Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

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.


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


Returning to ShoreFrom Goodreads: Her mother’s third marriage is only hours old when all hope for Clare’s fifteenth summer fades. Before she knows it, Clare is whisked away to some ancient cottage on a tiny marsh island on Cape Cod to spend the summer with her father – a man she hasn’t seen since she was three. Clare’s biological father barely talks, and when he does, he obsesses about endangered turtles. The first teenager Clare meets on the Cape confirms that her father is known as the town crazy person. But there’s something undeniably magical about the marsh and the islanda connection to Clares past that runs deeper than memory. Even her father’s beloved turtles hold unexpected surprises. As Clare’s father begins to reveal more about himself and his own struggle, Clare’s summer becomes less of an exile and more of a return home.


This is a very short read–I think it took me about two hours to devour, and I liked it, but truth be told, I don’t really feel one way or another about it. The storyline is well written, the characters are believable, and it’s a cute coming of age story, but overall, there just isn’t a whole lot to it. Our main character, Clare, is finding herself while at the same time finding her father, a main she doesn’t remember and doesn’t really know, and in a way, I felt like this aspect of the novel was more so trying to make a statement about homosexuality than anything else. I felt like this part was a little forced, but it worked with the plot and kind of was, just there. I don’t mind it one way or another, but it almost felt like there was an agenda to be had here.

Regardless, it’s a cute enough story and is short enough it can be read in one sitting, though I won’t say I really connected with any of the characters, or turtles.  If you’re looking for a shorter read or love animals, then this is the novel for you. Three stars.

3 stars

Lerner Publishing Group and Carolrhoda Lab have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on March 1, 2014, in exchange for an honest review.

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The Impossible Knife of MemoryFrom Goodreads: For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.


This is a very well written novel by the ever talented Laurie Halse-Anderson. Based on experiences from her own life, Halse-Anderson once again pens a poignant coming of age story ripe with love, loss, and self-exploration.

Finally stationary long enough to attend a real high school, Hayley Kincaid hardly has time to focus on the trivial subjects set before her knowing her life at home could disintegrate at any time. Andy, her father, suffers immensely from PTSD brought on by his time in the War–having both good days and bad–causing Hayley to mold her life around his. It is a heartbreaking tale of triumph and misery, one that is beautifully told.

Although I tad bit lengthy, this is an amazing look into the life of PTSD. It shows the difficulties that many suffer from once home from war, and it shows the havoc these difficulties can have on families, especially children. Hayley is an exceptionally strong female lead, held up by those who love her and her belief that her father may get better–though in her heart she knows that a good day is becoming more rare with each day that passes.

Caught between shielding her father and taking care of herself, Hayley struggles, taking on burdens no child should have to deal with. Closed off and afraid to open up, she slowly begins to trust others, seeking the help needed in order to provide healing. It’s a touching story that all should read. Four stars.

4 stars

I had the opportunity to hear Laurie Halse-Anderson speak at NCTE 2013 in November and was given an ARC of this amazing novel by the publisher, which Halse-Anderson signed for me.

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Remember WhenFrom Goodreads: Years before Trip Wiley could be seen on movie screens all over the world, he could be seen sitting in the desk behind me in my high school English class.

This was back in 1990, and I cite the year only to avoid dumbfounding you when references to big hair or stretch pants are mentioned. Although, come to think of it, I am from New Jersey, which may serve as explanation enough. We were teenagers then, way back in a time before anyone could even dream he’d turn into the Hollywood commodity that he is today.

In case you live under a rock and don’t know who Trip Wiley is, just know that these days, he’s the actor found at the top of every casting director’s wish list. He’s incredibly talented and insanely gorgeous, the combination of which has made him very rich, very famous and very desirable.

And not just to casting directors, either.

I can’t confirm any of the gossip from his early years out in Tinseltown, but based on what I knew of his life before he was famous, I can tell you that the idea of Girls-Throwing-Themselves-At-Trip is not a new concept.

I should know. I was one of them.

And my life hasn’t been the same since.


This was very well done. I thought it would be similar to Tammara Webber’s Between the Lines series, but it’s not, really–Trip isn’t famous in this novel yet, and it’s really the back-story before he gets famous (but if you’re a fan of Webber’s BtL series, then definitely pick this one up, anyway!). In fact, the only time they talk about his fame is in the very beginning, when Layla is reminiscing. Book two, I think, is where the fame piece will come up–and I can’t wait to read it, especially with a heartbreaking ending like the one Torrest left us with in the first novel.

I loved Layla’s voice in this novel. She’s full of spunk and she regales us with her memories of her senior year, making us a part of the story and she relives it–the good and the bad–and it was fun to read. Trip is a swoon-worthy character, and Layla is extremely sweet, though I think she allowed her best friend to control her a bit much. Things could have been so different if Layla has just followed her own heart and not taken her best friend’s advice to just let it go. Best friend or not, sometimes their advice shouldn’t be heeded.

I was happy that things sort of worked out in the end for Trip and Layla in the end, and that they at least got to spend some time happy together prior to leaving for college, but I really, really wanted things to end differently. But hey, at least the second and third books are already out, so I can start reading them now and find out what happens next for this fun couple. Four stars.

4 stars

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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13617804From Goodreads: Dane Washington is one suspension away from expulsion. In a high school full of “haves,” being a “have not” makes Dane feel like life is hurtling toward one big dead end. Billy D. spends his high school days in Special Ed and he’s not exactly a “have” himself. The biggest thing Billy’s missing? His dad. Billy is sure the riddles his father left in an atlas are really clues to finding him again and through a bizarre turn of events, he talks Dane into joining him on the search.

A bully and a boy with Down syndrome makes for an unlikely friendship, but together, they work through the clues, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping.


This is the story of an unlikely relationship that blooms from a bargain.  Dane is a hothead loner from the wrong side of the tracks that hates the world. Billy has down syndrome and just wants to find his father and learn to protect himself. Together, through clues left in an atlas, they begin to decipher the mystery that is Billy’s world, and they end up on some wild adventures, some of which seemed a little far-fetched to me, but then again, I was never the adventurous rebellious type, so I have limited experience when it comes to the run ins these two find themselves in. Honestly, this is a very intriguing story, but I never really connected with either of the characters.

I have to admit I was very intrigued by Billy’s cunning, though. I liked that very much and I feel that Lange works to dispel a lot of stereotypical thoughts through his character, which is great. I also liked the mystery surrounding the atlas, though the final revelation was somewhat disheartening. Of course, novels with their happy endings aren’t the norm in real life, as it were, and I feel like Lange is actually presenting a very real look at life in presenting the truth about Billy’s father.  It’s a little jarring, but one that many readers will probably figure out relatively quickly based on the foreshadowing, but it’s not real for the reader until the final blowout and Billy’s admittance.

Overall, this is a coming of age story, though, in the end, nothing is really resolved, leaving readers with just a small glimmer of hope. I was also left with some questions concerning legalities within the novel, but overall it was a good, clean read. Three stars.

3 stars

Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on September 3, 2013.

et cetera
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