Wednesday, March 31, 2010

#21 - Manners

By: Kate Spade
96 pages
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0743250664
My Copy: Borrowed from library


#20 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By: J.K. Rowling
Narrated by: Jim Dale
896 pages (27 hours)
Published: 2003
ISBN: 0807220299
My Copy: Borrowed from library (I own the book)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released on midnight on June 21, 2003 and I was there, standing in line at my local Borders, to get one of the first copies in line. I will always remember this book release because a) it was the first Potter-related midnight book release party I had been to and my best friend, Kristina, and I ended up waiting until after 1:30 AM to finally purchase our copies of the book, and b) it took place exactly one week before my wedding.

Committing yourself to reading an 896-page book the week you are getting married is a tall order, but I had absolutely decided that I would have finished by the time I walked down the aisle. I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate on my "I do's" if I was secretly trying to work out what was really contained in the Department of Mysteries and wondering what would happen during the climatic Voldemort vs. Dumbledore duel at the end.

The book is long, the longest of the series, but I still thought I could polish it off in a single day. Sadly, I was wrong, and it took me two or three days to finally have the whole thing completed (that did leave me more than enough time to get to the rehearsal dinner though). The same is true of listening to the book. It is 27 hours long! 27 hours! That's an entire day of listening and then some, so yeah, one day was not going to be enough.

The one good thing about the book coming out that week was that I was able to get several other copies to give to members of our bridal party as thank you gifts. Since no one in our circle of friends and family was as obsessed as me, I knew no one had started it yet!

One of the mistakes I made on my first reading was rushing through the story a little. After that, I learned to never rush another Potter novel, but to read carefully, soaking in all the details. After all, you only get one chance to read a book for the first time. When I finished the book, I remember being underwhelmed, and given its placement in the series, I can understand why I felt this. The story doesn't put forth any grand details, except that we learn that Harry is destined to kill Voldemort, or else be killed by him. It really isn't until the sixth and seventh book that we start to get the whole picture and understand how and why Harry must destroy Voldemort. But, of course, those seeds are planted here in this fifth story.

But, the book is a gem in its own right. Sure, Harry is moody, maybe a little bit too moody, but, after all that's happened, doesn't he have a right to be? I think Rowling really adeptly captures teenage angst and the first stirrings of love subplots in this volume. And, of course, the author gives us two uniquely wonderful female villains - Dolores Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange. A passive-aggressive, power hungry, government official - is there anything worse? And hateful, evil, sadistic Bellatrix is a force to be reckoned with (though, for the life of me, I can't understand why Jim Dale gives her a foreign accent? Shouldn't she be British?)

And then there is the death of Sirius, who Harry was beginning to regard as kind of a surrogate father, all at the same time that he is discovering that his own father was not all he thought him to be. Rowling could have easily left James and Lily Potter and perfect beacons of goodness, who sacrificed themselves to save their only son, but she is brave enough to give them flaws. Even Sirius, who has suffered so horribly and unjustly, can be, at times, an unsuitable guardian and role model. We're left to wonder if maybe Harry isn't better off without his influence after all.

As far as the movies go, Order of the Phoenix is easily my favorite. I think the filmmakers managed to perfectly capture the spirit of the book, while also significantly compressing the action (Phoenix is the longest volume in the series, but the shortest movie to date). Does that mean Order of the Phoenix itself could've stood a little editing? Perhaps, but in the end, I'm glad it didn't get any. The more Harry the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Overall, an excellent book, a great step in the series, full of excellent details adding to the overall story.

Rating: A

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

#19 - Occasions

By: Kate Spade
112 pages
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0743250656
My Copy: Received as a Christmas present

I am obsessed with books on etiquette and entertaining. It's kind of weird, but there is something about politeness and welcoming others into my home that just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I love having parties and I love coming up with new and creative ways hosting great gatherings. So, as you can imagine, I've read quite a few books on entertaining. My measure of a good hostessing book is one that leaves me with lots of new ideas and has me itching to get started on my next get-together.

Occasions is just that kind of book. Some of the advice is a little upscale for my guests' tastes (I only recently hosted a dinner party where I used place cards and, though it went over well, I felt extremely hoity doing so), but the tone of the book is one of warmth and consideration, guiding the hostess to do all she can to make sure her guests have an enjoyable time.

There is a significant section on alcohol and mixed drinks, which I think might be helpful in the future if I ever do anything like a cocktail party (we typically only serve beers and wine, but I'd like to branch out a little). The book also contains a lot of fun little tips for decorations and gifts. There was one moment while reading that made me very proud of myself - when Kate mentioned keeping a diary of all your parties and going over it to review what is needed for next time. I already do that! Yes, I keep a very detailed hostess diary with records of every gathering I have in my house. It's an great little book and it really has come in useful. For example, I host our book club in my home every month and only have to look back on the previous month's entry to see what drinks or foods were a hit so I can make sure I am preparing snacks my guests will enjoy.

Compared to the previous Kate Spade effort that I undertook, Style, this book is a much more useful resource, one I am glad I have on hand to browse through before any future parties. The layout of the book makes it easy to read and the hand drawn illustrations are extremely helpful. It's not perfect or comprehensive by any means, but it does have loads of helpful tips and hints inside.

Rating: B+

Monday, March 22, 2010

#18 - We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
By: Shirley Jackson
160 pages
Published: 1962
ISBN: 0143039970
My Copy: Borrowed from library

I was in my local bookstore a few weeks ago and saw this book in with other classics of literature which had just received spiffy new covers from Penguin Books. Though I had heard of all the others (Little Women, Moby Dick, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, etc.) neither the title of this book or its author was familiar to me. It was thin (which I like), by a female author (which I like), and available (also good), so, I trotted over to the library and picked up a copy.

Wow, am I ever glad that Penguin re-did these covers, because We Have Always Lived in the Castle is incredible. I love picking up a book and having no expectations about it, so I won't ruin it for you by going into the plot at all. I will just say that Shirley Jackson is an amazing writer and the story is intense and unexpected and wonderful.

After I finished this book, I hurried out and got The Haunting of Hill House, Life Among the Savages, and The Lottery and Other Stories. I quickly read her most famous short story, The Lottery, and it was amazing (I can't believe I had never read it before). If you haven't read it you should drop everything and do it now (it's pretty short, so it won't take long). That ending is still haunting me.

Her books and stories just have such a unique sensibility. I'd call it horror or Gothic, but it's not really. Her tone is very grounded, but the events she describes are out of the ordinary. As with The Lottery, one of her main strengths as a writer is her ability to just tell you what is happening without a lot of explanation about the motives and reasoning of the characters. It's amazing. In my wildest dreams, I would write half as well as she does.

If you haven't read any Shirley Jackson yet, rush out and do so. Her work is short, gripping, and will stay with you long afterwards. Look for more reviews of her work to come.

Rating: A-

It's Monday! What Am I Reading?

Haven't done this in a few weeks, but here it is for today.

I'm actively working on:

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I'm listening to:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Since I last posted, I finished:

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

#17 - Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
By: Laurie Viera Rigler
304 pages
Published: 2009
ISBN: 0525950761
My Copy: Borrowed from library

A few months ago I picked up this author's first Austen-inspired book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, when I kept seeing it pop up in my usual Jane Austen related searches on BookMooch. Surprisingly, which is odd for me since I tend to hate Austen fan fiction and tie-ins, I liked it. So, when I saw Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict sitting on the shelf during a visit to my local library I wondered if it would be as enjoyable as the first one.

Fellow readers, it was not. Being essentially the reverse of the story in Confessions -- a girl from Regency England gets magically transplanted into the body of a woman from 21st century Los Angeles -- I found it a rather boring read compared to its sister novel. Part of the problem was that the story does not have the same charm from the girl-from-the-past-time-warps-to-present-day angle. In Confessions, it was interesting for us to experience Regency life through the eyes of Courtney, the 21st century Jane Austen addict because we, as the reader, essentially are her -- lovers of Jane Austen finding ourselves in a unfamiliar time and place. But the reverse is just not as endearing or exciting. I cared little about Jane Mansfield's inability to work a computer or drive a car or about the fact that she had no clue what a cell phone was and had no idea Pride and Prejudice had been made into the greatest television mini-series of all time. Another weakness of the story was that it involved the same characters as in Confessions, so I knew exactly how the story was going to end because I had already been told in the previous book. This barely works in the newer Star Wars movies, and it certainly does not make me want to keep reading a book that was already boring me a bit.

That said, it's clear to me that the author is a true Austen devotee and that she put a lot of research into learning the customs, traditions, and values of 19th century English life. Her first effort really is an excellent one and I did enjoy it, but this follow up is definitely worth skipping. If it hadn't help to fill out my Jane Austen Reading Challenge, I wouldn't even have bothered to finish it.

Rating: D

Friday, March 12, 2010

#16 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
By: J.K. Rowling
Narrated by: Jim Dale
734 pages (21 hours)
Published: 2000
ISBN: 0807282596
My Copy: Borrowed from library (I own the book)

When I first began the Harry Potter series, it was on the recommendation of my best friend, Kristina. She and I were hanging out at the library one day (we were doing some research for a college class we were both in), and she suggested I try reading Harry Potter, a series I'd heard of, but hadn't had much interest in exploring.

"Aren't those kids book?" I scoffed. "Yes," she said, "but you'll love them!" And, fellow readers, was she ever right.

I read straight through Philosopher's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban, before settling in to read what was the largest volume of the series at the time, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Of course, I adored the first three books in the series, but Goblet of Fire is what really got me hooked. I talked before about how desperately I love "hinge novels," and Goblet of Fire is one of my favorites. The world becomes so much bigger, the story so much more political, the evil so much more dangerous and present.

It's no accident that the story begins with Harry travelling to the Quidditch World Cup and learning about wizards and witches from around the world and then, later, the Triwizard Tournament brings those very same people to his door. Harry's world is expanding and, as everything gets bigger, we see that danger looms from everywhere. Rowling sets the stage for the rest of the series by resurrecting Voldemort at the of Goblet. Evil is no longer hiding in the shadows and scattered in the outskirts, it is alive and poses a clear and present danger to our hero and, indeed, the world at large. The actions of the entire series seem to hinge on that scene in the graveyard and now everything can be said to be either before Voldemort was back or after he came back. The series also gets serious, killing off a main character at the end. The first death for us in a long line to follow.

The political message of the story also becomes crystal clear in this volume. Hermione's new found interest in the plight of house elves. Prejudice in the magical world. Themes we have touched upon in other stories, but which are placed front and center here. As Harry learns about the intolerance in his world, we learn as well and become just as resolved as our hero to fight these injustices.

When I had the honor of meeting J.K. Rowling in 2007, I wore my S.P.E.W. shirt because, for me, S.P.E.W. embodies everything I love about the series. It conveys the author's fervent desire for us to see inequality in the world and to do something about it, with her acute sense of humor. House elves, after all, do not very much want to be free, but that doesn't stop Hermione from doing her best to convince them of it. It's fitting that Ron and Hermione's first kiss should take place in book seven when he finally expresses his support for her efforts to overturn the injustice of house elf enslavement.

Speaking of S.P.E.W, I do sorely miss having it in the movie version. In fact, though Goblet of Fire is one of my favorite of the series, the movie version is easily my least favorite of the adaptations. I think there was just too much to include and it just wasn't done well enough. That and Ron and Harry's hair is just too scruffy. Maybe they should have started breaking the movies into two at this point (no, I'm actually glad they didn't... too many movies to see!).

The first time I finished Goblet of Fire, I realized that I would have to wait until who-knew-when to read the next chapter in the series. At the time, J.K. Rowling was still hard at work on the not-yet-titled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and she had simply left me and the rest of the world to wait with baited breath to see where her story would go from here.

After all is said and done, it was certainly worth the wait.

Rating: A+

Monday, March 8, 2010

#15 - Everything Matters!

Everything Matters!
By: Ron Currie Jr.
320 pages
Published: 2009
ISBN: 0670020923
My Copy: Borrowed from library

This book was the second volume on our book club reading list this year. My awesome friend, Maggie, chose it and I ended up having mixed feelings about it.

The conceit of the book is very interesting. The main character, Junior, learns the specific time and date when the world will end and then has to live his entire life with this information hanging over his head. So the question becomes, if you know the world will be obliterated during your lifetime, does anything you do really matter?

The book really is not a pleasant read (spoiler alert!). I found myself skimming almost everything but the end section because it was just so darn depressing. Though brilliant, Junior essentially finds himself in a downward spiral as he makes it his mission to save the inhabitants of the planet Earth from destruction. In the end, he is given the chance to do his life over and his chooses to simply live rather than devote his life to saving others. It is in accepting his fate that he discovers that all his actions truly do matter.

The last 50 pages of the book are incredible, cleverly driving home the author's entire point that our actions and lives do matter here and now. I was really hating the book up until the end, when it completely redeemed itself for me. Yet another reason to keep on reading until the end. If I hadn't had to discuss this for my book club the following week, I wouldn't have bothered to keep going with it after the first 50 pages!

Overall, a good ending with the bulk of the book being slow, boring, and essentially a downer. A interesting choice for a book club. We had a really good discussion around the themes of the story. The book as a whole is worth the effort.

Rating: B-

Hogwarts Reading Challenge

Since I'm flying through my Harry Potter books, I decided to sign up for this challenge too because it looked so darn awesome!

Hogwarts Reading Challenge - March 8 2010 to December 13 2010

In the Hogwarts Reading Challenge you are a student of the school. You will be sorted into houses. Each book you read must fit in to the subject of one the classes. You do not have to read books that fit all the subjects. Each book equals one point (toward the house cup).

You must read at least 5 books (audio books counts) before you are enter in to the drawing. At the end of the Challenge one person will win a $25 Amazon Gift Card and one house will win the House Cup (purely a pride thing).

First, I got sorted...

Ravenclaw! Very good!

Here's the list of books I've read for my "classes"...

Harry Potter books - worth 25 points

* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling - 25 points
* Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling - 25 points

Transfiguration - read any book that has trans or figure in its title, is about shape shifting, has a shape shifter in it, or is about anything having to do with changing one thing into another

Defence Against the Dark Arts - read any book that has defence(defense), dark and/or art(s) in its title, read any book that is about self defense, war, history of war/marital arts, murder mysteries

Charms - read any book that has charm in its title, any book that deals with gives something or someone a new aspect (for example the nerdy guy become a handsome doctor)

* Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler - 1 point

Potions - read any book that has potion in its title, cookbooks count but you must cook at least one recipe out of the book

Astronomy - read any book that has astronomy in its title, books about planets, stars, etc, sci-fi

History of Magic - read any book that has history or magic in its title, books about magic, witches, etc

Herbology - read any book that has herb in its title, again cookbooks count and again you must cook at least one recipe out of the book

Arithmancy - read any book that has arithmancy in its title, any book with a number in its title, any book that deal with numbers or math

Ancient Runes - read any book that has ancient or runes in its title, books about historical places like the pyramids, Stonehenge, great wall of china, or any book about symbols

Divination - read any book that has divine in its title, any book about psychics or psychic abilities, tarot reading etc

Care of Magical Creatures - read any book that has magical or creatures in its title, about supernatural beings

Muggle Studies - nearly any book works here, what better why to understand Muggle than to read what they read

* Occasions by Kate Spade - 1 point
* We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - 1 point
* Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr. - 1 point

Should be fun!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

#14 - City of Glass

City of Glass
By: Cassandra Clare
560 pages
Published: 2009
ISBN: 1416914307
My Copy: Bought it at Target

After finishing the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, I quickly put the other two on order from the library. When I finished City of Ashes and saw that I was still several deep in the waiting list for City of Glass, I broke down and bought the book from Target.

And I was not disappointed. I read feverishly through the first two-thirds of the books waiting for (spoiler alert!) the one thing I really, very badly wanted to happen -- for the author to finally un-brother-and-sister Jace and Clary. After the second book, you know it has to be coming soon. She simply can't leave their relationship as it is and give the reader any kind of satisfaction with the ending to the story. She didn't disappoint me! I thought it was well handled (and it explained why Jocelyn had to remain out of the picture for all of book two).

Overall, I thought it was a great series. Very well done. I'd certainly recommend it to lovers of fantasy or even fans of Harry Potter since Cassandra Clare started out writing Harry Potter fan fiction (very interesting!).

Rating: B
Series Rating: B+

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

#13 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By: J.K. Rowling
Narrated by Jim Dale
435 pages (12 hours)
Published: 1999
ISBN: 0807282324
My Copy: Borrowed from library (I own the book, though)

Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favorite Harry Potter novels. It's refreshing to breeze through it after plodding along during Chamber of Secrets. There's just so much to love about it.

Jane Austen isn't one of J.K. Rowling's favorite authors for no reason. She has the same incredible ability to misdirect the reader and make us feel exactly the opposite of what the truth is (think Elizabeth and Darcy as Harry and Sirius). This book also starts feeding us information about Harry's parents, which we glory in along with Harry. And since I've seen parallels between all the other books, I imagine that this one ties pretty closely to Order of the Phoenix. Harry begins his relationship with Sirius here, and ends it in Order of the Phoenix. Harry believes he will be expelled for the use of underage magic in the beginning, and in Phoenix, he almost is expelled for just that. Professors Trelawney's prophecies feature in both. Also, Harry learns information about his father that makes him proud and happy in Azkaban, but in book five, he starts to see a different, more complete version of his father emerge.

I think the scene in the Shrieking Shack is one of my favorites of the whole series. I included a (somewhat poor quality) clip from the film adaptation. The movie does a nice job of condensing it. Plus, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, and Timothy Spall are brilliant. You can tell even the three kids up their game a bit around them. Swoon...

Rating: A+

Monday, March 1, 2010

It's Monday! What Am I Reading?

Right now I appear to be on a Jane Austen kick:

Jane Austen, Selected Letters
Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Jane Austen's Charlotte by Julia Barrett
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr.

I'm listening to:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Last week I finished:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

PS - Villette was lost in the mail, so I've had to order a new copy. The one downfall of swapping books online!