Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











November’s Book of the Month recommendation is Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Acevedo’s May 2020 novel-in-verse release brims with grief and love, as Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Synopsis:

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

 

About the Author:

“Elizabeth Acevedo is a New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X, With the Fire on High, and Clap When You Land. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. Additionally, she was honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience.

Her books include, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes 2016), The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018), & With The Fire On High (HarperCollins, 2019), and Clap When You Land (HarperCollins, 2020).

She holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo has been a fellow of Cave Canem, Cantomundo, and a participant in the Callaloo Writer’s Workshops. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and resides in Washington, DC with her love.”

To learn more about Elizabeth Acevedo, visit her website: http://www.acevedowrites.com/

“Elizabeth Acevedo.” Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15253645.Elizabeth_Acevedo



October’s YA book of the month recommendation is the dystopian novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakesby Suzanne Collins.

If you’re a fan of yesteryear’s hit, The Hunger Games trilogy, then this prequel novel is perfect for you, especially if you’ve ever wondered how Panem and President Snow got to be the way they are. This May 2020 release showcases the teenage life of Panam’s Coriolanus Snow through his first-person account as he rises from poverty during the 10th Hunger Games to eventually become the man we now know as the ruthless President of Panem.

 

Synopsis:

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

 

About the Author:

Since 1991, Suzanne Collins has been busy writing for children’s television. She has worked on the staffs of several Nickelodeon shows, including the Emmy-nominated hit Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. For preschool viewers, she penned multiple stories for the Emmy-nominated Little Bear and Oswald. She also co-wrote the critically acclaimed Rankin/Bass Christmas special, Santa, Baby! Most recently she was the Head Writer for Scholastic Entertainment’s Clifford’s Puppy Days.

While working on a Kids WB show called Generation O! she met children’s author James Proimos, who talked her into giving children’s books a try.

Thinking one day about Alice in Wonderland, she was struck by how pastoral the setting must seem to kids who, like her own, lived in urban surroundings. In New York City, you’re much more likely to fall down a manhole than a rabbit hole and, if you do, you’re not going to find a tea party. What you might find…? Well, that’s the story of Gregor the Overlander, the first book in her five-part series, The Underland Chronicles. Suzanne also has a rhyming picture book illustrated by Mike Lester entitled When Charlie McButton Lost Power.

She currently lives in Connecticut with her family and a pair of feral kittens they adopted from their backyard.

The books she is most successful for in teenage eyes are The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. These books have won several awards, including the GA Peach Award.”

To learn more about Suzanne Collins, visit her website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/

“Suzanne Collins.” Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/153394.Suzanne_Collins



Each month, I’m going to try to upload a Young Adult novel recommendation. For September, I recommend the dystopian fantasy/elemental novel, Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (think The Last Airbender in terms of magical powers).

Published in 2018 and told from multiple 1st-person character perspectives, this novel is a whirlwind of action-packed battles, triumphs, and tribulations as the main characters go on a quest to bring back magic to the land. It’s a powerful, engaging read for all! Children of Blood and Bone is the first installment in the YA West African Fantasy trilogy, “Legacy of Orïsha.”

I really suggest listening to the audiobook if you can–it’s read by Bahni Turpin and is very well done!  Enjoy!

 

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.


Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

 

About the Author:

tomi

“Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. Her debut novel, CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, [came out] March 6th, 2018, and the movie is currently in development at Fox with the producers of Twilight and The Maze Runner attached. After graduating Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature, she received a fellowship that allowed her to study West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. When she’s not working on her novels or watching Scandal, she can be found blogging and teaching creative writing to her 3,500 subscribers at www.tomiadeyemi.com. Her website has been named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest.”

“Tomi Adeyemi (Author of Children of Blood and Bone). Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/author/show/16642745.Tomi_Adeyemi.



MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! If you’ve been following along with the blog for the last few days, then you’ve seen my daily reviews of Harry Potter leading up to today with the final novel. For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story, and I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading and reviewing these books leading up to Christmas, as both the series and Christmas itself means so much to me. Have the merriest of Christmases, and I hope you enjoy my final Harry Potter review (and choose to read the series, if you have not done so already).

From Goodreads: Harry Potter is leaving Privet Drive for the last time. But as he climbs into the sidecar of Hagrid’s motorbike and they take to the skies, he knows Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters will not be far behind.

The protective charm that has kept him safe until now is broken. But the Dark Lord is breathing fear into everything he loves. And he knows he can’t keep hiding.

To stop Voldemort, Harry knows he must find the remaining Horcruxes and destroy them.

He will have to face his enemy in one final battle.

_______________________________________________________

The end. Finito. Terminé. It is done, and I always have a hard time accepting it. The wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter so enraptures me each time I read it that I am able to think of little else.  While many of the novels themselves are on the long side, I still feel as if more could be said. Spanning from around 300 pages at its shortest to over 850 pages at its longest, the series itself encompasses over 4000 pages that grip readers and bring them into this world through amazing themes, events, characters, and connections to the real world, as discussed in some of my prior reviews. Likewise, it presents a fantasy world that allows our imaginations to run rampant, especially in regard to the question of “what if.”  What if it really did exist…

This seventh and final novel in the Harry Potter series is just as amazing and gripping as the first (and all those that come in-between).  Of course, it follows in its predecessor’s footsteps with its dark undertones as Harry, Hermoine, and Ron attempt to find the final Horcruxes before the battle with Voldemort, one Harry knows must take place in order to fulfill the prophecy. With Dumbledore gone, Snape in charge of Hogwarts, and the death eaters infiltrating The Ministry of Magic, the wizarding world is in chaos, and people, both magical and muggle, are dying left and right…

From the very beginning, the novel strums our emotional chords as the magic surrounding Privet Drive is about to expire, sending the awful and repulsive Dursley family away once and for all as their safety is now in question. Although these muggles are ones we love to hate, Rowling finally adds a piece of sentimentality in the form of Dudley, and readers know that this is going to be an emotional read from beginning to end.  How can it not, as it dives deeper into the recess of good versus evil.

While absolutely amazing, the death toll in this novel will leave readers in a somber mood for days, as it does me, no matter how many times I read it, and no matter how much I try to prepare for what I know is inevitably coming–because even though they are fictional characters, they have become a part of my life just the same.  And while I wish Rowling didn’t do it—I’d love for this to have been all roses and butterflies—it just wouldn’t carry any validity or as much steam had Rowling not made these difficult decisions to kill off some of our most beloved characters.

And Snape?  While I still find his actions appalling from book one to now, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for him while reading this novel, and I rejoice over his ultimate decisions because we finally know the absolute truth behind the man we’ve hated for so long. The “why” is important, and though he chose not to live life in a way that made him happy, his choices helped lead to justice for the Potters, and that is worth so much. Just writing a review of such a riveting novel brings all the emotions to the forefront again, and I cannot say it enough: this series, this book, this world, is amazing. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

 

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Sorcerer’s Stone #1

The Chamber of Secrets #2

The Prisoner of Azkaban #3

The Goblet of Fire #4

The Order of the Pheonix #5

The Half-Blood Prince #6



From Goodreads: When Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens, the war against Voldemort has begun. The Wizarding world has split down the middle, and as the casualties mount, the effects even spill over onto the Muggles. Dumbledore is away from Hogwarts for long periods, and the Order of the Phoenix has suffered grievous losses. And yet, as in all wars, life goes on.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione, having passed their O.W.L. level exams, start on their specialist N.E.W.T. courses. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate, losing a few eyebrows in the process. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Harry becomes captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, while Draco Malfoy pursues his own dark ends. And classes are as fascinating and confounding as ever, as Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

Most importantly, Dumbledore and Harry work together to uncover the full and complex story of a boy once named Tom Riddle—the boy who became Lord Voldemort. Like Harry, he was the son of one Muggle-born and one Wizarding parent, raised unloved, and a speaker of Parseltongue. But the similarities end there, as the teenaged Riddle became deeply interested in the Dark objects known as Horcruxes: objects in which a wizard can hide part of his soul, if he dares splinter that soul through murder.

Harry must use all the tools at his disposal to draw a final secret out of one of Riddle’s teachers, the sly Potions professor Horace Slughorn. Finally, Harry and Dumbledore hold the key to the Dark Lord’s weaknesses… until a shocking reversal exposes Dumbledore’s own vulnerabilities, and casts Harry’s—and Hogwarts’s—future in shadow.

______________________________________________________

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is another amazing installment in the Harry Potter Series. On the plus side, the wizarding world is once again standing behind Harry and Dumbledore, aware that they were telling the truth about the return of Voldemort. On the negative side, however, many have met a premature death in the fight against pure evil. These are dark times, and though it seems impossible, the events that unfold in this novel are even more ominous than those that came before it.

This is the first time readers are given a glimpse of the life that Tom Riddle led before becoming Lord Voldemort, beginning with his ill-conceived birth, and taking us through his time and actions in an orphanage and later his acceptance and studies at Hogwarts. Finally, we are able to begin to put together the pieces that made Voldemort who he is today—a killer intent on ruling forever and riding the world of mudbloods—anyone who isn’t a pureblood witch or wizard. I really enjoyed this backward glance into the life of our foe, Voldemort, as the puzzle pieces began to come together, and it is impossible to not be curious about the life and times of someone so inherently evil. Readers learn much about Voldemort’s heritage, and perhaps the most important detail comes to light in this novel in terms of his life: the horcruxes. As the truth becomes clear concerning how Voldermort survived his backfiring curse the night he attempted to kill Harry, the race against time begins.

This is an extremely engaging novel and, though sinister in tone and ominous in nature, it is an amazing tale that will leave you glued to the pages; it will haunt you long after it’s over, especially as the unthinkable happens in this novel, an event that had me so aghast that the tissues by my side were not enough to do it justice. It is the beginning of the end, and while I do not want this amazing world that Rowling has created to end, I am more than ready to see justice served. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Sorcerer’s Stone #1

The Chamber of Secrets #2

The Prisoner of Azkaban #3

The Goblet of Fire #4

The Order of the Pheonix #5

The Deathly Hallows #7

For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story. The first time I ever read the series, the first time I ever watched the movies, I just felt like they were definitely Christmas stories, ones of magic and beauty, and I’ve held onto that feeling for years, possibly because the earlier movies tended to come out around the holidays, or perhaps because J.K. Rowling always included Christmas in some way in each novel, but regardless, Christmas means it’s time for Harry Potter once again. Or at least, it did. It used to be that every Christmas season, I’d rewatch all the movies (usually in one sitting), and if I had the time, I’d re-read the entire series as well leading up to the holiday. But it’s been years since I’ve done this due to life and some other personal things. This year, however, the pull of nostalgia for my teenage years and the feelings of happiness Harry Potter always brought to me came flooding back, and I decided that I’d once again re-read the entire series, re-watch every movie (including the extended versions of some that I’d never seen before), and oh my, the magic of Christmas lives once again! And with that, I decided that since I’m back into blogging after so many years away, and since I haven’t posted about Harry Potter since 2013, that this Christmas season, I’d go in order and re-review each book from the prequel to the final novel as we lead up to Christmas day, partially for myself, and partially to spread the joy and cheer of Harry Potter as I know it this Christmas. Enjoy!



From Goodreads: There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it’s haunting Harry Pottter’s dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?

Harry has a lot on his mind for this, his fifth year at Hogwarts: a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey; a big surprise on the Gryffindor Quidditch team; and the looming terror of the Ordinary Wizarding Level exams. But all these things pale next to the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—a threat that neither the magical government nor the authorities at Hogwarts can stop.

As the grasp of darkness tightens, Harry must discover the true depth and strength of his friends, the importance of boundless loyalty, and the shocking price of unbearable sacrifice.

His fate depends on them all.

____________________________________________________

If there was only one thing I was allowed to say about this novel, it would be this: “I hate Delores Umbridge!!!” a sentiment, I know, is shared by many, if not all, Potterheads.

Unlike the first four novels in this enticing series, I was less familiar with the many events that take place in this fifth installment, as it’s the longest book and also the worst movie, in my opinion. The movie itself was excessively choppy and off-kilter, as far as I’m concerned, so I didn’t watch it as much as the first four movies. But, where the movie is stifling and inconsistent, the novel contains in-depth detail and really brings home the many atrocities and difficulties that Harry and his true friends face during their fifth year at Hogwarts, and re-reading this novel has given me a new appreciation for the storyline that the movie so vastly failed to portray.

As much as I hated everything that was happening to Hogwarts and Harry, especially as the entire wizarding world, it seems, is so quick to stand against Harry (wow with the “What have you done for me lately” attitude, wizards!), this novel has some great themes, especially for young adults struggling through their own identity crisis as they battle their way through high school. And it really shows just how much people would rather look the other way than see the truth, or deal with anything unpleasant, which can again be equated to the real world as the entire bullying epidemic has come to the forefront.

What I found to be the most interesting aspect of this novel, however, was the way the Ministry of Magic attempted to control Hogwarts and its teachers, subjecting them to multiple unfair observations and write-ups, firing at will. This is not so different from the reforms happening in the real world in terms of education, with states and the government attempting to flay teachers based on poor student performance without taking anything else into consideration. And though I really doubt that Rowling was thinking about education reform when she wrote this novel, I found that it still had a very heavy social commentary on education and the powers that be attempting to control it with little to no knowledge of teaching or how the system really works. With the Ministry’s long-reaching hands now up to its elbows in the running of Hogwarts, the system begins to crumble. A very interesting concept indeed. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Sorcerer’s Stone #1

The Chamber of Secrets #2

The Prisoner of Azkaban #3

The Goblet of Fire #4

The Half-Blood Prince #6

The Deathly Hallows #7

For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story. The first time I ever read the series, the first time I ever watched the movies, I just felt like they were definitely Christmas stories, ones of magic and beauty, and I’ve held onto that feeling for years, possibly because the earlier movies tended to come out around the holidays, or perhaps because J.K. Rowling always included Christmas in some way in each novel, but regardless, Christmas means it’s time for Harry Potter once again. Or at least, it did. It used to be that every Christmas season, I’d rewatch all the movies (usually in one sitting), and if I had the time, I’d re-read the entire series as well leading up to the holiday. But it’s been years since I’ve done this due to life and some other personal things. This year, however, the pull of nostalgia for my teenage years and the feelings of happiness Harry Potter always brought to me came flooding back, and I decided that I’d once again re-read the entire series, re-watch every movie (including the extended versions of some that I’d never seen before), and oh my, the magic of Christmas lives once again. And with that, I decided that since I’m back into blogging after so many years away, and since I haven’t posted about Harry Potter since 2013, that this Christmas season, I’d go in order and re-review each book from the prequel to the final novel as we lead up to Christmas day, partially for myself, and partially to spread the joy and cheer of Harry Potter as I know it this Christmas. Enjoy!



From Goodreads: Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup. He wants to find out about the mysterious event that’s supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal – even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.

__________________________________________________________

Opening with a murder, death eaters terrorizing muggles, and then the advent of deadly games, this novel is the first to put a darker spin on these lovable MG/YA novels. And I love it. While I do love the first three novels in this series, this one takes a fun world and makes it darker, adding real threats and testing the reader’s emotions on a whole new level. Readers know from the getgo that something sinister is afoot and that the dark lord is well on his way to returning once again, a fear that has slowly been coming to fruition over the course of the last three novels.

Goblet of Fire is the first of the series to make me cry, and it’s also the first of the series to really focus on the death eaters, giving them enough substance to strike fear in the reader’s heart. Yet, the novel is not all dark, and Rowling’s creation of the Tri-Wizard tournament was a fantastic plotline that makes this novel one of my favorites in the series. The mystery behind how Harry’s name entered the cup, who within the castle would want Harry dead (aside from Snape and Malfoy), and how Harry and his friends discover the upcoming tasks in the tournament is always fun, no matter how many times I’ve read this, though if you’ve never read it, then you’re in for a really delightful read! I always walk away from these novels with new tidbits of information that I either didn’t originally notice or just plain forgot, and reliving it all with Harry and his friends is such a treat for me.

Of course, I have to wonder WHY anyone in their right mind would decide to have these games in the first place. The dangers are real, and it’s been 100 years since the last games for a reason–too many deaths. So why have them? And why do it now? Yes, Dumbledore gives the reasoning, but it’s clear to me that there’s more sinister reasons at work that Rowling subtly alludes to, but never states: the selfishness and yearning to protect oneself ultimately opens to the gateway for Voldemort’s return. And yet–it’s time. Up until now, Voldemort has only been a fear of the past, with whisperings and attempts, but no “serious” danger… but in this novel, Rowling finally brings these fears to the forefront, unleashing the terror of the dark lord on the wizarding world, and though terrible, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, because there are only so many times that “he who must not be named” can “almost” return before it becomes monotonous.

Of course, if we want to be petty, we could go right back to Prisoner of Azkaban and blame Ron for this entire thing. I mean, really now… if he’d just have turned over his rat the first time he was asked… ;)

Goblet of Fire is a fun read with dark undertones coming to fruition, and it’s superb. Yes, the movie is good, but you already know the book is much better, so if you haven’t read it yet, give yourself a treat and do. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Sorcerer’s Stone #1

The Chamber of Secrets #2

The Prisoner of Azkaban #3

The Order of the Pheonix #5

The Half-Blood Prince #6

The Deathly Hallows #7

For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story. The first time I ever read the series, the first time I ever watched the movies, I just felt like they were definitely Christmas stories, ones of magic and beauty, and I’ve held onto that feeling for years, possibly because the earlier movies tended to come out around the holidays, or perhaps because J.K. Rowling always included Christmas in some way in each novel, but regardless, Christmas means it’s time for Harry Potter once again. Or at least, it did. It used to be that every Christmas season, I’d rewatch all the movies (usually in one sitting), and if I had the time, I’d re-read the entire series as well leading up to the holiday. But it’s been years since I’ve done this due to life and some other personal things. This year, however, the pull of nostalgia for my teenage years and the feelings of happiness Harry Potter always brought to me came flooding back, and I decided that I’d once again re-read the entire series, re-watch every movie (including the extended versions of some that I’d never seen before), and oh my, the magic of Christmas lives once again. And with that, I decided that since I’m back into blogging after so many years away, and since I haven’t posted about Harry Potter since 2013, that this Christmas season, I’d go in order and re-review each book from the prequel to the final novel as we lead up to Christmas day, partially for myself, and partially to spread the joy and cheer of Harry Potter as I know it this Christmas. Enjoy!

 



From Goodreads: Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers. A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he’s after Harry. Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius. But Harry can’t imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair. Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts. A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry’s success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights. A cute fourth-year student catches his eye. And he becomes close with the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father. Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem. Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series.

_________________________________________________________

Rowling has, once again, written a gem that keeps adults just as entertained as it does the MG and YA age group for which it was written. The series transports me to another world that I am highly invested in, and Rowling sheet amount of detail and her ability to interlace the plot and twists throughout her ongoing series just amazes me. This is a series that I will continually come back to time and time again because it’s a classic. A must read.

This third installment in the amazing Harry Potter Series doesn’t deal so much with Voldemort and the threat of his return as much as it does with a more tangible threat–one of his followers escape from Azkaban, hunting down Harry to finish the dark lord’s work. Or so everyone thinks. I’m not going to talk much about this here, because you’ve either already read the book/watched the movie and know what happens, or you know nothing about it and need to read the series right now… I do not want to spoil anything for you. I just remember how absolutely floored I was the first time I read this novel and found out the truth, and how shocking and suspenseful it all was, which just adds to the fun of it all. And the of course, re-reading with foresight allows me to pick up on the plethora of clues Rowling dropped throughout, and oh my! All I’ll say is, damn Ron. If he’d only just given up his rat the first time he was asked…

Prisoner of Azkaban always has me questioning why the director chose to portray Snape and the factor of time in the manner that he does. The movie version doesn’t do either of these aspects true justice, and that just solidifies the view that most have when it comes to movies versus books—the books always do it better. Snape is definitely a lot nastier in this novel than he’s made out to be in the movie.  It’s like the escape of Sirius Black has made Snape into a crazed monster, which I guess it has, in a way, knowing what I know about Snape’s teenage years, but this novel is the first time his true colors really seem to be coming out.  While he was definitely a “meanie” in the first two books, Rowling takes his character to a whole new level in this novel, and I was appalled by his behavior!

I originally thought Snape’s antics on the big screen to be slightly humorous, and he’s one of my favorites in the movies, truth be told, but in the novels he’s completely awful and full of hate—no redeeming qualities can be seen in this book, and he really made me angry! I understand his prejudices against Harry, and I know his back-story from the text, but I didn’t ever see him as being such an awful person before now. And he is. I mean, I knew he was the resident sourpuss and that he was mean to students, but rereading his actions in this novel always reminds me that Snape is quite evil. The way he treats the students, all of them, really, is inexcusable.  Perhaps I’m seeing him in a new light as I’m now seasoned teacher myself, but regardless, Snape’s actions within this book made me livid. The way he talks to Hermoine, Ron, and Harry made me cringe; he’s just an unacceptable person—no matter how much you dislike a person, you just don’t treat them the way Snape treats Harry and his friends.  You just don’t.

Rowling definitely presents Snape in a different light than the directors in the movie, possibly because the directors didn’t want viewers to hate him to the extreme, but even so, I’m always floored by just how different the portrayal really is.

But, despite Snape’s actions, I adored this novel, especially the explanation and replaying of events through the unique time changes that are presented. Just in case you haven’t read the novels or seen the movies, I won’t go into too much detail here, but I personally felt that this novel does a much better job handling the time change than the movie does because I never felt like events were being repeated, whereas in the movie I thought this portion dragged on a little too long. Rowling keeps it short and sweet, though, in her novel, explaining it perfectly, and I highly enjoyed this aspect.  And, if you’ve only seen the movie and haven’t read the book, then you’re seriously missing out.  In this instance, it isn’t even a close second, the novel completely beats out the movie. No contest. Go read it. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Sorcerer’s Stone #1

The Chamber of Secrets #2

The Goblet of Fire #4

The Order of the Pheonix #5

The Half-Blood Prince #6

The Deathly Hallows #7

For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story. The first time I ever read the series, the first time I ever watched the movies, I just felt like they were definitely Christmas stories, ones of magic and beauty, and I’ve held onto that feeling for years, possibly because the earlier movies tended to come out around the holidays, or perhaps because J.K. Rowling always included Christmas in some way in each novel, but regardless, Christmas means it’s time for Harry Potter once again. Or at least, it did. It used to be that every Christmas season, I’d rewatch all the movies (usually in one sitting), and if I had the time, I’d re-read the entire series as well leading up to the holiday. But it’s been years since I’ve done this due to life and some other personal things. This year, however, the pull of nostalgia for my teenage years and the feelings of happiness Harry Potter always brought to me came flooding back, and I decided that I’d once again re-read the entire series, re-watch every movie (including the extended versions of some that I’d never seen before), and oh my, the magic of Christmas lives once again. And with that, I decided that since I’m back into blogging after so many years away, and since I haven’t posted about Harry Potter since 2013, that this Christmas season, I’d go in order and re-review each book from the prequel to the final novel as we lead up to Christmas day, partially for myself, and partially to spread the joy and cheer of Harry Potter as I know it this Christmas. Enjoy!

 



From Goodreads: The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girl’s bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble beings, and someone–or something–starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects…Harry Potter himself.

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This second book in the famous Harry Potter series is just as riveting and captivating as the first, solidifying in my mind that Rowling is an absolutely amazing author.

Truth be told, I have actually found that I like very few fantasy novels, but the world that Rowling creates for Harry Potter actually makes me feel right at home, and I can easily connect with the characters.  This might have something to do with the fact that I watched the movies so often that I have visuals and such imprinted in my brain, but even so, this fantastical world is easy to follow and become a part of, in my personal opinion.  The story jumps right off the page, wrapping readers up in the awesomeness that is Hogwarts and beyond.

One aspect I really love about this novel is its continuous detail.  From the wizards to their families, potions, spells, and backstory, there is just so much detail that it blows my mind.  Rowling is complete in her descriptions and creation of this world, and the fact that it exists right alongside the human world (which opens the doors for that giddy wishful thinking that maybe, just maybe, it all exists) brings a spark of wonder and jubilation to all.

Dobby is an awesome addition in this novel, and I really liked the introduction of the House Elf.  His abilities and class within the wizarding world is also a bit of a social commentary on our very own society and the way society has treated others, such as slavery and even how society treats people today.

And of course, I love the ingenious way that Rowling found to bring Voldemort back into the picture once again.  The idea of the journal was ingenious, and I am amazed how Rowling can bring everything together, from book one to two, and how she’ll be able to keep this up in the next five books as well.  Amazing.

Another aspect that I adore about both the novel and movie is that, I feel, the movie got it right, from the big to the small, the casting and characters were perfect, in my mind. Professor Lockhart was even more annoying in the book than in the movie, and I loved Rowling’s portrayal of him. Potter is, as always, a wonderful role model, and this novel is an all-around feel-good story with many happenings to keep it all interesting.  From Dobby and his mischievous antics to a Quidditch match gone awry, from spiders trying to eat people to a monster hidden in the depths of the castle with the same powers as Medusa, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets kept me glued to the pages and in this for the long haul (I mean, how many times have I read this now?). Of course, the characters are even more defined in the novel than they are on the big screen, making it impossible for readers not to connect with them on some level; I loved every minute of this. Book still beats movie, but it’s a fairly close call. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Sorcerer’s Stone #1

The Prisoner of Azkaban #3

The Goblet of Fire #4

The Order of the Pheonix #5

The Half-Blood Prince #6

The Deathly Hallows #7

For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story. The first time I ever read the series, the first time I ever watched the movies, I just felt like they were definitely Christmas stories, ones of magic and beauty, and I’ve held onto that feeling for years, possibly because the earlier movies tended to come out around the holidays, or perhaps because J.K. Rowling always included Christmas in some way in each novel, but regardless, Christmas means it’s time for Harry Potter once again. Or at least, it did. It used to be that every Christmas season, I’d rewatch all the movies (usually in one sitting), and if I had the time, I’d re-read the entire series as well leading up to the holiday. But it’s been years since I’ve done this due to life and some other personal things. This year, however, the pull of nostalgia for my teenage years and the feelings of happiness Harry Potter always brought to me came flooding back, and I decided that I’d once again re-read the entire series, re-watch every movie (including the extended versions of some that I’d never seen before), and oh my, the magic of Christmas lives once again. And with that, I decided that since I’m back into blogging after so many years away, and since I haven’t posted about Harry Potter since 2013, that this Christmas season, I’d go in order and re-review each book from the prequel to the final novel as we lead up to Christmas day, partially for myself, and partially to spread the joy and cheer of Harry Potter as I know it this Christmas. Enjoy!



From Goodreads: Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny cupboard under the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in ten years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… if Harry can survive the encounter.

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I’m not sure how many times I’ve actually read this series… six, eight, ten… Harry Potter has been a part of my existence for so long that I can’t even keep track of all the times I’ve read them or seen the movies anymore. But regardless of how many times I’ve read (or watched) this series, the one constant is that it continues to get better each time, because each time I read it, I see it through new, more-grown up eyes, and at 36-years-old, this series still resonates powerfully with me, though in different ways. Whereas as a teen I saw myself in Hermoine and wished for adventure and friends like Ron and Harry to experience it with, as an adult, I see myself more in Snape and McGonagle, wishing to impart knowledge and affect my students in the same manner as these great teachers… though not all believe Snape to be great (but he is). Once upon a time I found the teachers in the story to be boorish and a means to an end, but now see them as being the constant Harry and his friends need in order to survive and fight the good fight another day, and I’ve grown to love all the characters (except Delores Umbridge, never her), while my appreciation for Rowling’s craft has grown ten-fold. No matter my age, this series is one I cherish and will come back to time and time again, one that I hope to someday share with my own children and my nieces and nephews.

So, the Dursley’s. They’re awful, just awful, but I enjoyed reading about them again as I restarted the series, and they got me to thinking… Rowling really knows how to paint a picture, and though it’s easy to hate these muggles for how much they dislike the wizarding world and how awfully they treat Harry, this time around I began thinking that their immense hate and dislike stems from a number of psychological issues, such as fear and jealousy. Both fear and jealousy can cause people to turn into the worst sort of human, easily lead by the fake injustices or worst-case-scenarios they’ve created in their minds, and their overcompensation for their beliefs cause this terrible treatment of Harry in their misguided attempts to keep him “safe.” Of course this does not justify them in any way, and because of them they’ve created a monster in Dudley, but reading about them again made me really feel sorry for them; they must live a terrible existence, with their fear of the wizarding world, and Petunia’s knowledge that she never made amends with her sister… I know she comes off as a mean ole’ wench, but deep down, I think there’s a part of Petunia that’s truly sorry for everything that happened and keeps happening. At least, she doesn’t seem as bad in the novel as the movie makes her out to be.

But, I digress. Rowling has built an entire world that co-exists with our own, and so it doesn’t take much to become enamored by the magic of it all and begin wondering “what if,” which is what makes this novel so much fun for readers young and old alike. What person hasn’t thought about riding a broom, being whisked off to a castle-like boarding school to study, casting spells on unsuspecting people… Harry, Hermoine, and Ron are living the dream, and because they are so well written and incredibly realistic, it is easy to become a part of the story and join them on their adventures, even though the adult in me screams at them to stop, to get help, but the child in me winks and tells them to keep going.

Harry Potter itself is an amazing bildungsroman, with The Sorcerer’s Stone being the initial novel to help Harry morph into himself, to allow him to finally stand up for himself and all children out there who are beaten down by those around them, have limited friends, and feel like outcasts. Harry’s growth within this novel is amazing, and Rowling, I think, expertly captures what it means to grow up and mature. The difference between the timid Harry at the beginning and the self-assured yet humble Harry at the end is quite astounding when put into perspective. He definitely is a character that many young teens can connect with and see themselves in, and his characterization solidifies for me why Rowling is such a gifted writer. I wish I could say that Ron has changed as much as Harry has in this novel, but he’s still a bit of a timid youngster by the end, afraid of his own shadow it seems, which can be just a tad annoying, as it were, though I wouldn’t change him for the world. Of course, I did spend a great bit of time chiding the characters in my mind as I read, as I’m now at that age where I continually ask YA characters, “why don’t you tell an adult?!” but realistically, tweens and teens don’t generally tell adults anything, plus there would be little storyline if they did, so at some point, I just grin and bear it.

And you know, I always forget how much of a role Neville plays in this initial novel. I’m not sure why I haven’t internalized that as of yet, but it is interesting because though the novel is obviously not about Neville, in a way it is. He’s Harry’s counterpart, and had Voldemort come to Neville’s home first, instead of Harry’s, then perhaps Neville could have been the “chosen one.” The movies, unfortunately, don’t do Neville justice, and they cut out a many of his scenes from the novel, scenes that showcase him to be a much larger part of the story, and I am thankful to always be reminded of just how important he is as I re-read this novel each time.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a fantastic book of courage and growth and they’re worth a thousand reads, because these books are so wonderful; even as adults, we never really grow up, and Harry Potter always brings back so much nostalgia for me that I’ll never stop re-reading them. Five stars.

I own this beloved novel and entire series in both hardcover and audible.

Did you know that you can listen to this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible | Paperback | Hardcover

Have you read the short prequel to the Harry Potter series, yet?

And if you missed them, read my review of:

The Chamber of Secrets #2

The Prisoner of Azkaban #3

The Goblet of Fire #4

The Order of the Pheonix #5

The Half-Blood Prince #6

The Deathly Hallows #7



For me, the magic of Harry Potter is a Christmastime story. The first time I ever read the series, the first time I ever watched the movies, I just felt like they were definitely Christmas stories, ones of magic and beauty, and I’ve held onto that feeling for years, possibly because the earlier movies tended to come out around the holidays, or perhaps because J.K. Rowling always included Christmas in some way in each novel, but regardless, Christmas means it’s time for Harry Potter once again. Or at least, it did. It used to be that every Christmas season, I’d rewatch all the movies (usually in one sitting), and if I had the time, I’d re-read the entire series as well. But it’s been years since I’ve done this due to life and some other personal things. This year, however, the pull of nostalgia for my teenage years and the feelings of happiness Harry Potter always brought to me came flooding back, and I decided that I’d once again re-read the entire series, re-watch every movie (including the extended versions of some that I’d never seen before), and oh my, the magic of Christmas lives once again. And with that, I decided that since I’m back into blogging after so many years away, and since I haven’t posted about Harry Potter since 2013, that this Christmas season, I’d go in order and re-review each book from the prequel to the final novel as we lead up to Christmas day, partially for myself, and partially to spread the joy and cheer of Harry Potter as I know it. Enjoy!

_________________________________________________________________

From Goodreads: The Harry Potter prequel is an 800-word story written by J. K. Rowling, and was published online on 11 June 2008. Set about three years before the birth of Harry Potter, the story recounts an adventure experienced by Sirius Black and James Potter.

At the bottom of the card, JKR wrote: “From the prequel I am NOT working on – but that was fun!”

There is no official ‘cover’ for this short story, seeing as it was penned (By JKR) on an A5 card for the auction by bookseller Waterstone’s, in aid of two reading charities, Dyslexia Action and English Pen. It was auctioned off for £25,000.

__________________________________________________________________

As a precursor to Harry Potter and all its goodness, J.K. Rowling wrote this very short teaser, as it were, to give readers young and old a small glimpse into the antics of James Potter and Sirius Black, Harry’s father and godfather, before Harry himself was even a thought. And a glimpse it is because it is so short that it does leave more questions than answers, but also allows the mind to come alive and fill in the gaps, especially for anyone familiar with Harry Potter in any of its forms. This short 800-word glimpse is so well done! Written with the same love and attention readers have come to know, Rowling’s description of the muggle cops scuttling out of the car like crabs in a slender alleyway and attempting to accost James and Sirius is comical and brought audible giggle’s from my depths as I re-read this fantastical, yet brief, tale. Sirius and James were always described by the characters in the Harry Potter series as being cheeky, and here, readers get to see it first hand as they speak with the muggle cops about names, which warmly reminded me of Fred and George Weasley and their nonsense responses when facing trouble.  Of course, readers are left to wonder who the three men on broomsticks were, perhaps Death Eaters, or perhaps someone less nefarious, like friends catching up as part of a game, but the main thing is, we’ll never really know, unless by some fantastic design Rowling decides to take up her pen again and write the prequel series she so adamantly states will never happen. Five stars and a huge want of more.

You can read this very short prequel at MuggleNet for FREE, though some words are a little hard to discern, as this is literally written in Rowling’s cursive handwriting. Enjoy.



From Goodreads: Every time a lad came fowling on the St Kilda stacs, he went home less of a boy and more of a man. If he went home at all, that is…

In the summer of 1727, a group of men and boys are put ashore on a remote sea stac to harvest birds for food. No one returns to collect them. Why? Surely nothing but the end of the world can explain why they have been abandoned to endure storms, starvation and terror. And how can they survive, housed in stone and imprisoned on every side by the ocean?

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Told in the third person, this novel follows Quilliam and the group of boys and men who journey to the stacs of St. Kilda for what they believe will be between 1-3 weeks at most, only to find themselves marooned on the inhospitable rocky island for what turns out to be nine months. Nine months of thinking their families were raptured and that they were forgotten; nine months of sleeping in caves, scrounging for food once the birds migrate for the winter, and losing hope of ever leaving the island alive. If you’re looking for another Lord of the Flies type read, know right now that this is not it. Written for ages ten and up, I, unfortunately, don’t feel this novel would hold the attention of an MG or YA reader–not a lot happens, the language is difficult to decipher, and the characters tend to blend together. However, for a lover of historical fiction, one interested in the now abandonded island of Hirta in Scotland and the people who once went fowling on the stacs, this novel lends some insight and can actually be great fun, although slowgoing at times. Yes, it’s a bit of a hard read, but again, with the right amount of interest and insight going in, I think an adult reader could and would find this an intriguing tale.

It is 1727 in Scotland. From there, the reader ought to know that the way of speaking is archaic. Going into the novel with this in mind, and the knowledge that the Scottish dialect can be difficult to understand here and there will help the reader navigate some of the discussions held within the novel. Likewise, going in with knowledge of the stacs, St. Kilda, Hirta, and the fact that a group of fowlers did indeed find themselves left on the island for 9 months lends credibility and a sense of understanding to the read. I finished the novel before looking up any of these things, as I didn’t realize they truly existed until reading the author’s afterward, which suddenly spiked my interest tenfold, and is something I wish I had noticed was written down at the bottom of the book cover–or perhaps had been noted in the synopsis. Upon watching some videos and learning the truth behind what the characters in this novel experienced, and being able to literally see the type of inhospitable atmosphere the characters found themselves in, the novel was suddenly brought to life in a way that simply reading had not done for me (note to reader–the picture on the cover is indeed a stac and not just an embellished picture as I originally thought). Suddenly, I found that the novel was actually quite intriguing after the fact, and it made my slog through to the end, to find out why no one came for them, much more enjoyable. Because I went into this novel blind and not realizing it’s historical fiction, that the stacs and Hirta are real places, and that the events transcribed, while fictional, follow many a truth, the novel was not as enjoyable as it could have been for me. So again, I think it is really important that readers familiarize themselves with these places prior to going into the read, and below, I’ve included a video I watched on YouTube that really made me understand where the characters lived and where they were marooned on the stacs. It will make your read all the better. Three stars (which probably would have been higher had I gone into it with a different understanding and mindset).

I was provided an ARC of this novel by Flatiron Books and MacMillan through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Where the World Ends releases tomorrow, Dec. 3, 2019.

Did you know that you can read this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible Paperback | Hardcover

Seriously–watch the video below! St. Kilda and the stacs are so amazing!

 



From Goodreads: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

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Oh man. Wow. This novel. I was swept up and away with Ng’s storyline and characters as she brought them to life through the pages of this novel. I felt so much anger and rage as I read, towards Elena for her intrusiveness, towards Mia and her secretiveness, and even towards the McCulloughs for not understanding Bebe Chow, and Bebe Chow for her own plight… but I also felt heartache for each in tow as I read, and part of that stems from Ng’s ability to create a realistic and vivid portrayal of the human soul, and partly because being adopted myself, and not knowing my birth family, helped me to feel this one on a personal level.

Like the child in question, May Ling Chow, I was given up for adoption to a loving family who wanted me more than life itself, and they gave me an amazing life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise had. I was blessed; I love my mom and dad more than I could ever express, and the McCullough’s are very much like my parents. So when it came to the great debate within this novel, whether or not Chinese-American May Ling should stay with her adoptive wealthy family or go back to her mother, a woman who admittedly could not care for May Ling, hence handing her over to the fire department, I immediately took the side of the McCulloughs, just like the Richardson’s do. But you know it’s not so black and white, and as Ng personified both sides of the case and showed just how much love Bebe Chow had in order to give up her own child so she could survive, it became clear to me that Bebe, now in a better position to care for her daughter, May Ling, should indeed have her, and I found myself now leaning towards Mia Warren’s side.  But how do you take away a child from her adopted family after a year of living with them? I became torn, so torn, and Ng’s masterpiece definitely jerked me around and made me question everything, including my own lack of desire to know anything about my biological family, and I’m just so glad I’m not the judge who had to make the ultimate decision for May Ling’s fate, one that would either crush the MuCulloughs or Bebe Chow. How can anyone make that choice?

The characters and the plight of them all were so real in Ng’s beautifully written novel… they touched my soul, and I am absolutely impressed with this story, especially the multiple revelations that crop up throughout concerning who the characters really are, and the secrets they keep. This one just blew me away; a must-read for sure! Five stars.

I initially borrowed this novel from the library, but then bought it for my own personal library, as it is a must for my shelves.

Did you know that you can read this novel for FREE with a FREE TRIAL of Audible for 30 days? Try it today!

Kindle | Audible Paperback | Hardcover



From Goodreads: The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream—and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

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Holy… holy…. wow. I don’t even have words right now for how absolutely phenomenal this novel is. The very first sentence pulls you in, and by the time you get to the end… whoa.

When I read, and re-read the opening two sentences of this novel, I knew it would be amazing: “Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrel shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.” And as I started to read, I found myself suddenly in the small town of Beartown, not unlike the small town I grew up in so long ago, and as Backman begins his exquisite exposition, I suddenly could see these characters, hear these characters, feel their feelings, understand their thoughts, and the world of Beartown became my world as well. Now, I’m not a sports fan. I have never watched an iced-hockey game, and I’m sure the games we played in gym class certainly don’t count. I don’t care for football, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the men’s or women’s team that’s playing… I don’t generally watch. So I did approach this novel with some trepidation, because if I don’t care for sports, and I know nothing of iced-hockey, will I really enjoy the novel? For me, the answer was a resounding YES, and I believe that has solely to do with the fact that Backman is a master storyteller. Had he not had that gift, I am sure this novel wouldn’t have been for me, but all that aside, this is definitely a novel for me, and I think, honestly, it’s a novel for all teens and beyond. As a 36-year-old female, this novel resonated with me because it brings to life the characters across all age groups–from the 11-year-old brother to the 70 something-year-old coach–and it’s attention to detail and real-life love, hate, and betrayal make it a poignant read.

With the fate of the town riding on the backs of the junior hockey team, we meet a plethora of characters who all have a stake in the upcoming semi-final match, and the true beauty of friendship, loyalty, and the tenuous strings that connect us all are tested beyond measure as Maya, the young, beautiful 15-year-old daughter of Peter, the general manager of the Beartown hockey club, is brutally and savagely raped by the #1 hockey star favored to bring home the championship title–a title the entire town needs to breathe life back into it and create jobs for the many who find themselves laid off, and the divide between the haves and the have-nots growing larger year after year. Because the novel does deal with rape and the after-effects on the main characters and the town, I wanted to point that out specifically, because it could be a trigger for some perspective readers, and it is also the catalyst that drives the entire novel from around the 50% mark all the way to the end. The first half of the novel, I’d say, is more so exposition so that Backman has time to really portray the town and its people, fleshing them out and making them real, with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and the difficult choices they must make in order to live both with themselves and those around them; we all know people like Amat, Benji, Maya, Peter, Sune, and Kevin, just to name a few of the key characters in the novel; there are many more. But Backman does such an amazing job creating the many characters that I did not have trouble keeping them all straight, and their stories wove together to create this beautiful tale of humanity and how far we’ll go to help others and do what is right, even when that means our own lives, wants, and needs may be damaged beyond repair.

And the ending, well, let me just say I was playing detective throughout the entire novel trying to figure out which teenager would take the double-barreled shotgun into the forest late in March, who’s forehead he/she would place it against, and his/her reasoning for pulling the trigger, because nothing is cut and dry in this novel, and all of the characters can, and do, have a reason to pull that trigger. I was on pins and needles as the ending approached, especially once I pinpointed the who and why. This is a beautiful, raw look into the heart of small-town America and a world where sports can and will drive people to do the despicable to protect themselves and what they love, but it’s also a world where people will give up everything they’ve ever yearned for in order to do what is right, and that, right there, is the crux of what it means to be human. Five amazing stars.

I initially borrowed this novel from the library, but then bought it for my own personal library, as it is a must for my shelves.

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From Goodreads: Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

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I’ve never read a novel that was written in poetic free verse before, but let me tell you, this was wonderful! Woodson paints pictures in the reader’s mind that allows us to see and feel alongside her in ways prose wouldn’t do it justice, and I was enamored by Woodson’s story as she pieced it together for us. It’s a quick read, one that details Woodson’s early life living in both Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. The beautiful descriptions made me feel like I was there, smelling the cooking, sitting on the steps, turning the earth with “Daddy,” smelling the dirt, catching the fireflies, clamoring around the telephone to hear mother speak, visiting the jail… I believe this is one novel that all need to read; it’s accessible from middle grade onward, and will touch both child and adult alike, and to give yourself a real treat, listen to the audio version, which Woodson reads herself, to really feel at one with the author and her world. Four stars.

I borrowed the audiobook of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

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This is the type of novel that makes me scared of being a parent, but at the same time, shows me a lot of what not to do–pushing my own agenda onto them, playing favorites, etc., though it’s possible to do that unawares, as Marilyn and James do. This novel chronicles the lives of all the Lee’s, seamlessly switching between the before and after, and it is both poignant and heartbreaking. I feel for them all, and I want to smack them, too, but it’s always easier to judge from the outside looking in, isn’t it? Why is it so often that parents try to live vicariously through their children, and why don’t people feel empowered enough to say what they mean? Obviously, humans have many deep layers and experiences that create their waking selves. This is a rich text, one you can really dive into psychologically. Mystery novel, however, it is not, and I see a lot of people had the same idea that I had when going into it, probably from the first line of the synopsis on the back of the book. While the question of how/why Lydia died is one woven throughout, the majority of the novel focuses on the development and characterization of the Lees, and not so much trying to figure out what happened that fateful night, but what lead up to it.

Told through a series of flashbacks, readers intimately get to know each of the Lees, learning their secrets and fears, and ultimately, laying bear the struggles of life in the racially charged and discriminatory time period of the United States from the 50s to the late 70s. Lydia, her older brother Nath, and their younger sister Hannah are Chinese Americans struggling to fit into society, with a Chinese American father and a Caucasian mother. As both parents, James and Marilyn have their own deep-seated resentments against the world and each other, they subconsciously apply pressures to their children that even the strongest of wills would find overbearing. Nath looks for solace in the fact that he’ll be leaving home for Harvard in the fall, Lydia’s fear of losing her only confidant pushes her into the arms of the neighborhood “bad boy” Jack, and quiet Hannah silently watches on, wishing someone, anyone, would pay attention to her.

This novel is a study is psychology, and it’s a very poignant tale of love and betrayal, one that I found to be extremely real and riveting, although bleak and heartbreaking. Four stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human.

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

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With the amount of rave reviews this novel has, I really thought I was going to love it… gosh, was I dissappointed. I was so bored reading this novel that I nearly put it down multiple times, but decided to continue on to see, just to see, if some big revelation came and my opinion would change. It didn’t, though. From the get go, it’s pretty obvious who these characters are, what Hailsham is, and that the great “edge-of-your-seat mystery” touted by the back cover and publishing company is non-existent. I don’t even know that there’s a real climax in this book. What I found, instead, is that this novel is a reminisce of growing up at the school, as told by the now grown-up Kathy, and her revelations are all rather tepid.

I think what really got me is that, once I knew what the “mystery” was in this novel, my irritation came from the fact that no one in the story cares about it. No one laments, no one fights back… in fact, most are just so accepting and don’t ask any questions, just moving through the motions that I failed to see how this was realistic in any way, but perhaps this is where the critical acclaim stems from–a novel of this magnitude that doesn’t follow reader expectations of human reactions from the characters… characters that are just awful to each other, from Ruth’s constant vindictivness to Kathy’s rudeness, perhaps shows the true hollowness that people can decend into. Perhaps it’s the eeriness and non-humaness of it that makes people find it so wonderful? I can actually see that as being a truth in a way, but… I hated the characters and the fact that really, nothing happens in this novel, and my inability to make any connections with any character definitely put a damper on my ability to enjoy it. 

Literally, the characters just accept everything and never fuss or contemplate how or why, or if it’s legal or why it’s legal, and we’re given so little background information about the “real world” surrounding the school in order to make Hailsham have any merit, so… I feel like I just read a whole book about nothing but reminiscing, and I did not care for it. I wonder if the movie is any better… but I honestly have no desire to see it, so, I have to chalk it all up to this novel just not being for me. One star.

I borrowed the audible version of this novel from the library.

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From Goodreads: The Sandcastle Girls is a sweeping historical love story steeped in Chris Bohjalian’s Armenian heritage.

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The year is 1915 and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo and travels south into Egypt to join the British army, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.

Fast forward to the present day, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed “The Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.

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The first book of Chris Bohjalian’s that I read was Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, and it was an absolutely amazing novel–5 stars, no questions, so I knew that Sandcastle Girls was going to be just as wonderful, if not more so, and I was right. Sandcastle Girls is powerful, detailing “the slaughter you know next to nothing about”… and it’s just breathtaking. My father went on sabbatical to Armenia in the early 2000s to study the Armenian Genocide, but that was the first I’d ever heard of it, and I daresay, many people of today’s generation know nothing about it. With 1 million dead, I wonder why this genocide isn’t taught in schools, though the fact that it’s denied by many as ever happening, regardless of the accounts and evidence that shows that it indeed did happen, may be one of the reasons.

Bohjalian tells this story of genocide through the lens of two settings, one from 1st person present day Laura, researching her ancestry in order to understand her Armenian grandfather and American grandmother better, and the other from a 3rd person omniscient narrator set in 1915, the onset of the war against Armenians, ravaged by the Turks. This is a heartwrenching novel, but Bohjalian offsets the atrocities of the genocide by continually bringing us back to the present to breathe as we follow Laura’s research and begin to unearth her family secrets, and I found this a wonderful way to tell so delicate a story without overwhelming the reader to the point of no return.

A story of betrayal, death, and heartbreak, but also one of love and new beginnings, the characters, though fictional, brought a realness to the true story of so many people who didn’t live to tell their own. In the end, all kept secrets, and the revelation of such made this novel so poignant that I was unable to put it down as the characters came to life right off the page. Though ultimately a sad tale, it resonates with me, a story I won’t soon forget, and one that everyone needs to read. Five stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library, but loved it so much that I purchased a copy for my father and one for myself as well, because this novel is so powerful that it’s one for my shelves as well!

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{November 11, 2019}   {ARC Review} Coral by Sara Ella

From Goodreads: There is more than one way to drown.

Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?

Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?

Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?

When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?

Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.

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Sara Ella’s Coral is a novel that deals heavily with mental health, and all of her characters are touched by it in some way, shape, or form. Ella’s descriptions of depression, anxiety, and suicide are brutal, and so she’s placed a trigger warning at the beginning of the novel, one I didn’t note when I was eagerly flipping through to the start of the story, and I regretted it. So, since Ella has published her trigger warning note on Goodreads as well as in the beginning of her novel, I’m also posting it below, because it’s powerful, and you need to know about it before you start this novel:

“Trigger Warning & A Note to My Readers: For my friends who have experienced trauma, a warning—this story may be triggering. I have done my best to approach the mental health topics addressed in this book in the most sensitive and caring way possible. But even all the research and sensitivity readers in the world would never make it so I could approach every aspect of mental health from every perspective. Your experience is unique to you.

Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.

With that said, while some of what I have written comes from research and some from the caring eyes of sensitivity readers who have lived through many of these experiences, other pieces come from my own personal experience with emotional trauma. If you have lost a loved one, I’m with you. If you face depression or anxiety, my heart aches with you in a truly personal way. If you have ever felt misunderstood for these things or simply wanted to escape altogether—I understand.

For the girl who is not okay. For the boy who wonders if it will ever get better. This story is for you.

My hope is that Coral’s tale may be a small pinprick of light in your darkness—a reminder that you are seen. You are loved. You are not alone. You are not nothing, my friend. And neither am I.

Sincerely,

Sara Ella”

I think if I’d read that trigger warning before starting this novel, I would have approached it in an entirely different light, and that is on me, and also why I need all potential readers to be ready for it. This is not a lighthearted tale, even though it deals with mermaids, and readers might think it’s going to be specifically a retelling of “The Little Mermaid.” It’s not. It’s not really a mermaid story at all, but rather an in-depth gritty look at characters who are emotionally broken, who are truly hurting for a multitude of reasons. I’ve read a number of books that tout that they deal with tragedy and mental health, but then find that the author sugar coats it all to create a happy ending. But this is not that story, and Ella does not sugarcoat anything.

I also think that had I read the trigger warning, I would have understood what was happening within the novel much quicker than I did, though the foreshadowing and hints are woven throughout.

What I mean is, Ella does not clearly connect the stories and points of view together for a very long time, which she is doing on purpose, but it is also frustrating for the reader, especially because she continually mentions happenings and starts down a pathway for the story and then just leaves the loose ends hanging for a majority of the novel… so long, in fact, that I nearly put this novel on my “did not finish” pile a number of times, because even at the halfway mark, I was still wondering what the purpose of the story was, and when the exposition would end and the rising action would begin.

The novel starts by introducing us to Coral, “the littlest mermaid” as she readies to turn 16 and take her place within her family. However, the Red Tide is coming for her oldest sister, and it’s bad… and that’s about all we initially know. Throughout the whole novel, we’re given many tidbits of information, but nothing concrete enough to really know what’s going on or what has happened in the past to these characters for us to make much sense of it all, or to begin making the connections needed. And while I think this was done in order to drive suspense, I think for me, it did the opposite, and confused me more than anything else. We jump from Coral to Brooke without much connection, then to Merrick, and round it goes, until suddenly, the mermaid world is no longer discussed and everything takes place on land. It’s here that I began to suspect what Ella was attempting to do with the story, yet the information we’re given is so halted that I felt like I always had more questions than answers as I read. It’s not until near the end that Ella confirmed my suspicions about who these characters are and how they’re all connected, and while I think it was a great plot twist idea, the execution of it fell a bit flat as it took so long and there was so much confusion prior, that it almost just fizzled out for me.

And yet, it works. While I did spend a majority of this novel thinking, “what is happening” and feeling like too much was glossed over and not fleshed out enough, when the plot twist was finally revealed, I felt validated—and this is when the real emotion of the novel hit me. That, and then another part towards the end, which I’m sorry to post about, as it’s a tiny spoiler, but one I feel potential readers need to know about because it is beyond tragic: a child commits suicide. That broke me. I was hanging on pretty well up until that point, but that is something that I did not expect and it really triggered me based on my own personal life, and I just… well, like I said, Ella does not sugarcoat, and she shouldn’t if she’s going to do a book on mental illness that hits home.

And this brings me to my conclusion—all this to say that this is a good book, although confusing and perpetually dark. Three stars.

I recieved an ARC of this novel, which releases today, from Thomas Nelson Publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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From Goodreads: Allie Abraham has it all going for her—she’s a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she’s dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells’s father is Jack Henderson, America’s most famous conservative shock jock…and Allie hasn’t told Wells that her family is Muslim. It’s not like Allie’s religion is a secret, exactly. It’s just that her parents don’t practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith—studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the “perfect” all-American girl? What does it mean to be a “Good Muslim?” And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?

ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL is a relevant, relatable story of being caught between two worlds, and the struggles and hard-won joys of finding your place.

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The premise for this novel is great, and I firmly believe we need more YA literature that tackles topics like this one, especially in the times we currently live. The beginning of the novel jumps right into the thick of Islamophobia, and it had me absolutely raging right alongside Allie, though whereas she keeps herself in check in order to help diffuse the situation (which she’s used to because she deals with racial bias all the time), as a reader removed from the story, I was able to spout all my feelings at the novel and the characters involved as I read, and I think it angered me even more that Allie has to keep her cool, and she is used to this treatment… no one should ever have to be used to this treatment!!!

Allie is a fair-skinned, redish haired sixteen-year-old who easily passes for not being Muslim due to her “looks” and the fact that she and her family are non-practicing, as she states throughout the novel. But Allie does start to practice, and I loved how she takes us on her journey with her as she begins exploring her heritage and religion, learning Arabic to begin speaking with her grandmother, studying the Qur’an, learning to pray, standing up for herself and her community, and ultimately finding herself in this coming-of-age story, even though she must defy her father in the process. As a non-Muslim myself, I learned a lot about the religion and its beauty, while also identifying with Allie and her friends, because people are people, regardless of religion or looks. I enjoyed that this novel focuses so much on Allie’s characterization and her thought-process and experiences as she struggles to make her choices and wonders if she’s doing the right thing because, as stated earlier, her father doesn’t want her to practice (due to both his own personal issues and the fact that he deems it unsafe in the today’s society), her boyfriend’s father is extremely racist, and Allie herself struggles with feelings of inadequacy, constantly wondering if she is “good enough” in her practice. Overall, I think Courtney did a great job dealing with a difficult topic, shedding light on it as well as giving it a voice, and I think more novels like this need to be written. Four stars.

I received an ARC of this novel from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

All-American Muslim Girl releases in two days, on Tuesday, November 11.

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