Charlie’s Faves of 2013

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are fast approaching and many the top of the 2013 year are being publicized everywhere.

So, here are my favorite books of 2013. Enjoy!

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The Keeper of Dawn (J.B. Hickman)

I absolutely adored this book. Perhaps adored isn’t the right word. I connected with this book on a level I have only done with very few books, and that is a mark of a very well-crafted novel.

This book delves into the lives of two very different students, whose paths cross and become teenage friends. This books is rebellion at its finest. It rips away the prestige of privileged boys and exposes what lies behind them, both in the personal lives of the boys and their school lives. The Raker Island lighthouse is both a symbol and a motif in this novel about four young boys sent to boarding school, the adventures they have, and the revelations of the past.

Read my review here. 

The Recipe Box (Sandra Lee)

This book delves into the complexities of a woman’s mind, and the relationships with her mother and daughter. Family secrets. Pride. Fear. Self-realization. And it all starts with a small, wooden recipe box that’s traveled the Atlantic from Sweden to the American midwest…and a birth certificate found tucked in the back of it. This small, family heirloom creates doubt, havoc and leads to nearly a lifetime of running: running from everything. Until a best friend’s sad end leads to some unique wishes, statements and sentiments sent in a variety of ways.

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Like The Keeper of Dawn, I connected with this book. But my connection was much, much stronger with Lee’s novel. Although the storyline is different, the ideas presented above about this book (secrets, pride, fear, realization, doubt, running, wishes, sentiments) are a parallel of my life and my relationship with my mother, my grandmother, and my mother with her mother. This book took a hold on my heart and brought back a decade of bad memories of my relationship with my mother, our selfish and prideful ways, and the memories of my grandmother’s actions toward me at the time and how she acted differently toward my mother.

My one regret in life was not going to the hospital to be with my mother when my sister died. It sounds selfish, but I was 11 at the time, I knew virtually nothing about the potential dangers of pregnancy, but I knew something was not right with my mother’s pregnancy. I didn’t go because I blamed her for my sister’s death. This led to over a decade of anger, pride, pain and hurt for both of us. We have since come to a general understanding of one another, and each other’s pain, over this, but we have never discussed my sister and what actually happened. In this way, I (still) feel much like the character Grace dealing with her mother about her past.

During this same time as my mother’s last pregnancy, my grandmother was becoming very sick, and died exactly seven months after my sister. I couldn’t understand the enigma of my mother’s relationship with my grandmother, for she was always a mama’s girl, a pleaser. (Yes, I inherited some of this.) I could not understand why my mother seemed to turn into a villain overnight, there was coldness and tension between my mother and grandmother. If truth be told, I think my mother avoided my grandmother as much as possible during this time. In this sense, I felt a little like Emma must have felt about the relationship between her mother, Grace, and her grandmother because I could only see the good from my grandmother, and the bad from my mother. Recently, I found out my mother’s one regret: to apologize to my grandmother (and all of the other implications that apology holds).

A very good journey. Both Emma, her mother Grace, and her grandmother experience growth in this novel that is very uncharacteristic of novels today.

Read my review here. 

Sacred Promises (Jennifer Hines & Mindy Bigham)

This is a recent read for me and the first in the Sacred Promises series. Hines and Bigham have weaved a very complex tale where the days of olde meet modern day in terms of the writing: royalty meets paranormal.

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In Abbey’s world a queen is born every 50 years, and she reigns with ten chosen warriors and an appointed council of advisors who usually hail from one of the ruling families. But lately the ruling families have gotten a little too comfy cozy. In the last 200 years no queen has surfaced. The ruling families have made sure that no queen can take hold of their power, and now there is contention amongst even them! One by one they’re going down.

But Abbey knows they made a vital mistake, just as Voldemort and his minions did in the Harry Potter series. The ruling families killed Abbey’s parents, but she was rescued by a South American tribal princess, Nevara, who secrets her away in the most obvious of unobvious places: an orphanage. Abbey must keep her mark – the mark of the queen – hidden from others. It is a dead giveaway, and she has not intention of dying young.

Nevara trains and schools Abbey until she is 18, when she is sent to one of the five schools of her people. She is sent to the Maramec Conservatory where she will study with other Elementals, Mystics, Watchers and Warriors. Watchers and Warriors are housed together and known as the Knights of Noir, protectors of the people, and kept separate from Elementals, who have a range of abilities with one of the four elements, and of course the very rare Mystics, gifted with sight and healing.

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But soon Abbey finds herself in the midst of a love triangle…that turns deadly. Even though she is the rightful queen, there is one way for her to lose that honor, and things come dangerously close to that outcome. As Abbey finds herself surrounded by a posse of protectors, she has the makings of her warriors and advisors by her side…but is she strong enough to let them in to know the real Abbey?

This novel was much more than I expected, and I was amazed at the range of change and growth in the main characters. Abbey struggles with many decisions throughout the novel, and the more problems that develop, the harder it is for her. Through the narration, readers are privy to the change in Abbey that reflect that she will be a kind, just, but strong queen.

A very good read with a strong female character. Read my review here.

The second book in the Sacred Promises series, Warrior’s Oath, is available. You can read my review of it hereThe Divine Order will be available in the spring.

Book Review: The Twilight Swimmer by A.C. Kavich

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This book intrigued me because it is another one of my favorite type of mashups:  romance, young adult and sci-fi with an added twist of adrenaline at the end.

I was a little skeptical at first, come on, fish people?  But it is so well written and sounds entirely plausible.

Here is the synopsis:

One year after her beloved sister drowned while swimming in cold New England waters, sixteen-year-old Brandi Vine is still struggling to understand what happened. As she mourns on the rocky beach where her sister’s lifeless body washed ashore, she is unaware that a pair of haunting gray eyes is watching her from beneath rolling ocean waves.

When Brandi attends a party that goes horribly awry, the mysterious owner of the gray eyes emerges from the ocean depths and comes to her rescue. She only sees him for a few brief moments, but that’s all it takes to turn Brandi’s world upside down. What were the strange markings on his neck that seemed to flutter with every breath? How did he possess such inhuman strength and grace? And why did he look at Brandi with such longing?

Brandi’s fascination with the Swimmer grows. She makes it her mission to find him again and learn who – and what – he is. Meanwhile, the Swimmer’s fascination with Brandi compels him to leave the safety of the ocean behind, to be with her at all costs. They are from two different worlds, but neither of the star-crossed romantics can resist the pull of the other.

Ultimately, as her feelings for the Swimmer swell beyond her control, Brandi comes to realize that the strange young man from the sea can unlock the secret of her sister’s final swim.

This isn’t typical sci-fi fare.  The way the author describes the Swimmer, his abilities, his experiences is extremely scientifically based and entirely believable.  But I still can’t figure out what he eats.

Brandi’s adolescent experience is entirely authentic.  As is her family dynamics that were more than disrupted with the death of her sister.

The author also paints a vivid picture of a shrinking costal small town.  I have never been to that region of the country.  But throughout the book, I felt like I was actually there.  I can actually picture these places, the sights, the smells.  Amazing.

I loved the entire sequence with Brandi trying to teach the Swimmer about her world.  I kept on singing songs from “The Little Mermaid” in my head while I was reading.  Very light, comical, but not too campy.

I definitely did not expect the dramatic twist events during the last part of the book.  That is where it turned from an interesting sci-fi romance to a page turner.  Fantastic.

The ending is very satisfying and complete.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I was very grateful for the shot of reality injected at the end.

Overall, this book is extremely fascinating, very well written, with very good plotlines and themes.  I can see most young adult romance lovers liking this even if they usually avoid anything sci-fi.  Well done.

Bear with me!!!

Another quick update.

I have been working for the first time in over a year.  Due to my health issues, I am absolutely exhausted when I get home.  Too tired to even READ!! That’s tired.

I plan on getting back to the blogging thing when I have a few days off in the next week.  

If I told you that I will review a book for you, please understand.  

Thank you!!!

Hiatus

Hey y’all,

Both Charlie and I are up to our eyeballs with school, work, moving etc.  I haven’t read anything other than the newspaper in the past week.  That is really unusual.

Just wanted to let you know that we are just taking a quick break as we ease in to fall.  Look for reviews in the next two weeks.

And if you are an author that is requesting a review of your book, please understand that we will get back to you as soon as our schedules allow.  We might be getting into November for a potential review date at this point.

Thank you and happy reading!!

–Amanda

Author Interview: Christie Rich

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Christie Rich, author of Dreamscape

3211741I grew up daydreaming about fairy tales  and my love for discovering new worlds has never died. I am not one of those writers who always knew I would write. I thought that was what other people did until one day a few years ago, I took a challenge from a friend and typed my first words. My journey has been wonderful, and I cannot imagine a day where I would ever give up writing. My love for reading is what fueled my imagination in the first place and still does. When I am not writing or reading, I am enjoying family time with my husband and two children. I also dabble in painting but writing has taken over my creative time right now.  I hope to get back to it at some point in my life, but I’m not sure when I’ll have time for it.  My family and I live in a quiet community  in Northern Utah, and I am so thankful for the rich life I have been blessed with.

A friend got you started writing by issuing a challenge. What was the challenge from your friend that eventually got you typing? How did this evolve into writing novels?

I hate to admit this, but I went a full ten years without reading anything at all. My life was busy with starting a family, and I had so much to do, books were the last thing on my mind. I was taking a business trip alone and asked a friend if she knew of any books I could read.

She told me about a vampire book that was supposedly amazing. She couldn’t really explain the book well to me, but I ended up buying that book. By now, you probably know I’m talking about Twilight. Love or hate it, for me, it will always be special because it was the book that started me reading again, which, in turn, fueled my imagination.

This same friend told me all the time how much she wanted to be a writer. I thought that was great, but I had no desire to write. In fact, I never really tried it outside of high school. So when I had a character come into my mind and tell me about an amazing world, I was intrigued. I let my mind wander on my way to and from work and eventually had a complete concept for a story in my head.

I didn’t know the first thing about writing, so I went to my friend and tried to give her my story. She looked at me in the parking lot of the movie theater where we saw Eclipse together and told me if I had a story, I needed to write it.

The idea of Rayla’s story not being told was traumatic to me. I couldn’t live with that, so I started typing and eventually had a solid story I was happy with.

How did you decide to make the move into becoming a published author?

It was really never an option not to publish my Elemental Enmity series. I wanted to share the story with the world, so I researched the industry, queried agents and eventually learned what I needed to to make my dream a reality.

What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?

Emotion. I want readers to get sucked into the world and either become the characters or stand right next to them along their journey. Reading is all about emotion for me and I want my readers to have an amazing experience. I want them to feel like they’ve lived another life when they are done with my books.

What do you find most rewarding about writing?

The experience of writing is amazing. I feel like a detective searching out clues that eventually uncover the nuts and bolts of a story. Some things come very easy, while others require hours of research. Both parts are amazing.

What do you find most challenging about writing?

Time. I’d love to have more time to write, and maybe someday that will happen. Until then, I do my best to write every day, even if it is only a few minutes after work. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and need to write. It’s hard when an idea hits me and I’m at work or fixing dinner, but somehow, I manage. No matter what, it’s worth it.

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

There are so many authors I love, but I’d have to say that J.K. Rowling influenced me the most. I loved the depth of her world and the intricate connection between characters.

C.S. Lewis was the author that made me believe in magic, and Jane Austen made me believe in love.

As far as authors I like to read right now, I’m really involved in a few series. The Premonition series by Amy Bartol is fascinating and I am holding my breath for the next book. The Stained series by Ella James has sucked me in within the last few months. I’m on book three and loving it. Nancy Straight’s Touched series is such a refreshing change from the standard paranormal creatures. I’ve gained a new love for Centaurs, lol.

Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day to you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard?

Sure! I write mostly at a keyboard. I can’t really get into writing on paper. The ideas flow more easily on a computer.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Not really. I write when I can, lol.

Dreamscape isn’t your first novel. You’ve published a four-book series, Elemental Enmity. How did you make the switch to start on this new series, Netherworld?

I was writing the last book in my Elemental Enmity series when the main male character from Netherworld invaded my mind. He was such a different character it was easy for me to keep the two separated. I eventually had to put him on hold to finish Horizon, but once I was finished with Horizon, he was back, telling me this amazing tale about worlds within worlds and good versus evil.

What are you reading right now? 

I have a few books going right now. Stolen, book two of the Stained series by Ella James. Silent Orchids [The Age of Alandria series] by Morgan Wylie, which I’m really enjoying, and I just started Into the Spiral [The Spiral Defenders series] by Erin Danzer.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I’d love to! I’m working on the second Netherworld book. I had a name picked out for it, but I will probably change it because it sounds too science fiction. This book continues where Dreamscape leaves off and the world gets deeper with each sentence I write.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you!!! For taking a chance on a new author and for being so great to me. I love to hear from readers and I have made so many new friends since I started writing. I have readers all over the world now, which is so amazing. I love to see how similar we all are, no matter where we live or grew up. There are just so many kind and loving people I’m so thankful for and I’m so happy I’ve met them.

And thank you so much for having me here today, Charlie! I loved answering your questions!

Follow Christie on Twitter or add her on Facebook.

Enter for a chance to win!

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There is a beautiful necklace custom-made by Primal Painter along with a signed paperback copy of Dreamscape. There is also a second prize of a $30 gift card.  Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway to win!

Thanks for stopping by The EBW blog for the Dreamscape tour! This tour is hosted by CBB Book Promotions and you can find the tour page with the schedule and links HERE.

-CA

Book Review: Capitol Hell by Alicia M. Long and Jayne J. Jones

I was emailed to review this book after the authors saw the listing for EBW on the indie book review.

Light, funny, outrageous, but with an educational bent, this book kept me highly entertained.

Here is the synopsis:

When recent college graduate Allison Amundson, a small town girl from South Dakota, lands the highly sought-after job of scheduler to the newly-elected and rising star of the United States Senate, Senator Anders McDermott III, she initially thinks she is on the fast track to success. However, she quickly learns that crazy co-workers, a high maintenance boss, the boss’s over-the-top demanding family, and an unexpected Presidential bid make Capitol Hill seem even more dysfunctional than it looks on TV. In fact, it is Capitol Hell.

This off-beat, hilarious novel captures what it is like to work in the United States Senate. Find out how it feels to be a hot young staffer on Capitol Hill when you step into Allison’s hot pink high heels, and catch a glimpse of what life is really like ”inside the beltway.”

Aside from School House Rocks! I know absolutely nothing about the actual political process in this country. At least, nothing after 1946. It was fascinating to read about how things actually work inside a senatorial office.

I was struck by the actual amount of work, organization, and ATD (attention to detail) that is required to keep a politician in office and out of his or her own way.

Although this is fiction, possibly to protect the guilty, I can see it all being factual in most ways. 

Everyone who has ever worked in an office knows the characters that surround Allison at every turn.  From people who do absolutely nothing and get paid obscene amounts of money for it, to the sycophants, to the incompetent boss (in this case a senator), I found myself sympathizing with Allison and her everyday hell.

It was educational in the sense that I really had no idea what a Capitol Hill staffer was and what they do.  And I thought they were better paid.

What was hilarious was the drama and issues that cropped up each day that are probably left out of the job description when working for a politician.  From babysitting the wife, and other staffer’s children, to being available 24/7 to answer questions from the boss in addition to actual job duties, the staffer’s job is never done.

Overall, a fun, twisted, lighthearted examination of our nation’s political culture.  Recommended for anyone who likes politics or just a good chick lit story.

Book Review: The Snitch, Houdini and Me

9870994The Snitch, Houdini and Me: Humorous Tales of Death-Defying Childhood Misadventure (2010) by Johnny Virgil (JV Enterprises, 2010)

Genre: memoir, humor

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author through BookBloggers in return for an honest review. If you would like to know more about Johnny Virgil, check out his blog, 15  Minute Lunch.

Amazon describes Virgil’s memoir…

“Go Out and Play and Don’t Come Home until it’s Dark.”

Growing up in the 70’s wasn’t easy. No internet or smartphones, video games or HDTV — nothing but time to kill and the endless potential of a summer day. Only parental threats and a newly-developed sense of right and wrong could steer Johnny Virgil and his two younger brothers away from trouble…or directly into it.
 
Join Johnny on this hilarious and irreverent romp through his childhood as he recounts the stories that made him what he is today – an unimportant cog in a vast, corporate financial services machine. But he wasn’t always this way, and this book is proof.
Booby traps, severed deer legs, runaway bulldozers, young love and fresh cow pies — all this and more, brought to life by Johnny’s sometimes twisted, sometimes touching but always hilarious tales of suburban childhood. If you have kids of your own, these are the stories you don’t want them to read.  If you like to laugh even when it’s wrong and long to return to a more innocent yet treacherous time, this book will leave you wishing Johnny’s childhood had never ended.

When I signed up to review this book, I knew it was right up my ally. I grew up with three younger brothers, two older male cousins, two additional male kids of close family friends and tons of boys at my annual summer camp, which was a big prankfest. Talk about shenanigans! I was prepared for this book…or so I thought. I was amused at the stories Virgil shared, and felt that I was an observer of those events. I highly recommend this book!

If you are a mother, especially of boys or a daughter who was a tomboy, read this book. If you’re a boy (over the age of 21 so as not to get any “bright” ideas), read this book.

If you spent your childhood days growing up pre-2000, read this book. It will bring memories flooding back…and maybe provide some pointers or ideas you never dreamed of fulfilling to scare the beejezus out of that big kid bully.

If you ever feared being “in deep shit,” read this book. Warning: the farther in you read, the more adult the language becomes.

This book is hilarious throughout, with never-ending shenanigans and covert missions, usually involving one of Johnny’s two younger brothers, The Snitch or Houdini, their neighbor Markie or best friend The Slug. Virgil shares some stories that could have been disastrously dangerous for his little band of boys. He is very keen to point out he doesn’t know how he survived childhood without killing himself, or someone else, at every opportunity. And he’s right: after reading some of the boys’ grand schemes, you will be surprised to know they usually escaped supreme and disastrous trouble usually unscathed, with only a few cuts.

Johnny and his gang didn’t have the best of everything from back in the day. They didn’t get what they wanted. They essentially had hand-me-down bikes that came home as a box of bike parts. Yeah. The kid down the street had a mouth-watering go-kart…so Johnny and the boys created their own version, and they were happy with it.

Throughout this collection of stories, readers can watch Johnny grow up from the leader of two little brothers through that awkward teenage stage, learning about girls and dating, cars, and eventually a few excursions with the bottle. Included in the beginning chapters are drawings Johnny did as a child in grade school, and one or two photos.

Virgil shares a time when being a kid was OK, but when you cross the line there are consequences from your parents. Neighborhood kids with tag-along siblings, generally left to their own devices during summertime. Friendly-fire neighborhood gangs battling over turf, sometimes just on principle. The fear of getting in trouble. It’s something that’s rarely seen today, back when a pinky swear meant something.

-CA

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic Press, 2007)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: design an issue of The Daily Prophet or The Quibbler – follow the attention of the media from the book, paying attention to the audiences of both literary sources; create a propoganda poster or pamphlet; studies of various types of government and policies
  • Math: “Design a Map” – based on information provided from the book of where Harry, Hermione and Ron travel

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try to stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

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Spoilers from Book 6 – Read at Your Own Risk!

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

The final book of Harry Potter has come! It is bittersweet. I started prepping this post, and then started reading the book. And then I started debating whether or not to even post a review of the book. I was afraid that I was going to give too much away, because there was SO much I wanted to share about the book…and then I finished the book and was in even more of a dilemma. It was a hard decision.

The last book gave readers quite a shock. The title referred to Severus Snape, who had been playing the double agent role for The Order of the Phoenix and Lord Voldemort. He also made an Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco Malfoy…and he killed Dumbledore with the Killing Curse. Was it because Malfoy was there? Because that was Malfoy’s task from Voldemort, and he choked? I surmise we’ll have our answer in this last book.

Where will this leave Harry and the Order? And what about Hogwarts? When I finished Book 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was overwhelmed with questions and anger and fear. And I hurt for Harry, for his loss and the loss of the Wizarding world. Rowling has spun a wonderful series, creating strong, relatable characters – and she also did a miraculous job as an author creating a bond between her readers and the characters she’s created.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part IRowling set us up in the last book to know that Harry plans to leave Hogwarts. Dumbledore gave Harry hope to defeat Voldemort – and the way to do it: Harry will need to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes that Voldemort has stored his soul within. He knows that there are seven pieces of Voldemort’s soul, and that his current body houses one piece, leaving six remaining. Harry destroyed Riddle’s diary with a basilisk fang in HP and the Chamber of Secrets. Dumbledore destroyed a second Horcrux piece – the Slytherin ring, accounting for his injured and shriveled hand in the last book. But there’s so much more to that story…The third known Horcrux was the locket Dumbledore and Harry set off to destroy in the last book, and it had been stolen – replaced with a replica and a note signed by R.A.B. Who is R.A.B.? Harry needs to find the remaining four, potentially five, Horcruxes.

This book opens during the summer, with Harry grounded at the Dursleys’. A plan has been hatched to safely transport Harry and also the Dursleys, as time is running out on the charm that protects him at the Dursleys. The moment he turns 17 or no longer calls the Durlseys house his home, the charm is broken and Voldemort will come a-knocking. The plan is somehow breached, with all the members of the Order being attacked by Death Eaters throwing around Killing Curses like candy at a hometown parade. Needless to say, the Order suffers some serious loss, with one going missing. However, the Order will suffer more down the line. Get the tissues handy.

This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. 

Readers learn that once again, the Ministry is keeping Azkaban escapes hush-hush, and other internal problems such as Death Eaters still working within the Ministry and gaining intel. The Daily Prophet is also suspiciously quiet. And a teacher (whom we’ve never heard of before, but who’s apparently been at Hogwarts for years) has strangely resigned…after leaving Hogwarts. I’ll give you three guesses as to what’s happened to her.

DH1_Albus_Dumbledore's_signature_with_Deathly_Hallows_symbolRowling has never left any of her books without action, and this one is definitely jam-packed – and mortally dangerous for Harry. The Ministry has been compromised entirely, Snape is in power at Hogwarts, Dumbledore’s name and memory are being tarnished salaciously…and Muggles are fearing for their lives like never before. The annoying Rita Skeeter has taken full advantage of the situation of the Wizarding world, and published a book The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, using The History of Magic textbook ‘s author Bathilda Bagshot as a source. It does contain some questionable content, and has Harry heavily questioning his relationship with Dumbledore. This snowballs and leads them onto some interesting discoveries about the past, all while still on the run. They also discover a symbol in the book Dumbledore left Hermione, and also found it on a grave in Godric’s Hollow. It is the same symbol Luna’s father, Xeno Lovegood, Quibbler editor, wore to Bill and Fluer’s wedding…a symbol that Krum identified as Grindelwald’s mark, a mark of very Dark Arts and other sinister sentiments.

Through their journey to find the Horcurxes, Harry, Hermione and Ron traverse the dangers of the Ministry to steal back the Slytherin locket that Voldemort used for a Horcrux. It was quite a nail biter. They take turns wearing the locket, but it holds a great power over the wearer, causing the wearer to act strangely…. and restricts the wearer in certain ways, posing a very strong danger. It’s almost as if Voldemort can see the situation and control the locket.

Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.

They learn that a group of Hogwarts students, including Ginny and Luna, tried to steal the Gryffindor sword from Snape’s new headmaster office. So it’s transported to a “safe” place….but it was a fake! The real sword, which is determined to contain basilisk venom, can destroy the Horcurxes. Like the locket, they now need to find the sword.

The trio learn of items that could make the owner the Conquerer of Death. Harry already has one, one is destroyed, and Voldemort is fiery pursuit after the final object: an old, powerful wand with a bloody past. Given that Harry and Hermione are wanted by the Ministry, and Ron would probably be taken on false charges, they go to the one person who knows the meaning of the symbol: Xeno Lovegood. He relates the long-held belief of The Deathly Hallows, and the three objects. It all stems from a fairy tale of three brothers. Through the strange connection between Harry and Voldemort, he learns that a wandmaker, Gregorovitch, had the Elder Wand, but it was stolen long ago by Grindelwald, but the most recent owner is someone dear to Harry.

Harry becomes consumed by the story of The Deathly Hallows, certain that he is the descendant of the youngest brother. He wants to throw the search for the Horcurxes to the wind, thinking of the Deathly Hallows and the prophecy. He thinks having all the Deathly Hallows will ensure that he can defeat Voldemort. Ron and Hermione quickly need to snap him out of it.

This book is gripping. It reveals so many histories and connections of the past, and true loyalties of many. In this book much weighs on Harry, least of concern to him his life. Harry exudes selflessnes, kindness and quite a bit of logic and reasoning. Dumbledore’s Army has come back full force. All is explained and comes full circle, but it may leave readers with a slight pain in your hearts.

-CA

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Who will prevail in the end?

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (2005)

Genre: fiction, young adult (YA), fantasy, supernatural, mystery, suspense

Curriculum Building Ideas:

  • Language Arts: Reader’s Notebook, Literary Circles, Guided Reading Groups, Writer’s Workshop, Sequencing, Plot, Character Map/Analysis, Inferences/Predictions, Connections (Text to Self, Text to Text, Text to World), Graphic Organizers, Book vs. Movie (i.e. Venn Diagram, Persuasive Essay), Reader’s Theatre, KWL Chart
  • Social Studies: Scale Diagram of Hogwarts, Map of Hogwarts, Timeline of Hogwarts vs. Real World…
  • Math: “Design Hogwarts” – based on information provided from the book, students create floor plans, diagrams or models of what they think Hogwarts looks like; “Potions” – students measure and record ingredients for the science part of this lesson (below)…
  • Science: “Potions” – students use correct measurements of ingredients to predict reactions between chemicals, create a set number of reactions, and record the reaction and observations in their science journals…

*Author’s Note: There have been numerous reviews of Harry Potter to date, and  Rowling has racked up many awards for her books.  I’m going to try and stay away from writing things that can be easily found in other reviews from years past. Note that I am now nearly 24 years old and this is my first time reading Harry Potter, which was published when I was in elementary school. I remember my mother reading them, and then my middle brother. I was into other genres, and for some reason I had an unfounded stigma toward Harry Potter. I have seen the first four movies; I didn’t really keep up with the latter movies. But I didn’t know what was going on because I missed out on so much that was in the books! I wish that I had read Harry Potter as I was growing up, instead of waiting – I feel that I’ve lost a lot of the magic in waiting, and also in seeing the movies before reading the books.

spoiler-alert

We already know from previous books that Harry has had a couple throw-downs with Lord Voldemort, and being at Hogwarts is his protection. From the last book we now know he has a very dedicated group of people, The Order of the Phoenix, as well as dedicated friends. The Order is working to ultimately bring down Lord Voldemort and thwart his plans for takeover. Things got very dicey in the last book, and many Death Eaters are now in Azkaban, while others are out. As if Harry didn’t have enough hanging over his head, he hears the eery prophecy when it breaks at the Ministry of Magic. Interestingly enough, Voldemort thinks Harry’s retrieved it. I was sure that’s what this book was going to center around – the great prophecy….

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … 

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Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow

Despite having committed, dedicated friends who have his back, Harry has not told Ron or Hermione about the prophecy. Only he and Dumbledore know what the prophecy says, although there is much speculation flying around in The Daily Prophet, which has know quite quickly changed its tune from Harry Potter/Dumbledore hater to Harry is the “Chosen One.” Dumbledore urges Harry to tell Ron and Hermione, but still is reluctant. He does so, but leaves out the part about the prophecy possibly being about Neville, and how Voldemort chose Harry, thinking that’s who the prophecy intended (based on his very limited information). Dumbledore has also returned to school with a blackened, shriveled hand that he continually puts off explaining…as well as an interesting ring that was a Slytherin heirloom. Dumbledore also instructs Harry to carry his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times…

I noticed straight off in this book that Harry is exuding more thought processing than has been shown in previous books, and it’s due largely in part to the fact that Hermione and Ron aren’t as concerned with what Draco Malfoy is doing, where he’s going, and they don’t believe Harry when he admits that he believes Draco to be a Death Eater. And another very odd thing happens: Snape has been given the green light to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, a post he’s been pining to teach for over 15 years, and rejected each year. He is also firm in his belief that Sirius’ death is Snape’s fault, due to Snape taunting Sirius’ inability to really contribute to the Order, being holed up at 12 Grimmauld Place.

JIM BROADBENT as Professor Horace Slughorn and DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Professor Slughorn returns to Hogwarts

Harry is taking private lessons with Dumbledore and learns some interesting history about Lord Voldemort. Through these lessons he learns nothing he really doesn’t already know about Voldemort’s character, but he does learn extremely valuable information regarding Voldemort’s past. Meanwhile, Dumbledore is not getting along well with the new Minister of Magic, who was previously the head of the Auror department at the Ministry. And for good reason to, as we find out. The new Potions Professor, Slughorn, is trying to collect student who have strong connections to powerful or famous wizards into an exclusive club….and Draco is quite trite that he’s not been invited to join and partake of all the activities.

During a Potions class, Harry is assigned a temporary book that has additional notes for potion-making and even some made-up charms, with a scribbling on the back cover that the book belongs to the Half-Blood Prince. There’s no indication who this Prince is, but I immediately thought it was Voldemort – given that he’s always lamented and cursed his Muggle father. Harry, however, thinks that the Half-Blood Prince is his own father, James. Hermione is irritated that Harry follow’s the Half-Blood Prince’s annotations and directions and is suddenly excelling in Potions class – even surpassing Hermione.

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Puzzled by the Half-Blood Prince

However, just as a rift occurred before between Ron and Hermione, another one does…over the same set of circumstances: matters of the heart. Ron and Hermione are secretly crushing on the other, but are at odds about it. Ron is quite mean to Hermione, who avoids being present like Ron’s carrying the Black Plague. And there’s another unsuspected crush going on for Harry, and he’s apt to keep it secret and quiet. And the icing on the cake for the first semester is Katie Bell being cursed by a mysterious necklace that she mysteriously came into possession of and needed to deliver to someone…at Hogwarts. The very same necklace Harry say Draco Malfoy looking at years before in Knockturn Alley. She gets sent to St. Mungo’s.

To show off his fame (by association), Slughorn invites many to a Christmas party. Draco is found trying to sneak in, and an odd moment is exchanged between him and Snape. Harry secretly follows them and overhears a conversation that is quite questionable – and once again brings the matter of Snape’s loyalties and trust to the forefront. This information is of course brushed off by Ron, Mr. Weasley and Remus at Christmas, when a very unexpected and unwelcome visitor (by everyone but Mrs. Weasley) shows up at the Burrow: Percy – with the Minister in tow! The Minister essentially wants Harry to make the Ministry look good, and he wants privileged information of Dumbledore’s comings and goings. He gets quite angry when Harry refuses:

He raised his right fist. There, shining white on the back of his cold hand, were the scars which Dolores Umbridge had forced him to carve into his own flesh: I must not tell lies.

“I don’t remember you rushing to my defense when I was trying to tell everyone Voldemort was back. The Ministry wasn’t so keen to be pals last year.”

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Harry’s homework task

This is quite a risky move, given the power the Minister of Magic holds and Harry’s shaky past with the Ministry. Even riskier, Harry openly admits that his is “Dumbledore’s man, through and through.” He has definitely declared his allegiance.

Upon the return to Hogwarts, Harry begins religiously hunting for Malfoy on the Maurader’s Map, hoping to catch him up to something…but at times, Harry can’t find Malfoy on the map! How can he be leaving the grounds? Other revelations continue to pop up for the remainder of the book, setting Harry on edge and making him continually wonder and ponder – and possibly jump to conclusions. Dumbledore sets him what seems an impossible task, but it is the final piece of the puzzle explaining how Voldemort came to be what he is  – and the secret to possibly toppling his crudely-built empire of power.

This book will definitely leave you shocked, wondering and questioning just as Harry has always done. It will completely throw readers, and it leaves the fate of Hogwarts up in the air. I said of the last book that it was set apart from the rest of the series because it was setting some big things in motion – and this book has definitely shown a glimpse of that. I expect Rowling to go no-holds-barred for the final book of the series.

If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I highly encourage you to do so. It is truly an enjoyable (and easy) read. Check out what Harry, Ron and Hermione will run into in the next book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

-CA

Books vs. Movies: World War Z

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If you have read this blog in the past, you know that I’m a zombiephile.

I can credit my bonus son, Chris, for introducing me to the genre when he brought his DVD set of “The Walking Dead Season 1” down to Texas one summer.

I have been a voracious consumer of zombie culture since. And last night, we scraped together the funds to see World War Z.

Here is my analysis of the book vs. the movie:

I read the book last fall, and I wondered what took me so long to finally read it.  I thought it was so great, it spawned this blog.  Here is the original post.

The movie is almost 80% different than the book.  The main character in the book is interviewing survivors of the zombie apocalypse over a decade after the dead started walking.  He goes from city to city, talking to a variety of people about how they survived.

In the movie, it is in real time.  The main character (Brad Pitt), is experiencing the walking dead first hand, and the movie follows his travels to uncover the source and possible cure for the zombie plague.

Some elements are the same, the plague originates in Asia (although in the book, it’s in China, in the movie, to be more pc, it starts in S. Korea).

Israel is seen as a safe haven, and they learn pretty quickly what is going on and take measures to secure Jerusalem.  But in the movie, that too is altered.

And dogs apparently know what is up and bark at the undead.

And that is where the similarities to the book end.

Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry, escapes near death multiple times and goes on to find himself in Wales at a W.H.O research facility where he attempts to find a cure.

The major difference, other than the real-time thing, is that Gerry has a family.  The well-being of his family motivates everything that he does.  He goes on this wild goose chase across the apocalyptic globe to win the assurances from the U.S. government that his family can remain safely at sea with the Navy (that was another difference).

That said, there are some fantastic new additions that made the movie ever so tantalizing to us zombiephiles.  Think “zombies on a plane”.  Nuff said.

Also, the zombies are a bit…um….different.  You can tell from the trailer that they are super-human fast and they jump like grasshoppers, which is another major difference from traditional zombie lore, and the book.  That just makes the movie version even more heart pounding.

And the zombies don’t necessarily “eat” people.  If you understand anything about the nature of viruses and some bacteria, their whole goal in life is to reproduce and infect.  This idea is carried out brilliantly in the movie.  The zombies take a bite and then move on to infect more and more.  And the transformation occurs in seconds, rather than minutes or hours.

I think this element is to lend a sort of believability to the entire movie in that it builds off of the factual body of knowledge concerning viruses.

The movie carries a PG-13 rating, and we took my 11 year old bonus son to see the movie, and he did fine.  Granted, he is the one that introduced us to the genre, so we expected as much.

There is more violence in one hour of “The Walking Dead” than in this entire movie.

There were particular parts of the movie where I expected more violence, like when Gerry stomped on a zombies head, but the camera moved away from seeing the actual stomping.

There were some things that I would have loved to see in the movie that was omitted.  Namely the people that survived by making tree houses, the Navy that spent the entire plague under the sea, and the exile to Antartica.

That said, I think that the book and the movie are both equal in terms of quality.

If you are a fan of the book, you will squeal with glee when watching the movie.

Think of the book as the stock of a good chicken soup recipe.  The bones of the story are there, the directors and writers of the movie add specific ingredients to make it that much better.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who likes horror, zombies, and thrillers.  Or just Brad Pitt.  Amazing book and movie.

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