What I’ve Read Lately, or, Lots of Digressions About Harry Potter

Reading is back with a vengeance, you guys. I paused while I was settling in, while I obsessed over a few shows on Netflix (which really deserves its own post, don’t you think?), but a trip to the library turned everything around.

That, and Harry Potter. You guys. Harry Potter.

nerve-movieHere’s what happened: I saw a preview for a movie called Nerve. I’d heard of it before (and maybe seen the preview already– watching movie previews is a hobby of mine), but the movie was coming out, and due to my temporary “single-parent” status it’s pretty hard to go see movies. (And apparently it wasn’t very good anyway.) So instead I did the next best thing: I got the book from the library.

Unfortunately, none of the libraries I use for Overdrive purposes had the ebook, so I had to trek to a brick-and-mortar library for *gasp* an actual paper book! And while I was there, I remembered a long ago ambition to reread all the Harry Potter books. So among a few others, I picked up the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

hp3Allow me to date myself a bit with the following story:

I first started reading Harry Potter between when the third and fourth books came out. I was 13 or 14, which, now that I think of it, is the same age Harry, Ron, and Hermione were in those two books. I’d found the first and second books at the library, but the third was all checked out. Luckily, though, a friend of mine had it, and while I was sleeping over at her house one night I read it. Yep, the whole thing. In one night. Now, for a 13-year-old book lover, this isn’t astonishing, or even particularly difficult. Looking back at it, what floors me is how rude it was to spend the entire sleepover reading a book– even if I started at  bedtime, which I’m pretty sure I did. (Not that I was tired the next morning– that would have come in the afternoon, once I was home again. Ah, to be young again…)

So when I started reading it a few weeks ago, I had to smile to myself a little when I found myself reading deep into the night one night, finally finishing at 2 in the morning. Even if I hadn’t read it all in one day, it had still caught me and made me remember that these books are insanely popular for a reason: They’re crazy good!

I’ve seen the movies so many times that I’d forgotten how great the books are– they suck you in and make you excited and happy and worried and scared for Harry and his friends. No wonder these books make kids want to read.

Ok so once I loved reading again, here are a few of the books I’ve read lately:

hero-and-the-crownThe Hero and the Crown — I cannot believe I’ve never read this classic. I went through not one but TWO phases when I really should have– once when I read a bunch of Robin McKinley books (Beauty, Rose Daughter, Outlaws of Sherwood, etc.), and one when I read all the Newbery books I could get my hands on (random ones, too, like The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle and Call It Courage). And all the while this book was sitting on my family’s bookshelves.

ps-i-like-youPS I Like You — The latest Kasie West book. I love her books because she’s really good with solid characterization. (I especially loved her scifi book Pivot Point, which, as the name implies, is pretty much Sliding Doors meets X-Men.) This one I found to be… a little lacking there? One of the reviews I read on Goodreads pointed out that all of the peripheral characters (the girl’s best friend especially) only really existed to further the main romantic plot line. And once I noticed that I couldn’t really un-notice it, unfortunately. That being said, it’s a super cute, super breezy update of You’ve Got Mail, and I liked it a lot.

night-circusThe Night Circus — Once I was firmly ensconced in Reading again, I set my mind to The Night Circus, which is a book I’d started once before but had drifted away from. I started again at the beginning, and made my way through it. And it’s gorgeous. The descriptions of the circus itself, the dreamlike quality of the narrative, the whole thing… I swear, this book needs to be a movie. It’s a design team’s dream. Baz Lurhmann, WHERE ARE YOU???

(Side note: I have an ambition to start listening to audio books, and I read somewhere that starting with one you’ve already read is a good idea. This one is narrated by Jim Dale, who has won Grammy awards for his performance of the Harry Potter books, so I’m gonna start here. I’ve heard it’s amazing.)

So after I read The Night Circus I was a little adrift. I thought, what book can I ever read again? What will ever be so well written as this book?

And then the Jim Dale thing clicked, and I remembered what had started all this in the first place: Harry Potter.

hp4Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — I actually went to a brick-and-mortar library to try and find this one, but unfortunately it was all checked out of the one I went to, and frankly my motivation to drag two children in and out of libraries fails me most days. To Kindle! Luckily, all the Harry Potter books are in the Prime Lending Library.

If you will, another digression:

So when this book came out I was in the middle of a move between two houses (not states or schools, just neighborhoods. Ah, the life of a military brat…). I happened to be at the library one day with my sister, who was home from college for the summer. And for some reason… that still floors me… there was this copy of the new Harry Potter book, just… there. There wasn’t a hold on it or anything, and the librarian checked it out to me on the spot. I then spent the entire day on the couch, reading the thickest book in the series so far. And not only did I spend the whole day reading it, but every time I stopped, to eat or whatnot, my sister would come bug me: “Are you done yet? Can I read it? Can I have it now?” Looking back, I think she was teasing, because I remember her being a bit surprised when I gave it to her late that night: “Here! Now leave me alone!”

Knowing what I know now about the rest of the series makes reading the books that much more interesting. Sirius! Voldemort’s reference to horcruxes! The prophecy about Harry/Neville! SO MUCH IS COMING. This book was also fun after reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’d forgotten how insecure Amos Diggory was; it makes his attitude in Cursed Child a little more believable, wouldn’t you say?</minor spoiler>

fatal-graceA Fatal Grace — This is the second book in the Inspector Gamache series. It’s about a small town in Canada, where a police inspector gets to visit and also solve murders. I’ve heard that the series is amazing, but it doesn’t really “get going” until book 3 or 4. So… I’ll let you know. I liked this one well enough; Gamache is a good dude, although his assistant-friend character (I’m super uncultured about foreign police forces; they have all these complicated ranks, and I just can’t be bothered to pay attention to them. It makes me one of those rude Americans, I’m afraid…) is a little bit in love with him, maybe? And not in a good way. Aaaand… man, does Nichols drive me crazy. She’s pretty much the actual worst.

listThe List — So this is how I know I’m getting old. Because I read this book, and the thing that makes me the most upset is how the parents are acting. Of the eight girls,  two of them have decent parents, three of them have parents who aren’t mentioned much, two of them have parents who buy their daughter’s friends alcohol, and one girl has a single mom who threatens to homeschool her (again) as soon as she starts making friends (which, by the way, is classic Abusive Boyfriend behavior– isolation from other friends). Like, ok, the girls are horrible to each other, too, but the PARENTS should know better!

i-let-you-goI Let You Go — This is one that Modern Mrs. Darcy has been promoting a bit, and when I saw it on sale on Kindle, I went ahead and bought it. So halfway through this book there’s a Huge Twist, and suddenly the book you thought you were reading becomes a book about something else. I’m not sure how I felt about it, to be honest. On the one hand, it DOES lend sympathy to a character who might not have otherwise gotten it. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of other things done to give that character sympathy, and it felt a little bit like something the author did Just Because She Could. I LOVE me some unreliable narrators, but I also want there to be a reason for it: is the main character going crazy? Is she a liar? Is she coming to terms with some crazy traumatic thing that has happened? Is she suffering from memory loss? In this case, no. No she wasn’t. The author was just being misleading. So that halfway through she could go, “PSYCH! JUST KIDDING!” And so while it was kind of fun to find out that something I’d thought to be true was something else, it also felt pretty arbitrary.

My Reading Slump

Back in October, while we were on our big trip, I noticed something: I was reading less.

This is understandable, considering the fact that we were traveling so much. We were pretty  busy.

But once I got to Utah, I had a ton of free time on my hands. In fact, besides getting ready for the holidays (which took a surprising amount of time; parenting is hard!), I had pretty much nothing to do. But I still wasn’t reading.

I was crocheting. I was playing Nintendo. I was shopping. I was not reading.

Winter-finalI mean, I still read here and there. And I would get into books (usually once I hit the 75% mark) and stay up late to finish them and stuff. But once they were finished, I didn’t immediately pick up the next book. Finishing and getting into books took me forever. I started a few that I abandoned, even though I’d really wanted to read them. (Such as Winter, which some of you know I’d been beyond excited about.) There’s no way around it.

It was a reading slump. Man, I hate those.

I mentioned it to my sister, who (as she often does) immediately made me feel better. She told me she’d stopped reading during her latest pregnancy, as well. She started again after the baby was born, though, never fear.

So I made sure to put my Kindle in my hospital bag, expecting to finish a couple books right after the baby was born. (Oh, how naive I was…)

Ready Player OneIn fairness, I did start Ready Player One while I was in the hospital. But I didn’t really get into reading again for another week or two.

My first week postpartum was miserable. The baby, as it turned out, was in the NICU of a different hospital, and he couldn’t even be held for the first 72 hours of his life. I spent most of that in the hospital, luckily, because once I finally got to go see him I HATED not being able to hold him.

A few days after I got out, though, he was finally able to nurse, so I ended up spending the second week of his life pretty much living in that room in the NICU. And that’s when I got back into reading.in-a-dark-dark-wood

There wasn’t a ton to do in my little room there, and a couple books I’d put on hold had finally come in for me on Overdrive. I started In A Dark, Dark Wood on my Kindle app on my phone, and Why Not Me? on my actual Kindle.

In the parents’ lounge of the NICU, there was a little shelf of paperbacks, and I picked up a Diane Mott Davidson mystery while I was eating meals there.

And I slowly started to care about what I was reading. I started wanting to tell people about the creepy psychological thriller and wanting to gush about how cool Mindy Kaling is.

Once Why Not Methe baby was home, I finally did read Ready Player One (after whining to Scott about how much exposition there is in the first 50 pages). I finally finished Winter. And I finally got
into reading again.

And thank goodness my reading slump is over, because guys, this is the year of the Epic Fantasy. That’s right… I’m finally gonna read The Wheel of Time. Heaven help me.

Wheel of Time
Haha jk, that thing is LONG. I’m probably good for at least two of them, though. (PS I definitely stole this picture from reddit; click it to see the source.)

Thoughts on The Paper Magician Trilogy by Charlie N. Holmberg

Paper-Magician-RD-3-fullsizeFrom the author’s websiteCeony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

Glass MagicianAn Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

(This is the description of the first book. I don’t want to spoil anything, so if you want to know what the other two are about, you’re on your own. ;)) (<–Proper use of you’re/your. Grammar nerds: you’re welcome.)

So here’s my experience with reading this trilogy:

I’d heard about it and seen it on sale on Amazon. So I checked out the first book from the library. I read about 6 chapters and abandoned it. I checked it out again a month or two later and never read it. Then I saw it on sale again and bought the whole series on Kindle.

MasterMagician-19817-CV-FT-V4By then, I was determined. Once I broke my reading slump, I picked it up and read it with no problem. In fact, I stayed up till 2am finishing it (Signs You’re Reading a Good Book #1).

I immediately read the sequel the next day.

I started the third book a couple days later, but my heart wasn’t in it. (I’ll tell you why: the romantic tension was gone. I kind of hate books where the main love interests are already together.) I pushed through, but it took me about a week to finally read the whole thing.

 

All that being said, here are a couple thoughts.

-I really REALLY love Ceony as a character. All three of the books’ plots are driven by her actions; she says to herself, “Self, I can’t sit and wait around for something to happen here. Sitting and waiting will waste valuable time that my enemies will use to kill people. Let’s go be useful.” Ceony as a driving force of the narrative is downright refreshing, and it makes me forgive pretty much all the problems I have with these books.

-The romantic dynamic of the second book is my favorite. It’s the very common “everyone but you can see how into you he is” trope, but the buildup is beautiful and gave me many many feels.

-I kind of wish Paper Magic were portrayed differently? Because of the materials that magicians in these books use (paper, glass, metal, rubber, plastic… am I forgetting any?), paper is the oldest, right? (Wait I forgot about fire, which is the actual oldest, but anyway.) Was magic discovered first by using paper? Shouldn’t that lend the art of Paper Magic a certain mysticism? Instead, it’s generally regarded as the most boring of the materials. I’d have loved to have seen Paper Magicians portrayed as mystics, dedicated to their craft and  their superiority and stuff, like the Illuminati or something. But then… that would have been a different book.

-At the end of the first book, Ceony does something New and Different with Paper Magic… which is pretty much never addressed again. Why is that? I wish it had been developed more. (I mean, it’s discussed later, but she never tries to take it any further. What else can she do with this particular technique? What does this mean about the nature of magic? Can other materials also be used the same way? Nope. None of those questions are ever answered. By book 3, it’s completely forgotten.)

-The third book centers around some information that Ceony is given at the end of the second book. And what bothers me about it is how little work she put into obtaining the information. Like, some guy just tells her. She doesn’t study it out, she doesn’t go through a million iterations and a bunch of trial-and-error. Somebody just mentions it. Ceony is such a force of action in these novels! I don’t love that this information, which will hugely impact the rest of her life, was something she obtained so very passively.

-One of my friends on Goodreads mentioned that she got weirded out when Ceony goes into Thane’s heart in the first book. Personally, I thought that aspect of the novel was beyond cool. The four chambers of his heart are filled with different memories/hopes for the future, and I loved it all.

Challenge Accepted! 2016 Reading Challenges

Hi guys! So yes, this is also a blog about books. Over on my other blog, I participated in five book challenges last year. I had a great experience, so I’m gonna do a few this year, too. So without further ado:

 

2016 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge – Hosted by Corinne @ CorinneRodrigues.com

2015-outdo-yourself-reading-challenge

Last year my total was 62, which I don’t *actually* expect to exceed this year, but who knows. I do have a baby coming soon, the nursing of whom should provide me with a lot of quality Kindle time. So I’m gonna stay at a low level for now and see where the year takes me.

Level: Getting My Heart Rate Up

Goal: 63 – 67 Books

Goodreads Shelf

2016 I Love Libraries Reading Challenge – Hosted by Bea @ Bea’s Book Nook

i2blove2blibraries2brc2bbbn

So for obvious reasons, life in the Foreign Service doesn’t really lend itself well to building up a personal library. (In fact, none of my personal situations ever has, come to think of it — Air Force brat, college student, transient newlywed, study abroad spouse, Foreign Service spouse.) Of course, that hasn’t noticeably stopped me. Most of my books right now, however, are either a) in storage in Maryland, or b) in my apartment in Bangladesh. So to get in quality reading, I rely on two sources: 1) eBooks (more on that in a second), and 2) libraries! My first week in Utah, that was one of my biggest priorities — I went to all the local library systems and made sure my accounts with them were still valid (or signed up for new ones, as the case may be). Even though I’ve been in a reading rut (seriously, I’ve been trying to read The Paper Magician for two and a half months now), I’ve had at least some books checked out the entire time. (Especially books for Special K! How annoying (and expensive) would it be to have to buy her new books every time I she gets bored with the ones she has??)

I’ve loved libraries my whole life, and I’ve never really understood people who don’t use them. Not having a library card is as foreign a concept to me as those people who have never had pizza or don’t have drivers licenses. I mean, who doesn’t love unlimited access to books that you don’t have to keep?

So all that being said, I’m signing up for the I Love Libraries Challenge again this year. Last year, I read 32 library books — not bad, considering I wasn’t even in the United States for most of the year. This year, my goal is gonna be a little bit lower than that – I’ll talk about why when I talk about my next challenge. 🙂

Level: Young Adult

Goal: 24 library books

Goodreads Shelf

2016 EBook Reading Challenge – Hosted by Annette @ Annette’s Book Spot

ebook16

I first got a Nook in 2010, and thus began my love affair with eBooks. I’ve been reading them nonstop ever since. I think I’ve probably read more ebooks than paper books since then, and I’ve CERTAINLY bought more (which made my husband breathe a sigh of relief, because until then I was hopelessly addicted to buying books. Now I just buy ebooks — much easier to put in a moving van. ^_^)

So this challenge is basically perfect for me.

In fact, I own so many ebooks on both Nook AND Kindle at this point that if I stopped buying or borrowing books altogether, I could finish every challenge on this list, this year AND next year. (Except for the I Love Libraries Challenge, of course.)

But let’s not kid ourselves: That’s certainly not going to happen.

Anyway, my HUGE collection of ebooks is both why this is the perfect challenge for me, and also why I’m trying to keep my library expectations low. (In fact, three of the paper books I’ve had checked out from the library recently all went on sale on Kindle– and I bought all of them. Ugh.)

So anyway, last year my goal was to read 25 ebooks, and I ended up reading 59. So this year I’m gonna go ahead and sign up for the next level up — it’s still below what I read last year, but at least I’m not selling myself short.

Level: 4. Gigabytes

Goal: 50 ebooks

Goodreads Shelf

2016 MMD Reading Challenge – Hosted by Anne @ Modern Mrs. Darcy

mmd-2016-reading-challenge

And last but not least – my previous three challenges all have to do with quantity, not content. This one, from a blog I’ve been following for a while now, is gonna challenge me to diversify my reading choices a little bit, which I appreciate. I like that she’s not super specific about what kind of books to read (ie., no genre demands), but at the same time still gets readers outside of their comfort zones.

Goodreads Shelf

 

 

So there you have it! My 2016 Reading Challenges. I’m probably not going to be reviewing too many books on the blog, but from time to time some will likely make appearances. In the meantime, if you want to see what I’m reading, check out my shelves on Goodreads!