I liked this book more than TBOE. When Robyn first told me about what she called "the severed head book," I was excited for her, but I wasn't anxious to get my hands on it. About a year later, she mentioned she was working on something with "terminally ill teens" and "vampires with tuberculosis." My first reaction was to make sure she knew she would have stiff competition: after all, John Green's "The Fault In Our Stars" had been set for publication at that point and we knew it was about two terminally ill teens. She assured me that this was different and that she could tell she was on to something. It was that response that made me far more excited for what would become Extraordinary Means.

I am so proud of all that she has accomplished, especially this book. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a new twist on a YA novel,  or anyone who is a little dystopia'ed out. And for those non-YA readers out there: this is a great breezy beach read.


My review for "Invasion of the Tearling" by Erika Johansen should be up tomorrow. Happy Reading!

Jul 6, 2015

A Review of "None of The Above," or This Should he Required High School Reading

The following post contains spoilers and somewhat NSFW language regarding IW Gregorio's "None of the Above." If you plan to read it, which you really must, be advised that you have been warned.

This was the first book in my 10 in 10 Reading Challenge. That's reading 10 books in 10 weeks. And I know what you are thinking:

"You can barely finish one book in two years!"

Well you're wrong. With friends taking part to motivate me, and keeping a shortlist of books I have wanted to read for ages (and it also being summertime with less TV shows airing) I have just begun week 3 and I am already on Book 4. Here is my first 10 in 10 review.

"None of the Above" by IW Gregorio tells a story of a girl named Kristin Lattimer who seems to have everything going for her: she's a High School track star, she's bound to be in the homecoming court, she's already got a college scholarship lined up and she has plenty of friends (and is dating one of the best looking athletes in school). But all that gets turned inside out when she finds out something about herself after her "first time" turns out to be more painful than pleasurable.

Kristin learns she has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and that she was born with male testes internally and differing chromosomes from. Typical females. She hasn't ever had a menstrual cycle but she always blamed it on her athleticism, until she finds out AIS women are usually born without a uterus and are therefore infertile. This condition, which falls under the umbrella of Differences of Sex Development, is sometimes called intersex.

The story continues to chronicle what happens as she is confronted by the reality many young women (and men) go through when discovering their intersex condition. This incliudes depression, secrecy, shame, loneliness and so much more. Without going into too much detail, Krissy's complicated situation doesn't stay secret for long and the resulting story is quite an emotional and realistic journey.

I really loved this book because I have read about and studied some DSDs and I can say with full confidence Gregorio's narrative is spot-on. The secrecy and confusion and anger regarding intersex conditions is still so prevalent in our society, even as LGBTQIA issues are at the forefront of both culture and politics.

I think every young person should have to read this book, either in English or Sexual Health class in high school/secondary school, so they may understand that being born different is not limited to physical external characteristics. Everyone is unique and there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to a DSD.

Onething I did find interesting: While some intersex activists have reclaimed the word "hermaphrodite" just as LGBTQIA activists have reclaimed "queer," the term is antiquated and ugly and Gregorio's use in Krissy's story is pejorative and rightly so.

Truly, I could not put this book down and it wasn't because of a personal interest in the subject matter. Krissy is someone we all know; she's the girl next door. In fact, chances are we have all met someone with intersex characteristics, as they occur as frequently as 1 in every 2,000 births. Krissy is average, typical until she discovers her condition, and while her story is transformative both physically and emotionally, it is truly her DSD status that makes her unique.

Please read this book and write a review on Goodreads for it. You will be glad you did. And there might be a kid who reads your review who has AIS and yours could be the one that makes unemployment read on and realize they are not alone.

Reviews forthcoming for books 2 and 3 of the 10 in 10 challenge. Happy reading!

Jun 20, 2015

This Isn't My Favorite Anymore and Why - Rereading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

This is not a spoiler warning because why would you even be here if you haven't read Harry Potter in its entirety or at least watched the movies. BUT JUST IN CASE, you were warned. I'm so glad you came out from under that rock to be here.

Like I promised, every ten chapters (or the end of the novel, whichever comes first), I'll be cross-posting my thoughts here from our "Rereading Harry Potter A Chapter A Day Until MISTI-Con 2017" group we started earlier this month. Today is the second half of Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone. We have one week after to discuss each book at length and share reactions, etc. If I write anything groundbreaking in the discussion group, I'll post it as an addendum to this post. Here are my thoughts:


Chapter 11: Quidditch

A case of Snape being cruel just to be cruel, to punish Harry for being his mother's daughter: a library book outside of the school? Who ever heard of such a thing? The horror!

Is it ever explained why Snape is seeking help from Filch? Or is it just as simple as he is the one with the bandages... surely that's Madam Pomfrey? Or is this some reflection of two grotesques seeking each other out for help?

Does anyone else think these three kids should just mind their own business? So nosy - a theme THROUGHOUT this book.

All foods in these books sound delicious. Is that JKR's writing or a testament to British cuisine?

Because we never see Quidditch from anyone else's perspective we can't really tell if Wood makes a good captain, can we? Or at least not comparatively.

Lee Jordan is just one of the silliest characters. He is just so obvious and hammy. You have to love him.

So Quirrell's plan is to knock Harry off his broom, presumably so he plummets to his death. But even if he falls and only suffers a few broken bones, how will he take him out? Dark of night at the hospital wing? It feels like he hadn't thought this through. Voldy Face is probably not thrilled.

Chapter 12 - The Mirror of Erised

I feel like Ron has extra oblivious-ness to counteract what seems to be Harry's hyper observant-ness. For someone who has so many chocolate frog cards how does he not realize Dumbledore knows Nicholas Flamel? Is he just collecting them and not reading the backs? Even my brother knew some of the baseball stats from his card-collecting days.

The invisibility cloak - another important relic from Harry's story that we at first see only as a plot device (or at least I did). How has Ron heard about them? They can't be that common or everyone would have one. It must be like Fred & George mentioned how many hijinks they could get up to if they had one and Ron remembers. And it can't be that he heard it in a fairy tale, because lame. What are your theories?

Speaking of George, despite the twins' playfulness and pranks it's sweet that George says "Christmas is a time for family" because it warms my heart. It also makes me sad. Did JKR already know one of the twins would die in the final battle when she wrote this?

Of course Hagrid and Dumbledore stay at Hogwarts for their holidays, but is McGonagall without a family? I guess I never gave it much thought. She is still too young here to be considered a spinster but to old to start a family of her own I guess? More stuff I was hoping to get in the Scottish book.

What does "I don't need a cloak to become invisible" mean?? Does that mean the disillusionment charm or that Dumbledore feels he is sneakier than/knows the school better than most?

Does Dumbledore see himself in the mirror with Grindelwald? Or perhaps his sister alive, well and happy? I am pretty sure it's not himself holding a pair of socks because that wouldn't be honest unless he's at peace with all the wrongs he's committed..

Chapter 13 - Nicholas Flamel

I think the 'Snape can read minds' reference here is a little heavy-handed.

What if Snape had just wanted some alone time and the forbidden forest was a nice place to be alone, you busybody? (Sorry, but Harry really is a nosy kid.) And yes, I know that this sounds like a set-up for Slash Fiction.

Poor Neville, especially in his weakened state, but at least he really is a true Gryffindor.

Chapter 14 - Norbert The Norwegian Ridgeback

Hermione is like the Type A to end all Type A's. Like, they all fear her.

I like how Hagrid underestimates them. He doesn't realize these are three of the most ridiculously investigative 11 year olds in the UK.

Ron actually knows something useful in the tail end of the book. Dragon facts, for one, and also how to play chess. But he can't remember chocolate frog card stats. Weird.

How much does Hagrid really know about Snape? He isn't in the Order, but does Hagrid know, or at least infer, about his true allegiance? An interesting theory to know just how much Hagrid is aware of and why he defends him (and it can't just be because Dumbledore told him to).

Moreover, Hagrid is such a pure soul: he knows that even a dragon is a creature who needs love and serious care, in addition to constant attention when first brought into the world. Some would argue he is delusional or childlike, but I think he just has a lot of love to give. We see this constantly throughout the series with whom he cares for, human and non-human alike.

The fact that Hermione is so happy to see Malfoy get detention is further support for the Draco/Hermione shippers. We only feel for that which we can detest.

Chapter 15 - The Forbidden Forest

Hermione, once again, representing Type A kids everywhere in her inability to respond to McGonagall's simple questions. "I, er, I, uh, um" never to be heard from this girl.

I like how Harry, who finally seems to have listened to reason (Let's tell Dumbledore!), is still convinced Snape is the culprit, though all evidence of this is hearsay and unconfirmed.

Those chains Filch refers to, they are also mentioned again once the Carrows take over at Hogwarts, yes? Can anyone confirm this?

Malfoy refers to "servants" instead of what they really are: house elves. I have often wondered if Dobby was always the servant at Malfoy Manor or if there were multiple servants, including predecessors to Dobby. Draco has definitely led a life with 'help' that's for sure.

I am no astrologer or astronomer (not sure which applies in this situation honestly, probably both), but I have always felt that the symbolism of "Mars is bright tonight" is more than silly stargazing. Mars was the god of war if I remember correctly and in some respects, the second battle versus Voldemort, or at least versus his return to full strength, begins that night in the forest (especially since it's the first time Voldy lays "eyes" on Harry since his last defeat. He seizes the blood he needs to continue his life in order to be reborn later and subsequently raise an army, etc. Mars, shining unusually bright, is a harbinger of great conflict this night. What do you think?

It sort of kills me that Harry doesn't associate the scar pain with Voldemort. It doesn't say "a pain in Harry's head" or "a splitting headache." It specifically refer to an aching in his scar. He does know who gave it to him, and even if it was psychosomatic it is still a giant indicator of He Who Must Not Be Named. It is both a premonition and a physical representation of a traumatic past experience. This kid is not very bright, despite his hyper-observantness & how easily defensive magic and flying come to him.

So the centaurs don't just know about Harry Potter, it sounds like the know about the prophecy. Are they represented in the MoM? Do they have a man-horse on the inside who has read the glowy ball in the HoP?

More prejudging from Hermione, this time regarding Divination. Taking an opinon, a professor's opinion, as her own without study or much research. Maybe this is her non-Type A side working?

Chapter 16 - Through The Trapdoor

How many times does JKR use the future like this,  ie "in the years to come?" Very rarely if I remember correctly. Perhaps only in this and the seventh book. Someone please show me a list of all time she speaks of Harry in the future.

The amount of dialogue in this volume is by far the least of all seven. There's pages and pages of exposition and inferences made by the kids, but at the end of the day it's like Quirrell's spiel is a huge monologue, hahaha.

11 year olds taking exams like this sounds worse than the US's standardized testing. Kids fainting and passing out and getting sick and forgetting they've "already done that one?" Sheesh.

I gather most people are afraid of Dumbledore since he is so well respected and so well known, otherwise why would McGonagall be so surprised the trio would want to see him? He is the headmaster, surely he's not spoken to often by students? Or is the principal different than a headmaster in frequency of interaction with actual students. I've never been to boarding school, so...

The Neville confrontation is such an incredible scene. We have already seen Neville's heart but not his strength of self or his determination. Also, this poor toad, I just feel like he is mostly ignored and mistreated by his owner. Or perhaps he is an unruly pet?

In times of immense stress, Ron wants to spare someone's feelings. Especially regarding something he himself is good at.

Hermione screaming when Ron is taken in the chess match is a real clue to her true feelings, even this early on. To the H/Hr shippers, it's not like she puts herself between Harry and the flames to the final chamber, but she does SCREAM when Ron is knocked out. Just saying.

They don't really explain that these challenges are created by the professors in the films and in fact, some are missing, including Snape's. It makes the movie kind of confusing but as long as you know they exist to protect the Stone I guess it comes across.

Harry has learned true Gryffindor bravado when he says things like "I was lucky once...I might get lucky again." Because seriously, that just makes him sound douchey, not brave. Is this just me?

Chapter 17 - The Man With Two Faces

Weirdly, the chapter title refers Quirrell but it also describes who Harry thinks they are chasing: Snape. Snape is truly two different people *and* a double agent. Could it also describe Dumbledore?

"Too nosy to live" - What did I say!? These damn kids should mind their own beeswax! Hahaha.

This final conversation between Harry and Dumbledore proves to be extremely important and influential to Harry. "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself" is an especially important lesson.

Who are Harry's "admirers?" Teammates he has, housemates and classmates and friends too. Does he have a legit fan club already though?

Hagrid has to have been a Hufflepuff. He is so incredibly loyal and when he fails a friend, or fails to work as hard as he can, he takes it so personally. His confession to Harry just reeks of personal anguish at his own incompetence.

If I am not mistaken, they show Hermione getting her 50 house points in the films, but not really explaining why she gets them i.e. not showing the logic gate. Kind of ridiculous and confusing, amirite?

Neville proves good at something after all: herbology. Still, he's a horrible pet owner though. This kid should not be trusted to care for living things at this point.

First clue that Ginny sees Harry as Wizarding Teen Bop-esque heartthrob; she may as well have fainted at the sight of him, Bieber-style.

Harry doesn't REALLY have that much fun with Dudley. This last line makes it seem way out of proportion what he does wind up doing. Besides, his fun gets cut off anyway, thanks to a certain green-eyed interloper and a letter from one Mafalda Hopkirk.

Final Thoughts

I don't think this is my favorite book anymore. It can't be because I mostly find the trio to be a bunch of nosy little kids.

That said, I think the first half is vital to the telling of the whole story and the second half is vital to Harry's understanding of his destiny. I prefer the first half story of where Harry comes from and his journey into wizardry to the "Snape is an evil douche who we have to beat" second half story.

The impressive amount of devices and elements that have future bearing on the whole story, I must reiterate, is incredible. JKR integrates all of her ideas, even the fact that Harry is sort of a Horcrux, into this volume. This has truly made me excited for the illustrated editions. It will be incredible how the illustrator illuminates items that have future significance or if they choose not to.


Starting that '10 in 10 Totally Doable Reading Challenge' on Monday, so there'll be at least one post a week coming I think. Enjoy your weekend!

Jun 10, 2015

Kids Are Judgmental: Updates on Progress, Rereading Harry Potter and The Totally Doable Summer Reading Challenge

Ok, get excited, a lot to cover here today. This post comes in six parts, a la Hank and John Green.

Part the first: I am still beta-reading one WIP for a friend and have finished the other. They are both incredible reads and while I have recently started a PT job, I can tell you they both had/have my full and undivided attention. It reminds me how much I love love love my friends and how proud I am of their extraordinary talent.

Part Deux: I am taking part in a Harry Potter reread and while my thoughts are too disjointed (kind of like a livetweet) to make into fully-formed posts, I have decided to cross post them here as we share them on Facebook. The idea is to read one chapter of HP a day (with weekends to play catch up) until we read every chapter. It's mostly made up of MISTI-Con attendees who want an excuse to pass the time/reread before MISTI 2017. I figure I will post after every ten chapters, or at the end of each book, whichever comes first. See the last part of this entry for my thoughts on the first ten chapters of the first book in the series.

Episode III: I am also looking forward to another reading challenge (though obviously my RLRory Challenge was an utter failure) because I am doing it with some of my frat sisters. It is inspired by the Totally Doable Summer Reading Challenge one of them did last year where you read 10 books in 10 weeks, with one being at least 100 years old and one being at least 500 pages long. I really like this and i think it will motivate me. Some people are starting early, but as I have yer to finish my friends book, I cannot start until 6/22 (leaving ten weeks of summer, get it?) so I hope it's ok. If you want to join in with me, post your list of ten books in the comments. Here are mine in no particular order:

- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (620+ pages)
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner (374)
- None of The Above by I. W. Gregorio (352)
- You by Caroline Kepnes (422)
- Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider (336)
- The Damned by Andrew Pyper (288)
- The Invasion of The Tearling by Erika Johansen (528)
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (117) (Originally Published in 1900)
- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (352)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time by Mark Haddon (226)

Part four: I never got to review the last CS Lewis Society book, The Screwtape Letters, here. It was only because the society never had our final meeting. I will gather my thoughts and post a review soon.

Finally part the fifth: my notes for the HP reread. We begin with The Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone, depending on where you live/buy books.


Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived

The first chapter of the first book is literally a treasure trove of knowledge and information about the entire series. I can sit and read each line or each paragraph and find something to analyze or look back on or theorize about - from the existence of animagi to someone named Sirius Black. Everything - every bit - is equal in importance. The way that Vernon and Petunia react to just the thought, even the idea of the Potters and of Harry, is like  something with equal amounts of fear and disgust as would the idea of Deatheaters to the average wizard. It's so crazy to think that something so simple as a one year old boy could really have such an effect on two grown adults. Everything he represents is wholly evil. Or perhaps not wvil but strange and unusual - frightening even. The craziest thing is that Harry is such a source of joy and an image of survival to the people of the wizarding world. Like I said, this chapter is filled with clues about the world JKR creates and some of its most important items and equipment and types of transportation are so integral to the series. Sirius Black's motorcycle is such a meaningful use of transportation, not just to get Harry to safe haven where he will not be found or discovered, but also as a statement about what kind of wizard Sirius is (especially since it seems these two wizards discussing the boy both traveled by other means. And the Put-Outer goes from being something that Dumbledore uses as a means of secret rendezvouz to something of singular importance later on. Everything about this chapter fills me with both sadness and happiness. It's so incredible to see how these people have survived this reign of terror and despite You-Know-Who this little bundle - this baby boy - is the salvation of an entire people, an entire culture.

One of the things that strikes me as surprising is that we know the behavior of wizards already as this chapter closes. In addition, we know where Dumbledore and McGonagall are during this celebration bit we don't know where Remus is and don't know were Sirius is other than that he gave his motorbike to Hagrid. The other thing is there were so many other characters in the story, obscure or otherwise, that are not represented in this "reaction" part of the story. Where are they and what they are feeling or thinking? On the opposite side of the coin, what are the Death Eaters going through as their leader has just disappeared? Just as this horrible monster disappeared, it brings renewed hope and renewed joy to an entire culture so too does it bring fear and fright into the hearts of his followers. Such duality there.

Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass

It blows my mind that Harry doesn't understand that he is special. All his life people sought him out - either in the street or on the bus - or an animal spoke to him. I mean it literally spoke to him and he doesn't realize that he is special. And not in the "everybody is special in their own way" kind of special. He clearly has something about him and it's not just a scar on his forehead.

I think this we can also look at Dudley's gang as a kind of reflection of Voldemort's Death Eaters. He and his followers carry out punishments and are able to bring about pain and sorrow to the students (also reminiscent of Draco and his cronies). Also the way the chapter ends with this thought of "no one messes with Dudley's gang" is so interesting to me because theoretically no one thought anyone could stop Lord Voldemort either.

I think it's really cool that Harry has these frequent occurrences of magic. It only reflects his mother's experience not understanding what she was too. I love that some children in the wizarding world can grow up in a magical family and find out that they have no magic like in the case of Petunia. Other children can grow up in the world without the knowledge that magic exists and find out that they are magical like Hermione or Harry. It's kind of like finding out how little your upbringing and your childhood and how you're raised affects the rest of your life. And how some things are just pre-destined. It should be interesting to reread the next chapter because knowing what the letters mean and knowing what the significance is and knowing that in the future Harry's own children will receive letters it carries more weight now. It's sort of blows my mind also how much the Dursleys reject any sort of unknown anything out of the ordinary. They're not unlike some wizarding families who reject all things muggle. That is perhaps why the Weasleys are looked upon as trashy by certain wizarding families.

Chapter 3: The Letters From No One.

I like to think that if the letters start coming earlier than two weeks before your 11th birthday - let's say they come a year earlier than your 11th birthday, like a warning or a "be prepared" or "expect our letter soon" kind of notice - I like to think that that Uncle Vernon would never stop running. In a man, that is so used to things being as they are, without any room for "funny business" or nonsense, this kind of resolve to avoid and evade is almost admirable.

What could deter Vernon? Physical violence? A threat against his family? Or perhaps at some point Harry might just have run away. I just think its incredible to see how resolute Vernon is in his beliefs. He reminds me of those who are devout in their faith, unmovable, though in this case he was VERY movable.

Chapter 4: The Keeper of The Keys

Again, another treasure trove of tidbits and items of importance. This is the chapter where it is first mentioned that Harry has his mother's eyes if I am not mistaken. Something that could just be overlooked as a show of respect and admiration for one's parentage instead is unknowingly so important to the story.

Funny how we remember the famous line as "Yer a wizard, Harry" from the films where Robbie Coltrane speaks as Keeper of Keys, but it's actually "Harry- yer a wizard" which doesn't have the same zing IMHO. The response, however, doesn't change: "I'm a what?"

We didn't realize this at the time it was published, but when he writes a mesage to Dumbledore, Hagrid is basically perform the wizarding version of texting. Especially the way he writes in short choppy sentences, this could have been JKR's way of predicting where mobile communication was headed.

These "trances" that Hagrid mentions people came out of are probably the first mention of the Imperious Curse. Another word or phrase that could be overlooked if not for knowing how dangerous and vital to the story the Unforgivables are.

Finally, insulting Dumbledore is obviously a huge trigger for Hagrid because of the father figure and savior he is to him. Hagrid also mentions how much he admires him and his motives can easily be discerned to be different from a boss-employee relationship.

Chapter 5: Diagon Alley

Gringotts is so safe, but why? It's just a bank. Banks are robbed all the time. I feel like the Gringotts dragons are a myth at this point and you could just kick a goblin if you needed to. And if Hogwarts is safer why don't they just have vaults and storage containers there? I bet they'd do a fine racket in storage.

There's another mention of Hagrid's admiration for Dumbledore and their mutual trust and respect. This begins in the first chapter when Dumbledore says he would "trust Hagrid with his life. " While in earlier chapters Harry seems like he has kind of an attitude, in these chapters with Hagrid he seems so timid. He allows Hagrid to read the paper in silence and such, basing his experience on living with the Dursleys and the social norms for them.

Cornelius Fudge is said to be "a bungler" and "pelting Dumbledore with owls" to seek counsel. Is this just what Hagrid thinks or is it the truth? Is Fudge really so incompetent? And regardless,  it's regreshing to see that Harry hasn't prejudged him when he eventually does meet the Minister later on.

Interesting note: in all the years I have seen people cosplaying as a Hogwarts student, I don't recall ever seeing anyone wearing dragon-hide (or other material) gloves, despite the fact that they are required for first year students.

First mention of Fantastic Beasts here as well. If only we all knew reading this for the first time that this title would eventually become a real physical book (one we could have of our very own) and that the story behind that book would lead to ANOTHER series of films...

Reading this chapter I am reminded of the corresponding or bookending theory: how some believe each book, except for the fourth, has a corresponding match in the series (1 & 7, 2 & 6, 3 & 5). This whole section on their first trip to Gringotts with the first appearance of Griphook has a corresponding story in the seventh book. The parallels are uncanny. Gringotts is also where the parallels between Cinderella and Harry end: because Harry is loaded.

I like how it's just accepted by Hagrid that Hogwarts is the 'only' school and Ollivanders is the 'only' wand shop. It's surely not, especially in a country or continent so large. It's these states that almost make Hagrid sound rather snobbish, assuming no one in their right mind would go anywhere else for a wand or to attend school.

Chapter 6: The Journey From Platform 9 3/4

Some interesting points as I read:

Which Hedwig in AHOM is the owl named after? All I could find out was Saint Hedwig may have been a German witch.

Waking up at 5 in the am to go to Hogwarts is just like the day/night before going to a con. I have found myself incapable of sleep due to the excitement and often have woken up several hours earlier than I needed to just to keep busy until the time came to leave. It's funny how this is a lot of my con stories start.

Regarding that frightening run at the barrier to get to the platform: that is the only thing I was mad that they left out of the park's version of the Hogwarts Express. Without that "will I make it" feeling, a bit of the magic is lost I think.

I am placing my bets now: Ron's accountant cousin is clearly the secret cameo of Fantastic Beasts. He was Newt's nerdy math-lete type friend in the US.

In this situation, Hermione and Draco are oddly similar. While of course she is helping Neville find Trevor (which is something Draco would never do),  she also shows an unusual amount of judgment towards the school houses and towards a total stranger's ability or inability to perform a spell. Nasty piece of work that she is.

Did anyone think of the Cave and the RAB locket basin when reading their Entrance to the underground harbor? I sure did.

Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat

McGonagall presents the houses in alphabetical order and assures that each house had produced excellent witches and wizards. So why do the students all judge so quickly? And jeez Hermione is obnoxious until she learns to contain herself.

Here's the first appearance of ghosts in the wizarding world. Now of we are to assume correctly, only those spirits with unfinished business or those who choose to "stay behind" can become ghosts (or perhaps that is only Hogwarts ghosts). If that is the case, how does Peeves even exist? And what is to say wizards don't live side by side with ghosts all over the world? The origin and explanation of ghosts in this universe is utterly confusing. Perhaps on this reread I will find/figure out more.

For all the grief the Hufflepuffs in fandom get, they did get the first two students in this year. I bet none of the other houses were betting Hufflepuff would get the first two.

What ever happened to Morag MacDougal? Did he dissappear?

Is it weird that I alwats thought the four weird words Dumbledore says were to check if everyone was paying attention? Like, at some point in the term, Dumbledore will stop a random student in the hallway and ask what four words he spoke during the welcoming feast. I always thought that would be awesome.

Okay, so the food remains and crumbs vanish and the plates appear sparkling. So what exactly are the house elves washing the dishes for? Now I am really confused. Also are the desserts described here different depending on where the book was published? They'd have to be.

Gender binary dorm rooms. I do not approve, even at 11 years old. I wonder if there was ever a trans student, even then.

Is Harry's dream prophetic or just a mixture of all the sweets and all the emotions he had been feeling? Kind of makes you wonder.

Chapter 8: The Potions Master

The thing about doors not being real doors-- it works in reverse too. Sometimes a wall is actually a door, but only when you really need it...

Yes, Harry, the coats of armor CAN walk,  but when you want them to, you will be grateful they can.

There isn't nearly enough Binns or Flitwick in the series. I bet their back stories are fascinating.

Snape doesn't hate you Harry, he just hates everything you represent in his past,  as well as yours. No big deal.

Interesting how JKR, and i suppose Harry, refer to Hermione with her full name until she joins their posse. It's either a mark of disdain  (because really, how many Hermione's could there be) or its a mark of how much they respect her. My money is on the former.

The only ingredients and Potions mentioned here that do not have future significance are those in the Draught of the Living Death. Interesting.

Sometimes I think that for an 11 year old, Harry is too perceptive. Like he can tell when people are trying to change the subject. Then I remember the rest of his teen years where he is pretty oblivious and feel like I am reading this part wrong.

Chapter 9: The Midnight Duel

Harry adjusts very quickly to being a wizard AND a full time student. Is roz because of his age, because of having friends and a culture/community around him,  or because he had no real attachments to the other side of his family? I think it is interesting to look at the source of his adjustment and how quickly he acclimates.

It bothers me that they had to change "football" to "soccer" for the American editions. We are the only country that calls it soccer, but it is well known that the rest of the world calls it football, isn't it? Is it a huge stretch to just call it football? I mean, the story doesn't take place in the USA.

Neville seems happier in the books than the films to get a Remembrall, and why shouldn't he be? They are dead useful and that was a sweet gift to get from his Gran. I guess in the films they didn't want to paint him as a happy kid?

Yes! - Parvati's first line is to defend Neville. Right on, I always like her. Unfortunately her sister is quieter in the books. And for a Ravenclaw I guess that is to be expected. She also defends Harry, so maybe she is a true Gryffindor.

Really amazing the progression of events that lead Harry to becoming a Quidditch player. Had Draco never taken the Remembrall, would Harry eventually had tried out, perhaps in his second year? I bet so.

Chapter 10: Halloween

Wood says "this is the golden snitch, " and I am screaming "well it's a bit more than that! "

There is something to be said about how Hermione can still be know-it-all girl but doesn't warrant true friendship until she shows her Gryffindor side. I think it's incredible that the boys don't even consider her a friend even though she tries to help in her own way. She is just looking out for them, she wants them to succeed; perhaps this is why I originally identified with her.

I don't think Harry and Ron spend enough time asking/questioning why there was a troll in the dungeon. Logically, if trolls are so dangerous, they wouldn't be roaming the school so they aren't there an purpose. So they aren't guarding anything or there for protection. Why aren't they questioning that? Too much focus on the tiny package and not enough on the troll and the first guy to report its appearance.

Also, you would think Halloween was a bigger deal or that it was more expository why it is. But JKR just tots off with another feast and no real explanation. What do wizard kids do on Halloween before they go off to Hogwarts or other magic schools? I am not sure, but I don't think this is ever covered. Another chapter in Bagshot's A History of Magic I suppose. Or maybe the Scottish book.


Sorry for any spelling errors or missing words. I am doing this in the break room at work to make sure I don't forget. More to come; happy reading!

May 5, 2015

I Didn't See That Coming: Who Really Killed Judas and Other Surprises in Lamb by Christopher Moore

WARNING: The following post contains a review for Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. I read and reviewed this book as a participant of the C.S. Lewis Society at Rutgers University's Canterbury House. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian; nor have I read the entirety of the New Testament from start to finish. My previous knowledge of Christ's life, both as told in the Bible and historically, was limited to random passages, things I have heard friends say, movies and television miniseries. So, if you think you might be offended by this post, which is a review of a book that takes a satirical look at the possible life of Jesus from ages 0-30, I suggest you move on. If you decide to read on, I apologize for my lack of Jesus knowledge and my utter bewilderment at most of his life, factual or imagined. Spoilers to follow.


I want to break down this review, which should be a quick one, to cover the six parts of Lamb, because I think that's the best way to do it.

Apr 29, 2015

What Will Winter Bring? - Shortform and Lengthy Reviews of A Feast for Crows & A Dance with Dragons

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. If you would like to remain unspoiled, you should recuse yourself immediately. If however, you've read the series, are familiar with the endings of both AFFC & ADWD, or don't fancy reading it at some point in your life (a true mistake IMHO) you may read on. 


It's not too complicated: A Feast for Crows, while shorter, definitely reads slower but is not less enjoyable. You'll appreciate the storylines of Cersei, Arya, and Brienne, but get a bit angry/annoyed at Samwell, Jaime and the massive cast of Greyjoys. Not my favorite in the series, but I wouldn't call it the worst in the series (if there even is a worst) which is apparently the popular opinion.

As for A Dance with Dragons, it's by far my favorite book in the series. I couldn't put it down - it was a rollercoaster of emotions! A bit slow to start, but holy moly once it gets going it's hard to stop reading. I cheered for all of my favorite characters and changed my mind about a few others. It also provides A LOT of much needed backstory and explains/confirms more than I think all of the other books. If A Game of Thrones is your gateway drug, this confirms you're an A Song of Ice and Fire addict.

For the much lengthier, much more passionate review of the final two books in ASOIAF, I'll see you after the jump.

Feb 8, 2015

Eat Something You've Never Heard Of, and Other Reasons to Become a Foodspotter - A Review

I've been a Foodspotter since 2010, but I was probably a Foodspotter way before that.

What's a Foodspotter? On the one hand, they take pictures of their food. They did this everywhere, without warning, and at any mealtime. They are amateur food photographers and food stylists, addicts, foodies, food-lovers, and adventurers. On the other hand, they are users of the social network Foodspotting, which also them to do all of the above and save their progress, sharing with their friends their finds and cravings.

I hadn't logged on to my Foodspotting account in a little over two years, but that didn't mean I had stopped taking pictures of my food. With my phone, with my Google Glass, and with my camera - I had a backlog of photos numbering in the hundreds. So, like an idiot, I started to accumulate them in a folder on my desktop. Why am I an idiot? Because it wasn't until weeks later (and many computer screen induced headaches to boot) I would realize I could never let this pile up again.

After starting this compilation, I decided to log into the site, just to see if I had notifications (I did, over 100 to be exact), but that wasn't what struck me. I saw a flag that said "Get the book!" My reaction: "FOODSPOTTING PUT OUT A BOOK?!" Yes, they did. And it's awesome and here's why.

Feb 7, 2015

Not Long Now, but A Long Time Coming - An Update

The Short Version

Shortly after starting my RTR book challenge in November, which for the most part was progressing nicely as of mid-November, I was hired to work an event that demanded at least 75% of my time for about 10 days. It didn't help that once that was concluded I was hired to work a multi-week promotion contract. That left me in mid-late December, with The Virgin Suicides unfinished.

Once again, I tried something and didn't stick to it. But I resolved to keep reading, keep working, and find time when I could in the new year. And I have.

You can look forward to a few new reviews coming out soon: The Foodspotting Field Guide, A Feast for Crows and more among them. Stay tuned.

The Long Version