Reliving the magic of Harry Potter: the Sorcerer’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets

harrypotter1On a whim last month I put The Sorcerer’s Stone on hold at the library, and read it last week. I haven’t religiously reread the series over the years, or in preparation for each  movie release, like a lot of people who grew up with Harry. This was published in 1997, I was 8 at the time. As a big reader in elementary school, I remember reading these as new books. I can perfectly picture the classroom library/reading nook my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Jones had set up in the back corner of her classroom, and discovering my love of historical fiction with “The Last Silk Dress” and “Wolf By the Ears” by Ann Rinaldi… but I also remember having Harry Potter books next to my pencil case in my desk. Does anyone else remember in images? It’s like a perfect snapshot of my pencil box stacked on top of a hardcover of Harry Potter.

I saw the first movie in theaters in Winnemucca, Nevada, on a road trip with my family – my dad took my sister and I so our mom could relax in peace at the motel with a glass of iced white wine. It was wonderful. But I had stopped reading the books around #4 or #5, and only saw the first 2 or 3 movies. It just never sparked a fire for me as a teenager – I can say the same for the Lord of the Rings mania, which was also huge during middle school and high school. The real kicker for me was that the books and movies ALWAYS came out during the summer, usually around my birthday in July –  for so many years, people would skip my birthday party to wait in line for the new Harry Potter book, or be too tired from the midnight premier of the newest movie. It made me bitter!

harrypotter2When I was 18, I finally read the last 2 books and absolutely loved them. I know I’ve read all the books at one point or another… but the middle of the series remains very muddled to me. I think I’ve patched most of my Harry Potter knowledge from the movies, vague memories of reading the books when they original came out, and piecing together information from tumblr.

Well at the ripe old age of 26, I am aiming to rectify this situation! I read the first 2 books last week, and was enchanted by them. Very very good stuff. The level of detail is extraordinary, and the lush background given to each character and setting makes for a very engrossing experience. It’s fun to see the clues Rowling has left sprinkled throughout the early books, and I like vaguely knowing what is going to happen, but not remembering any of the actual details. I didn’t remember Gilderoy Lockheart AT ALL, and its fun seeing Harry and the gang interacting as babies. Ginny’s school girl crush on Harry, Ron’s feelings towards Hermoine. Dumbledore being mysterious as hell – he really isn’t very involved in the first few books AT ALL. I know all is revealed later, but I’ve been surprised at how much of an enigma he is at this point.

I don’t like going on benders with series – I read the first 2 books in 10 days, and feel like I can probably take a break and read other things from my to do list for a little while. Luckily, I can borrow the Harry Potter series for free as part of the Amazon Prime Lending Library, and won’t have to wait to get them from the library – also, I’m limited to 1 per month, which is a nice way to not get too crazy about it. Between Harry Potter and Outlander, I feel pretty good about my options for series.

I don’t think I’ll have any groundbreaking opinions to add to the many many many things written about Harry Potter, but it is nice to relive some memories and revisit some amazing characters.

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Recently Read: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I read Still Alice last week in 2 sittings – it was a very very moving read. At first I thought the writing was a little simplistic, almost like a fiction story you’d read in a women’s magazine, but once the story gets going, I was so engrossed in the characters that I didn’t notice anything else. Alice is a professor at Harvard who thinks she is suffering from menopausal memory lapses/distraction before getting a diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer’s. The book is written from Alice’s perspective, and as her disease progresses, her POV is altered, too – making the reader feel as if they too are descending into the hole with her.

That quote up in the photo is a great little wrap up of the book – uncomfortable, terrifying… it’s an emotional read! I’m glad I checked it out from the library, I feel like I have more insight into Alzheimer’s – a disease we hear so much about but probably don’t know much about.

This is a very quick read – not a very uplifting one, although it ends on a fairly positive note. Worth checking out and reading one weekend!

Still invested in Outlander

I read the 5th book in the Outlander series last week, The Fiery Cross.

I am now over 5,000 pages into Claire and Jamie’s story, and I’m still trucking along. I haven’t experienced any Outlander fatigue, although sometimes I do laugh at the story lines that go on for 100 pages only for the outcome to have no actual import on the big picture. If I didn’t love the characters so much, it would drive me crazy.

Things that I enjoy:

  • Claire and Jamie’s relationship is just as engaging as it was at the start.
  • Bree and Roger are more fully fleshed out, which makes their story lines more interesting – in the last few books I wanted to rush through their chapters to get back to Claire and Jamie.
  • The historical detail – I love it!! Especially the medicine – some reviewers say they are tired of all the attention bestowed on Claire’s medical practice, but I think it’s fascinating, and fairly well done!

Things I don’t like:

  • Bree was breastfeeding for the majority of this book, and hearing about her leaking breast milk and wet splotches on her bodice was tiresome after the first 100 times
  • Like I mentioned before, the plot lines that go nowhere. At one point, the militia is mustered, on the march, they find an abandoned cabin, adopt some orphans, find a weird medical emergency that Claire needs to solve, have a run in with a panther (??), and then get a note that calls off the whole thing. So the militia goes back home, after 250 pages of trekking around.
  • The pacing – the book opens at a Gathering, where all the displaced Scottish settlers in North Carolina gather for a 3 day festival. Specifically, it opens on the last day, and the first 200 pages take place all between dawn and noon? SO MUCH HAPPENS, and I keep assuming that the afternoon has gone by, and we’re getting close to the evening’s activities but no, it’s still “mid-morning” and they haven’t had breakfast yet. Very disconcerting.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this. I spent a day off reading all day! I barely touched the internet! I was 100% in the early 1770s with Claire and Jamie and the rest of the gang at Fraser’s Ridge. That being said, I do need to take a break between each book in the series, I don’t think I’ll be ready for #6 until next month, or maybe even the end of summer.

Favorite World War II Novels

I was so excited thinking about other novels of WWII that I had to dedicate a whole post to it..

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer – try not to become entranced as a young German soldier and French teenage girl’s fates become more and more entwined.

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

  • Charlotte Grey by Sebastian Faulks – a Scotswoman joins the French resistance – but is it to help the cause or to find the MIA airman who she loves? I love Sebastian Faulks! Birdsong is another great war novel, but set during WWI.

In blacked-out, wartime London, Charlotte Gray develops a dangerous passion for a battle-weary RAF pilot, and when he fails to return from a daring flight into France she is determined to find him. In the service of the Resistance, she travels to the village of Lavaurette, dyeing her hair and changing her name to conceal her identity. Here she will come face-to-face with the harrowing truth of what took place during Europe’s darkest years, and will confront a terrifying secret that threatens to cast its shadow over the remainder of her days. Vividly rendered, tremendously moving, and with a narrative sweep and power reminiscent of his novel Birdsong, Charlotte Gray confirms Sebastian Faulks as one of the finest novelists working today.

  • Suite Française by Irene NemirovskyConsidered Nemirovsky’s unfinished masterpiece, Suite Francaise is about the fall of Paris from the perspective of various characters in part 1, and then life in a small village outside of Paris under Nazi occupation in part 2 – this book is unfinished because Nemirovsky was deported and sent to Auschwitz where she died during the war. Her daughters discovered the manuscript in the 1990s and it was published in 2004.

Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.When Irène Némirovsky began working on Suite Française, she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. For sixty-four years, this novel remained hidden and unknown.

  • THE CAZALET CHRONICLES by Elizabeth Jane Howard – Read these 5 amazing books immediately. The story starts in 1937, and continues through the war and after it, chronicling the life of a large English family through the generations. My mom turned me onto this series, and it is beautiful and engaging and sad and inspiring. Ugh! One of my favorite favorite series ever. While it is set during WWII, the story takes place on the home front.

Here is a summary of Book 1, The Light Years:

In 1937, the coming war is only a distant cloud on Britain’s horizon. As the Cazalet households prepare for their summer pilgrimage to the family estate in Sussex, readers meet Edward, in love with but by no means faithful to his wife Villy; Hugh, wounded in the Great War; Rupert, who worships his lovely child-bride Zoe; and Rachel, the spinster sister.

This family will become your own. I have laughed and cried with these characters, oh I just love them.

  • Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning – this series became my life – I read these SIX novels as 2 trilogies The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy, which I believe is how they are published now. When Manning first published them in the 1960s, I think they came individually.

The Balkan Trilogy is the story of a marriage and of a war, a vast, teeming, and complex masterpiece in which Olivia Manning brings the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irrevocably changed by war, yet remains unchanged.

At the heart of the trilogy are newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle, who arrive in Bucharest—the so-called Paris of the East—in the fall of 1939, just weeks after the German invasion of Poland. Guy, an Englishman teaching at the university, is as wantonly gregarious as his wife is introverted, and Harriet is shocked to discover that she must share her adored husband with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Other surprises follow: Romania joins the Axis, and before long German soldiers overrun the capital. The Pringles flee south to Greece, part of a group of refugees made up of White Russians, journalists, con artists, and dignitaries. In Athens, however, the couple will face a new challenge of their own, as great in its way as the still-expanding theater of war.

Not only is this about the war, but it is totally a book about marriage. I need to reread these, I think I was 18 or 19 when I first read them. Now I’m 26 and about to be married… isn’t it funny how differently you connect with a book when you read it at different ages?

And in part 2, The Levant Trilogy:

In The Levant Trilogy Olivia Manning returns to the story of the young English couple Guy and Harriet Pringle, last seen, at the end of The Balkan Trilogy, departing from Athens ahead of the invading Nazi army. Now, in the spring of 1941, they arrive in Egypt as Rommel’s forces slowly but surely approach Cairo across the Sahara from the west. Will the city fall? In the streets the people contemplate welcoming a new set of occupiers, while European refugees and well-heeled Anglo-Egyptians prepare to pack their bags. And at night, everyone who is anyone flocks to the city’s famed hotels and seedy cabarets, seeking one last dance before the tanks roll in.

Manning describes the Pringles’ ever complicated marriage and their motley group of friends and foes with the same sharp eye that earned The Balkan Trilogy a devoted following. And she also traces the fortunes of a marvelously drawn new character, Simon Boulderstone, a twenty-year-old recruit who must grapple with the boredom, chaos, and fleeting exhilaration of war.

Whew! What a post! But I just had to share these amazing novels. Some of these reads were (dare I say?) life changing for me. They are all very tied up in my sense of self, I think because I read most of them for the first time between the ages of 17 and 21. I have reread The Cazalet Chronicles many times, the books are like visiting old friends, or returning to a favorite vacation spot. The Fortunes of War I need to reread. All the Light We Cannot See has a lot of hype surrounding it, but it is completely deserved.

Someone, please read some of these so I have a friend to talk about them with.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I went into the Nightingale very skeptical. #1, I don’t trust people with 2 first names…. #2, I am VERY skeptical by a book with almost unanimous 5 star reviews.


Exhibit A – Amazon

nightingalereviews 4.8 rating from almost 8,000 readers?! I better have my socks knocked all the way off. Seriously?! The Nightingale was recommended to me by Amazon because I liked All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer. Anthony Doer won the Pulitzer Prize for that novel, and I don’t think it has this many good reviews.


Exhibit B – Goodreads

nightingalereviews2Whoa, 23,000 5 star rating on Goodreads – I get it, I get it, this book is good.


So did The Nightingale live up to my expectations? Yes and no. I did stay up until 2 am on a work night finishing this story. I looked forward to reading every day. I was invested in all the characters. I was a little sad to reach the end.

But was it the BEST WWII book I’ve ever read? No. In fact, it felt like coming home to the genre. It was predictable in all the right ways. Emotional in the right ways. Covered every aspect of the war – French resistance, occupied France, concentration camps, life in Paris,  new love and love lost, deaths, separation of Jewish families, I could go on! It was doing too much – like Kristin Hannah said to herself “I am going to write a WWII epic” and tried to include all the hits.

Here is the Amazon summary:

thenightingalesummary“A novel for a lifetime” – I don’t think so. It was a good read. Thrilling, romantic, awful, engaging, but not the best novel ever. I enjoyed reading it. It does not make my list of best WWII novels by a long shot. I think that the majority of its good reviews are from people who haven’t done much reading in the genre. My hope is that the Nightingale serves as a starting point to a rewarding journey.

I will make a short post with a list of much better WWII novels – I was inspired to think about my favorites and got so excited thinking about all these good stories that I need to share them. Expect an update soon!

June Reads: Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Tyler, & Cheryl Strayed

Lately I have found myself in the company of some amazing women.

I know I already wrote a little about Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert, but when I realized I had been on a winning streak of women writers, I had to include her again. Plus I have more to say.

“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”
Committed unflinchingly explores the history of marriage (it hasn’t been so awesome for women) while fleshing out Gilbert’s own worries and concerns over her current and past relationships, her divorce, and her upcoming nuptials. I’m getting married in less than 2 months, and have been thinking a lot about my past relationships, what my future holds, and what my marriage will be like! So this was a timely read. I’ve read so many articles about weddings and marriages, and one thing that continues to pop out at me is “being intentional” in your relationship. Ha, I see this most often in Christian, stay at home mom blogs, which could not be further from my reality, but there’s a good lesson there- communicate clearly, choose love, compromise, put your marriage first. But to me, being aware of the history of marriage is also important. I’m entering into this crazy legal bond for the rest of my life, I need to be prepared! Gilbert ultimately finds solace with the idea of marriage as a subversive act of 2. No matter how the state or church tries to regulate marriage, it keeps happening! The family unit of 2 committed partners has stood up to dictators, priests, legislature, and has thrived against the odds. I liked that idea, too. I’m glad I read this book. I might include that quote up there in my wedding ceremony. There were other passages I highlighted in my kindle, here are 2 more:
“The emotional place where a marriage begins is not nearly as important as the emotional place where a marriage finds itself toward the end, after many years of partnership.”
and:
“Marriage is those two thousand indistinguishable conversations, chatted over two thousand indistinguishable breakfasts, where intimacy turns like a slow wheel. How do you measure the worth of becoming that familiar to somebody—so utterly well known and so thoroughly ever-present that you become an almost invisible necessity, like air?”

I read Anne Tyler’s latest novel A Spool of Blue Thread, and liked it. I like all her books. I like living in her world for a few days, it’s my favorite thing about her novels. Total immersion in this every day life of a fictional family or person. I always laugh to myself about trying to describe “what I’m reading” to other people – with Anne Tyler books, it just makes no sense. “Well, it’s about this family, and the oldest son is a deadbeat, and the daughters worry, and the parents are aging, and they can’t figure out what to do with their family home, built by a long deceased grandpa.” Doesn’t sound that interesting, it just sounds like life.

I don’t even know where to begin with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Tail. I think I might have found the perfect time in my life to read the perfect book. Wild is about Cheryl Strayed losing everything in her mid-twenties and hiking the PCT. Her mom died, her young marriage fell apart, her family disintegrated, she was using heroin, bouncing from city to city waitressing. I feel like I could have been her! That could be me! In the early 90s as a young twenty-something… its just so utterly relatable for me, the taking stock of your life at age 26 and wondering “wtf.” Actually none of her life experiences are similar to mine, and I think that’s the beauty of her writing. She gives her awful, individual experiences a place in the cosmos, making them universal to everyone. Especially to women of a certain age. Actually, all women, since everyone was once a confused 24 year old.
I’m looking at quotes from Wild on goodreads, and I’m just like “YES”
“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
and from the end, which I love and cherish:
“It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That is was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was, like all those lines from The Dream of a Common Language that had run through my nights and days. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
How wild it was, to let it be.”
Yes, my life and my present, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. Ugh. I love it. I must buy a copy for myself, to highlight and dog ear. I returned my library copy with such a feeling of thankfulness and gratitude. Thank you Cheryl, for writing!

This has been a long post, a rambling post.. I just wanted to share some quotes from these amazing books I’ve been reading. I know I’m late to the game on Wild, but has anyone else read it and loved it? Did you hate it? Go out and get it from the library so we can talk about it.

Recently Read: Nonfiction

deadwake

I borrowed 6 books for my 5 day trip back to Sacramento over Memorial Day -did I have a jam packed schedule of things to do while there? yes. Was I so tired every night that I crashed before doing any bedtime reading? yes. Was my only time to read the time I spent traveling? Also yes.

So 6 books was excessive. I started Death in the City of Light before finishing the Painter – I was very emotionally invested in the Painter and needed something more “light” for the plane – so of course a book about a deranged serial killer doctor in Nazi-occupied Paris was the perfect choice. I could not believe this book was true! It was nuts! David King did a great job with the pacing and bringing this story to life. If you like Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, you’ll like Death in the City of Light.

Speaking of Erik Larson, Dead Wake stunned me. I think it was better than Devil in the White City, which I’ve read a couple times. I had to return it to the library on Saturday afternoon, so I spent Saturday  morning finishing the last half of the book. Oh, I cried. I was anxious. My heart raced. I cried again! Even though you KNOW the ship is going to sink, you want to believe up until the last possible minute that it won’t happen. I think that’s the sign of a good history book – when the author brings you so close to the people and the events that you believe it won’t happen, or that it’s happening organically now, and things could be different… A++ from me.

The night before last I finished Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. I loved The Signature of All Things last year, and really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love. I like Gilbert a lot! So I finally got around to Committed, and it was interesting, especially since I’m getting married later this summer. Really interesting history of marriage and it’s historical/cultural/religious significance and how it’s changed over the thousands of years we’ve been doing it.

May 2015 Reads

immunitythepainterspeculation

On Immunity by Eula Bliss – really wonderful history of vaccination and exploration of the anti-vax movement, from the perspective of a new mother making decisions about her new baby’s health. I think I read this in 2 nights, it’s a nicely done little book.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill – another wonderful short little book. This story is about a marriage and feels like you’ve been invited to a dream – the details are magical, ethereal, like sunlight coming through your window on a summery late afternoon…

The Painter by Peter Heller – I really like Peter Heller. I read the Dog Stars earlier this year and was entranced. The Painter was more gritty – about a painter in the Southwest who goes on a killing spree – well, he kills one man, then another. I can’t explain it, it was just really great – here is a good review from the NYT. 

Remember, you can always follow me on Goodreads – I love seeing what other people are reading, don’t be shy – add me!

April/early May 2015 reads!!

drumsofautumnamericanahtheorchardist

I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (finally) and loved it – I won’t go into much of a recap but trust – all the hype and praise and recommendations are much deserved.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin was an interesting read – here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia:

Haunted by the disappearance of his younger sister forty years earlier, William Talmadge has taken refuge in the careful tending of his isolated apple orchard. His solitary life is shared only with the local midwife, Caroline Middey, and Clee, a Nez Perce horseman and childhood friend. Then two half-wild, starving and very pregnant teen-aged girls arrive. They are Jane and Della, sisters who have escaped the abuse of a brothel and its proprietor Michaelsen. Curious, but respectful of their wariness, Talmadge patiently cultivates their trust and creates a haven for them among his trees. A series of tragedies leaves Jane’s baby daughter, Angelene, in Talmadge’s care and sets Della on a lifelong journey to reconcile her own demons.

But I don’t think the book is about Della. Della is an awful character. Well, she is a complicated character that a lot of awful things happened to, and she isn’t the person you are most drawn to. Angelene and Talmadge are the true stars, the ones you root for, and it is their trajectory that readers are most invested in. Their journey fuels this story, but the spark that brings it all to life is Della.

And I am still slogging through the Outlander series. Drums of Autumn… where do I begin? 1100 or 1200 pages later, I’m still hooked, but I feel like a jaded old timer when I talk to people who have one read the first book, or just watched the show. In Drums of Autumn, there are story lines that take 200 or 300 pages to resolve, and have NO EFFECT on the bigger storyline. But I read on anyway, I love Claire and Jamie, I love their little family, and although I wasn’t nuts about their daughter  Bree’s storyline, I have even gained some affection for her and Roger… So yes, I will be reading on until the bitter end, but for now I am on an Outlander break.

Hello world!

I currently have my reading blog on tumblr – however, I’m interested in expanding my blog and seeing what else the internet has to offer. My own .com? Maybe! Making a little money off something I enjoy doing? Maybe!

I don’t want to start a career as a book review blogger, but I do think that I’m a pretty awesome person who is reading some incredible books, and I want to share all that with the world/internet.

Welcome!

Please feel free to explore my preview posts on Rose Reads Books! on tumblr, I have almost 2 years worth of posts there.