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Monday, June 30, 2008

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets...Review

About the book:
Ever since Harry Potter had come home for the summer, the Dursleys were so mean and hideous that all Harry 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 and a spirit who haunts the girls' bathroom. But then
the real trouble begins--someone is 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!

I think this is my least favorite of all the Harry books, and I still love it! It's full of little clues and treasures of information that only make sense when you finally get to book 7.

Harry has another adventure. We visit the Burrow, where the Weasley's live and we learn about Polyjuice Potion. Professor Lockhart is hysterical. We also see some foreshadowing for Ron and Hermione's future relationship. We also see Borgin and Burkes, where Harry sees the cursed locket and hides in the vanishing cabinet, both which will figure prominently in later books.

Most importantly, we see the diary, the item we will eventually learn is the first Horcrux. We also learn that while he doesn't realize it yet, Harry is the 7th Horcrux. Dumbledore tells him that Lord Voldemort transferred some of his powers to Harry the night he tried to kill him. This makes so much more sense in book 7.

The climax in the chamber at the end of the story is exciting each time I read the book.

The main drawback for me in The Chamber of Secrets is Dobby. But, since he figures prominently in book 7, I know he's necessary to the story.


The film version of The Chamber of Secrets has a special place in my heart. Before my dad died, we talked about going to see The Chamber of Secrets in the theater. The film was due out in November of 2002. Dad was concerned about needing a wheelchair and having oxygen with him, but we talked about it and decided to go to a matinee and had it all planned out. Sadly, he passed away in October of 2002. Alan and I went to see the film when it came out and I'm probably the only person who cried during the opening sequence and all the way home after it was finished. My dad loved Harry Potter. (In fact, the morning that he died, my sister was reading to him from The Goblet of Fire.)

I read my personal copy, but you can purchase your own copy here.

Last read 6/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone...Review

About the book:
Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley--a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all of that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry--and anyone who reads about him--will find unforgettable.

For it's there that he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic in everything from classes to meals, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter.

I adore this book. I didn't jump on the Potter bandwagon until just before the first movie came out. I do remember seeing things about the rabid fans who dressed in character while waiting in line for the 4th book to come out. My dad really enjoyed them though, so before the first film was released, I read the Sorcerer's Stone, and quickly proceeded through the next available books. I loved it then and after re-reading it for the umpteenth time, I still love it.

Re-reading this first book after finishing the 7th and final book is fun. There are so many little hints and items of interest that, at the first reading, seem so benign and unimportant. But, Rowling had her books plotted so well, that many little things are significant to the series' climax.

Harry is a terrific character. As he discovers the magical world into which he was born, it's simply delightful. The idea that there is a magical world running parallel to our own is brilliant. The details and the lexicon are so clever: muggles, wizards, sorting hats, Quidditch and Voldemort to name a few.

Well-written, this is, quite simply, a charming, delightful book.

I read my personal copy, but you can purchase your own copy here.

Last read 6/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Thousand Voices...Review

About the book:
Adopted at thirteen, Dell Jordan was loved, mentored, and encouraged to pursue her passion for music. Now, at twenty, after a year abroad with a traveling symphony, a scholarship to Julliard is within reach. But underneath Dell's smoothly polished surface lurk mysteries from the past. Why did her mother abandon her? Who was her father? Are there faces somewhere that look like hers-blood relatives she's never met?

Determined to find answers, Dell sets off on a secret journey into Oklahoma's Kiamichi Mountains, drawn by the only remaining link to her origins- a father's Native American name on her birth certificate. In the voices of her Choctaw ancestors, she'll discover the keys to a future unlike anything she could have imagined.

This was my least favorite of all the Lisa Wingate books I've read. It's a sequel to her previous books, Tending Roses and The Language of the Sycamores and continues the story of Dell, who was adopted by Karen and James.

Dell has been loved and mentored by her adoptive parents and given every opportunity to study and learn and travel. At twenty, she is feeling the pressure to attend Juilliard and continue her music. However, she has always wondered about her birth parents and her Native American heritage. Why did her mother abandon her, who was her father?

Dell decides to find out who her father is and sets off on her own, secret trip to Oklahoma and the land of her Choctaw ancestors. She doesn't tell her parents where she is going. Along the way, as with every Wingate story, she finds bits of herself. And as with many sequels, Wingate sequels included, past characters crop up here and there.

I like Dell and I appreciated that Lisa Wingate wanted to tell her story. I found it very contrived though: especially those whom she meets and instantly bonds with and how she finds her dad. The ending isn't believable and wraps up far too neatly.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/08

Summer Reading Thing 2008

Karlene is hosting the Summer Reading Thing 2008. Having just finished the Spring Reading Thing, I'm up for another great motivation to read. Not that I need one.

The books I'm going to read are listed on the sidebar, and it's a list that will constantly be updated. My Goodreads file is always current and up to date as well. Those lists are also on the sidebar.

Each book I read will then be reviewed here. It's what I would do anyway, but a challenge is always fun, especially if there are prizes involved. But, this is also a chance to meet new people and find other good books to read. Who's going to join me?

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-Up

It's time to wrap up my Spring Reading Thing list. I love reading things, or challenges, or whatever you want to call them. Katrina at Callapidder Days hosted the Spring Reading Thing and it was a lot of fun.

I read 25 books. Some of them were on my original list, but most were just added as I found them or they came up on my list in the library. Most I liked, some I didn't. I discovered Lisa Wingate and I enjoyed her books. I didn't care for Lori Smith and her Walk with Jane Austen and was, in fact, disappointed by the book. I loved The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and Pamela Aidan's take on Mr. Darcy.

The books I read are as follows, in reverse order and all have been reviewed here on the book blog.

A Woman's Place, Lynn Austin
A Cup of Tea, Amy Ephron
A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori Smith
Good Hope Road, Lisa Wingate
Drenched in the Light, Lisa Wingate
The Language of the Sycamores, Lisa Wingate
Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma, Diana Birchall
The Baker's Apprentice, Judith Hendricks
The Chocolate Lovers' Club, Carole Matthews
California Demon, Julie Kenner
The Host, Stephenie Meyer
Season of Sacrifice, Tristi Pinkston
Wake Up! I'm Fat, Camryn Manheim
Tending Roses, Lisa Wingate
Bread Alone, Judith Hendricks
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
The Winding Ways Quilt, Jennifer Chiaverini
Chocolat, Joanne Harris
These Three Remain, Pamela Aidan
Duty and Desire, Pamela Aidan
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, Jung Chang
Carpe Demon, Julie Kenner
Identical Strangers, Elyse Schein
Don't Bet Against Me, Deanna Favre
PS, I Love You, Cecelia Ahern

Thanks Katrina, for hosting this. I read anyway, but it's fun to have a little challenge to motivate me along. I'm now off to join Karlene's Summer Reading Thing. Anyone care to join me?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Woman's Place...Review

About the book:
They watched their sons, their brothers, and their husbands enlist to fight a growing menace across the seas. And when their nation asked, they answered the call as well. Virginia longs to find a purpose beyond others' expectations. Helen is driven by a loneliness money can't fulfill. Rosa is desperate to flee her in-laws' rules. Jean hopes to prove herself in a man's world. Under the storm clouds of destruction that threaten America during the early 1940s, this unlikely gathering of women will experience life in sometimes starling new ways as their beliefs are challenged and they struggle toward a new understanding of what love and sacrifice truly mean.

I loved this book! I'd never read Lynn Austin before, but I will check out the rest of her books now. The story follows the lives of 4 women during WW2. Each woman, for a different reason, begins working in the shipyards, replacing men who have gone to war. Seemingly diverse in their personalities, they soon find much in common.

The story weaves in and out of each of their lives as they touch each other and grow together. The book touches on so many struggles: religious beliefs, lack of faith, getting along with in-laws, racial discrimination and falling in love, among others. I loved the connectedness: that women bond and help each other regardless of color, economics or age. Each of these women had an issue or reason for going to work, and each comes into her own self.

Compelling and beautifully written.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Cup of Tea: A Novel of 1917...Review

About the book:
Rosemary Fell was born into privilege. She has wealth, well–connected friends, and a handsome fiance, Philip Alsop. Finally she has everything she wants.

It is then, in a moment of beneficence, that Rosemary invites Eleanor Smith, a penniless young woman she sees under a streetlamp in the rain, into her home for a cup of tea. While there, Rosemary sees Eleanor exchange an unmistakable look with Philip, and she sends Eleanor on her way. But she cannot undo this chance encounter, and it leads to a tempestuous and all–consuming love triangle –– until the tides of war throw all their lives off balance.

Inspired by a classic Katherine Mansfield short story, A Cup of Tea engages with its vivid –– and often amusing –– cast of characters, wonderful period detail, brilliant evocation of the uncertain days of World War I, and delightfully spare and picturesque sense of story

While this is a well-written short novel, I was disappointed. Based on a short story of the same title, the setting is New York City in 1917 during World War 1. Rosemary, a young wealthy socialite, invites Eleanor, a penniless young woman home for tea. What should be an act of charity starts a series of chain events affecting the lives of several people, and ends tragically.

The writing is beautiful. The author conveys depth and feeling with a modicum of words, yet I found myself wishing for more information about each character. Truly, it reads like one of those difficult short stories we all read in high school or college. You remember them, I'm sure. Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" or Updike's "A&P" where the reason for reading it is completely lost on you. The ones where no matter how hard you tried to interpret them, according to your teacher, your interpretation was wrong!

I think this would have been better as a longer, more developed novel.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/08

* *
2/5 Stars

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


About the book:
On his way to visit his recently divorced father in the Canadian mountains, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is the only survivor when the single-engine plane crashes. His body battered, his clothes in shreds, Brian must now stay alive in the boundless Canadian wilderness.

More than a survival story, Hatchet is a tale of tough decisions. When all is stripped down to the barest essentials, Brian discovers some stark and simple truths: Self-pity doesn't work. Despair doesn't work. And if Brian is to survive physically as well as mentally, he must discover courage.

My 9-year old son brought this home from school and loved it. He raved and raved about it and kept pestering me to read it. I finally gave in, and I'm glad I did. In a nutshell, 13-year old Brian's parents are divorced and he's flying to Canada to spend the summer with his father. The pilot of the small plane has a heart attack and dies mid-flight. Brian's resourcefulness enable him to crash land the plane and survive. He must then survive in the forest until he is rescued.

A quick, easy read for an adult. But, it's compelling and suspenseful and the boy's resourcefulness is believable, especially in this day and age of the Discovery Channel and Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. Brian learns that self pity doesn't help him, nor do despair and fear. Courage, and taking care of himself are what will ultimately help him survive.

What was neat for me, is the discussion that followed with my son, after I had finished it. He was so animated in sharing his favorite parts.

The divorce/adultery theme could be a bit much for a some kids, but I would definitely recommend it for older kids. As my son says, "It is awesome!"

Thanks to our school book fair that had a copy we could purchase!  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Walk with Jane Austen...Review

About the book:
At thirty-three, dealing with a difficult job and a creeping depression, Lori Smith embarked on a life-changing journey following the life and lore of Jane Austen through England.

With humor and spirit, Lori leads readers through landscapes Jane knew and loved–from Bath and Lyme, to London and the Hampshire countryside–and through emotional landscapes in which grace and hope take the place of stagnation and despair. Along the way, Lori explores the small things, both meanness and goodness in relationships, to discover what Austen herself knew: the worth of an ordinary life.

I can't really say what I expected from this book, but it was terrifically disappointing. The premise is good: traveling through England and visiting all places Austen-related. When Lori Smith talks about Jane or her life, the book is interesting. What was most disappointing to me was that it was more a story of Lori Smith's search for a husband.

I really wanted to like her. I wanted to care. Mostly, I was annoyed at her whiny, martyr-like tone. The "poor-me, I'm-not-married-and-I-really-like-this-guy-I-met-in-Oxford, but-will he-like-me-when-he-sees-me-again" got very old, very fast.

I think that if I were still 29 and unmarried I would have enjoyed this book more. I could have related to the desires of marriage. I do know, however, that I never had the whole "feel sorry for myself" attitude, even though I was single. I think that's what turned me off of this book. It was less about Jane Austen and more about Lori Smith and I just didn't feel much empathy for Lori.

I had to force myself to finish it. The Austen passages are interesting. Just read those and skip over the rest.

Thanks to my local bookstore which had a copy for me to purchase.  You can get your own copy here.

Read 6/08

* *
2/5 Stars

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good Hope Road...Review

About the book:
Twenty-year-old Jenilee Lane whose dreams are as narrow as the sky is wide, is the last person to expect anything good to come out of the tornado that rips across the Missouri farmland surrounding her home. But some inner spark compels her to rescue her elderly neighbor, Eudora Gibson, from the cellar in which she's been trapped. To make her way to the nearby town of Poetry, where the townspeople have begun to gather. To collect from the landscape letters, photographs, and mementos that might mean something to people who have lost everything. Brought close by tragedy, Jenilee and Eudora will learn lessons about the resilience of the human spirit and the ties that make a community strong. They will travel to a place they never would have imagined.

I don't know what it is about Lisa Wingate. Her novels are easy to read, similar to each other, and fairly predictable. They are also incredibly compelling. Good Hope Road is the the second book after Tending Roses. It's a stand alone novel, although some of the characters from Tending Roses briefly appear, and the new characters will appear in The Language of the Sycamores.

When a tornado destroys the town of Poetry, Missouri, Jenilee finds herself and her purpose. Finding oneself and place in life is a standard theme for Wingate books. After the tornado, Jenilee rescues a bitter, elderly woman and the two form an unlikely bond of friendship, through which both are able to forgive those whom they have held grudges against. In the aftermath of the storm, Jenilee begins gathering mementos and pictures and items that have been blown away by the tornado. This small act draws the town together as they begin to recover from the tragedy. Jenilee is reunited with her estranged brother and the story, like all Wingate stories, wraps up neatly and predictably.

It's an easy, well-written read. And, like the other Wingate novels I found myself unable to put the book down. The laundry waited and the dishes waited until I finished it. The voices are likeable, compelling and ring true.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 6/08

* * *
3/5 Stars