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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...Review

About the book:
Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him. . .

Run, don't walk and read this book, if you haven't already. An absolutely amazing book that ends the story and ties up loose ends. Harry, Ron and Hermione leave Hogwarts their 7th year and go on a quest for the remaining horcruxes. Along the way there are the inevitable adventures and coming of age experiences.

I found some of the camping scenes to drag a little. I know they were "on the run" and trying to find the horcruxes, but there was too much wandering. I expect that the film will tighten all of that up. While the book is the darkest yet, Harry finally, truly, understands what it is he has to do. The ending at Hogwarts is awesome. Dumbledore's Army makes an appearance, and we finally learn the truth about Severus Snape.

As good battles evil at Hogwarts, there are several tragic deaths. But, one of the best scenes is Molly Weasley dueling Bellatrix Lestrange. Don't ever get in the way of a mother bear!

We also see an epic battle between Voldemort and Harry. As Harry explains to Voldemort about Snape and Dumbledore and the Wand of Destiny, we see that Harry truly has grown up.

Rowling's epilogue is fun. It adds the romantic twist that Potter faithfuls have hoped for.

A perfect ending to the series.

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

First read: 7/21/07
Last read: 7/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Darcys Give A Ball: A Gentle Joke, Jane Austen Style...Review

About the book:
The Darcys Give a Ball is a charming imagining of the next generation of Jane Austen's beloved characters from Pride and Prejudice and other novels, where all the young people come together for a surprising and altogether satisfying ending

A charming little book. The subtitle is, "A gentle joke, Jane Austen style" and it is very much a delightful read.

The Darcy's second son, Henry, returns home from college and mentions that he is in love with Eliza Collins, the youngest daughter of Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Upon hearing this and discussing the issue, Elizabeth and Jane decide to plan a ball at Pemberley. The pretense of the ball is to celebrate their daughter Juliet's 18th birthday and Henry's entrance into society, but Elizabeth uses it as a chance to meet this young Eliza. She proceeds to bring many young people together. Young people with the familiar names of Brandon, Ferrars, Knightley, Wentworth and Elliot.

It's a light-hearted take on Pemberley, 25 years later. Miss Bingley still meddles, Jane and Elizabeth are still lovely, Mr. Collins finally inherits Longbourn, and hearts are broken and mischievousness abounds.

It's no secret that I don't normally like attempted Austen sequels. I have, of late though, been lucky in my wannabe-Austen reading. Elizabeth Newark captured a taste of Austen's language, without attempted to be her, and she has presented a unique and entertaining story.

The ball itself makes a lot more sense if you're familiar with Austen's other works...

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

Read 7/08

* * *
3/5 Stars

Friday, July 25, 2008

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince...Review

About the book:
The war against Voldemort is not going well; even Muggle governments are noticing. Ron scans the obituary pages of the Daily Prophet, looking for familiar names. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses. And yet...

As in all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate -- and lose a few eyebrows in the process. The Weasley twins expand their business. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Classes are never straightforward, though Harry receives some extraordinary help from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince.

So it's the home front that takes center stage in the multi-layered sixth installment of the story of Harry Potter. Here at Hogwarts, Harry will search for the full and complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort -- and thereby find what may be his only vulnerability.

Terrific, amazing. Need I say more? I love the opening scene with the Muggle Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic. It's terrific and really brings a new perspective to the story: the magic world does affect the muggle world, even if the muggles aren't aware of it. We also get a new glimpse of Severus Snape, as he promises Narcissa Malfoy that he will protect her son Draco. He even makes the Unbreakable Vow. Has he really repented and turned spy, as Dumbledore insists? Or is he once and forever a loyal Death Eater? Who knows...

I laughed when Molly asks Arthur his dearest ambition (to check that he is Arthur and not someone impersonating him) and Arthur says "to see how airplanes stay up." I also loved the scene in Fred and George's store. The twins are making their joke shop a success with things like U-No-Poo and love potions that will wreak havoc later on in the book. It's these little tidbits that make the story so much richer.

Harry returns to school and learns about the life of Tom Riddle and his fascinating transformation into Lord Voldemort. Through memories obtained by Dumbledore, we learn about Riddle and his quest to make Horcruxes and the desire is planted within Harry to find and destroy them all.

Professor Snape has finally achieved his coveted Defense Against the Dark Arts post, and the new Potions teacher is Horace Slughorn. Harry's used potions book was previously owned by someone calling himself "The Half-Blood Prince" and the notes permit Harry to excel, for the first time ever, in his Potions class, much to Hermione's dismay. However, because of the Prince's book, Harry wins the potion, Felix Felicis, which will help in out in the future. The Prince also created his own spells, which serve Harry well in some cases and create terror and near tragedy in others.

16-year old Harry also realizes in this book that he likes Ginny Weasley. Ginny's character is one of my favorites, and I think she and Harry are perfect for each other.

This is definitely the darkest yet of the series. Harry and his friends have come to learn that there is true evil in the world and Harry knows that he will be the one who needs to kill Voldemort.

I found some of the bits with Draco a little far-fetched: I don't think he would have been able to put Rosemerta under the Imperius curse so easily.

Was it a surprise to find out who the Half-Blood Prince was? The first time I read the book, yes, it was. The death at the end of the book is tragic, but ultimately necessary. There are so many questions that need to be answered, and the build-up to book 7 is terrific.

I am so stoked for the movie!

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

Last read 7/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix...Review

About the book:
There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?

Here are just a few things on Harry's mind:
*A Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey
*A venomous, disgruntled house-elf
*Ron as keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team
*The looming terror of the end-of-term Ordinary Wizarding Level exams

...and of course, the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. In the richest installment yet of J.K. Rowling's seven-part story, Harry Potter is faced with the unreliability of the very government of the magical world and the impotence of the authorities at Hogwarts.

Despite this (or perhaps because of it), he finds depth and strength in his friends, beyond what even he knew; boundless loyalty; and unbearable sacrifice.

Though thick runs the plot (as well as the spine), readers will race through these pages and leave Hogwarts, like Harry, wishing only for the next train back.

Delightfully entertaining. The book opens with a bored, 15-year old Harry. He's full of normal teenage angst that is compounded by the fact that he's feeling abandoned by the wizarding world. He managed to finish the Triwizard Tournament, only to watch Cedric die at the hands of Wormtail and then find himself face to face with Lord Voldemort. As soon as school ended, he was sent back to the Dursley's with no significant contact from Ron and Hermione. After defending a dementor attack on himself and Dudley, he is faced with expulsion from Hogwarts.

This book could be considered the darkest, so far. Harry returns to school to find that he is the object of scorn and ridicule. The ministry has been playing down the events of the last year and refuses to admit that Lord Voldemort has returned.

Harry is also a teenager. He's facing difficult exams. He's tired of being famous. When he finally gets to Grimmauld Place and meets up with Ron and Hermione again, he lets loose with frustrated rant. It was dead on for a teenager who is angry at the fact that while he has, several times, fought the greatest wizard of all time, he is still treated like a child who doesn't understand.

He questions everything and he struggles with his attraction to Cho Chang. Professor Dumbledore seems to ignore him and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge, is an evil fascist who hates him. He's having nightmares about a door he can't get through, and he must take Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape.
There is a lot of action and a lot of angst. There are some funny parts. I love the scene when Harry is telling Ron and Hermione about his kiss with Cho and wonders why she was crying. When Hermione explains the emotional aspect of girls the interchange between her and Ron is priceless. I'm so glad they included it in the film.

Another great aspect of the book is when Harry, Hermione and Ron form the DA. Professor Umbridge won't teach them defensive spells and so Hermione takes it upon herself to convince Harry to teach them. That these teenagers all came together to do this is terrific and I loved seeing Harry have responsibility and the ability to teach his fellow classmates so many of the things he had used to defend himself against Voldemort. It was well done in the film too.

I always felt that Sirius' character wasn't well-developed and it was hard to believe that Harry felt so much connection with him, other than the fact that he was James' best friend. In the book, he's mostly sullen and angry, which is understandable. But, there isn't much compassion or affection shown. I much prefer the Sirius from the film. Gary Oldman really brought the character to life and he and Daniel Radcliffe really had a father/son chemistry. His death in the book was anti-climactic. His death in the film was heart-wrenching.

My other complaint with this book is Grawp. Hagrid doesn't need any extra, insignificant plot points. I don't see Grawp's purpose in the series. Even after finishing #7, his role isn't really necessary. He does nothing to improve the storyline. It's annoying and distracting. While I don't like Dobby, I don't understand why he hasn't been given more screen time since the Chamber of Secrets. He has a much more important role than Grawp has in the remaining books.

Until 6 and 7 came along, this was my favorite book!

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

Last read 7/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Light to My Path...Review

About the book:
Kitty, a house slave, always figured it was easiest to do what she’d always done--obey Missy and follow orders. But when word arrives that the Yankees are coming, Kitty is faced with a decision: will she continue to follow the bidding of her owners, or will she embrace this chance for freedom? Never allowed to have ideas of her own, Kitty is overwhelmed by the magnitude of her decision. Yet it is her hope to find the "happy ever after" ending to her life--and to follow Grady, whom she loves--that is the driving force behind her choice. Where will it lead her?

The third book in the Refiner's Fire series by Lynn Austin. Each book tells the story of the Civil War from a different viewpoint. This book is told through the eyes of Anna and Grady, house slaves on a plantation in South Carolina.
Anna was born into slavery and knows nothing else. She doesn't understand that she is a person in her own right and not a possession. She has always followed orders and obeyed her spoiled, selfish mistress. Grady was born into slavery, but his father was the white plantation owner who sold his young son to a slave trader.

As the war progresses, Anna and Grady fall in love. When he finds the chance to escape to freedom, Anna is overwhelmed with what that could mean for them. She is torn between the life she has always lived and the unknown, but long-desired chance for freedom. As Anna comes to terms with her life and her desires she also comes to find herself and her faith. As Grady escapes to the north, he joins the Union Army and comes to terms with his hatred for white people, and finds himself and his faith.

The lives of slaves are not sugar-coated here. What I find so interesting is the portrayal of different "massas." Some were truly compassionate, or as compassionate as they could be to these people who were their "possessions." Others were intolerably cruel and heartless. For example, Anna is known as Kitty though most of her life, because her young mistress made her pretend to be the kitten her mother wouldn't let her have.

Austin has a masterful way with her character development. As these characters grow and progress, we the readers are caught up in their lives, just as we have done with the characters in her previous novels.

Some of the characters in this book have been mentioned previously and their stories will be resolved here.

I think this is my favorite book of the series. It's a compelling, thought-provoking read.

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

Read 7/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fire by Night...Review

About the book:
The drama of the Civil War unfolds through the eyes of two very different Northern girls. Lovely Julia Hoffman has always enjoyed the carefree life of her well-to-do family, but when she fails to attract the attention of Rev. Nathaniel Greene, a fierce abolitionist, she determines to bring meaning to her empty and shallow existence. When she becomes a Union nurse, her eyes are opened to the realities of war and suffering. She also meets Phoebe, who has entered the army under false pretenses--and whose journey to understanding herself, as well as the tumultuous world about her, is revealed with sensitivity and drama.

Book 2 in the Refiner's Fire series by Lynn Austin. It is not a sequel to the first book, Candle in the Darkness. Rather, it goes back to the beginning and tells the story of the Civil War from the viewpoint of two different Northern young women. One of whom, Julia, is related to Caroline of Candle in the Darkness. Julia is the spoiled socialite daughter of a wealthy Northern family. She sets her sights on Nathaniel Greene, a preacher and strong abolitionist. He views her as shallow and selfish and she sets out to prove him wrong. She becomes a nurse for the Union Army and as the war unfolds, Julia finds herself and her faith.

She soon meets Phoebe, a poor girl from the back woods of West Virginia, who impersonates a man to join the Union Army, just as her brothers have done. Phoebe, too, finds herself and her faith and strength she didn't know she possessed.

The two women each embark on a dramatic adventure, and along the way, their lives become intertwined as they learn to serve others as they serve God.

I enjoyed the first book more, but this story was just as compelling. Each girl learns that the life God has in store for her is much different than what she set out to find.

It's a bit preachy and somewhat predictable, but these two characters are endearing and Lynn Austin has a remarkable grasp of people.

A definite must-read.

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

Read 7/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Candle in the Darkness...Review

About the book:
The daughter of a wealthy slave-holding family from Richmond, Virginia, Caroline Fletcher is raised in a culture that believes slavery is God-ordained and biblically acceptable. But upon awakening to the cruelty and injustice it encompasses, Caroline's eyes are opened for the first time to the men and women who have cared tirelessly for her. Her journey of maturity and faith will draw her into the abolitionist movement, where she is confronted with the risks and sacrifices her beliefs entail.

Amazing. Probably one of the best books I've read in quite awhile. It's the first of a 3-part series and I plan on reading them all.

Set in Richmond, Virginia during the Civil War, the story follows Caroline Fletcher, the privileged daughter of a wealthy slave owner. As Caroline grows up, she realizes that her views of slavery differ from many others, including her father. Her slaves are people, human beings with lives and feelings. They are her friends and become her family. She wants them all to be free.

As the war progresses, and her father, fiance and cousins go off to fight, Caroline remains at home, with the family slaves. They work together to survive. Believing that slavery is wrong, and fighting the conflicting loyalty to family and country, Caroline begins a remarkable adventure as she passes military information to the North. This decision has painful consequences for her, but she trusts in God that what she is doing is right.

The character development is terrific. I loved Eli and Tessie, and their love and loyalty to Missy Caroline. At times they seemed too good to be true in their faith, especially when separated from their own family members who were owned by others. But, the story is compelling. I could not put it down.

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

Read 7/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hidden Places...Review

About the book:
A deep yearning for home had led Eliza to Wyatt Orchards ten years ago. Now widowed with three young children, she faces mounting debts and the realization it is all up to her. But she has no idea how to run an orchard alone. When a stranger appears at her doorstep, Eliza guesses he is no different than the other out-of-luck characters searching for work during the Depression. But the familiarity with which Gabe tends to the farm raises unanswered questions. With a vulnerable heart, she is unwittingly drawn to his gentle ways. But Eliza also fears that Gabe hides a past and motives that could jeopardize all she has fought to attain for herself and her children....

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Lynn Austin is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.

Set during the depression, after WW1, Eliza is a young widow living with her children and father-in-law. After his death, she struggles to run the family orchards on her own. A stranger appears on her doorstep, injured and looking for work. As Eliza nurses Gabe back to health, he integrates himself into her family and heart, but secrets threaten to destroy everything.

The story is told in separate parts. Eliza's story, Gabe's story and Aunt Batty's story. Aunt Batty is simply delightful.

A novel about choices and consequences, it's beautifully written, and completely captivating.

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

Read 7/08

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, July 14, 2008

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire...Review

About the book:
...the pivotal fourth novel in the seven-part tale of Harry Potter's 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 with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). 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. Unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal--even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.

I think this is the funnest Harry Potter book. Even with the tragic end to the Triwizard Tournament, and the difficulties Harry faces, this is the most entertaining of the series.

Fred and George Weasley are terrific. I wish the early scene of Dudley and the Ton-Tongue Toffee had been included in the film, because it's absolutely hysterical.

In the Goblet of Fire we have the Quidditch World Cup, Death-Eaters, the Triwizard Tournament, port keys and more Polyjuice Potion shenanigans. We learn about house elves and Hermione's quest to liberate them all. The Yule Ball is delightful as we see the boys struggle to ask girls to the dance. And we see Ron and Hermione dancing around the issues of attraction, when he fails to properly ask her to the dance and she, instead, goes with Viktor Krum.

Harry's story really begins to come together. The themes are more complex and, in many ways, more adult-like. Harry and the others are forced to grow up a little bit. Harry faces some serious trials as a reluctant Triwizard Champion. Ron struggles with jealousy and always being the best friend while Harry gets the fame and glory. Fame and glory he doesn't want. One of their own will die and Voldemort will return.

And, when Harry gives his Triwizard winnings to Fred and George at the end, you know that hi-jinks and mayhem will follow, even as the future of the magical world is uncertain.

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

Last read 7/08

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club...Review

About the book:
A charming and moving novel about female friendship and the experiences that knit us together-even when we least expect it.

Walker and Daughter is Georgia Walker's little yarn shop, tucked into a quiet storefront on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The Friday Night Knitting Club was started by some of Georgia's regulars, who gather once a week to work on their latest projects and to chat-and occasionally clash-over their stories of love, life, and everything in between.

Georgia has her hands full, juggling the demands of running the store and raising her spunky teen daughter, Dakota, by herself. Thank goodness for Anita, her mentor and dear friend, and the rest of the members of the knitting club-who are just as varied as the skeins of yarn in the shop's bins. There's Peri, a prelaw student turned handbag designer; Darwin, a somewhat aloof feminist grad student; and Lucie, a petite, quiet woman who's harboring some secrets of her own.

However, unexpected changes soon throw these women's lives into disarray, and the shop's comfortable world gets shaken up like a snow globe. James, Georgia's ex, decides that he wants to play a larger role in Dakota's life-and possibly Georgia's as well. Cat, a former friend from high school, returns to New York as a rich Park Avenue wife and uneasily renews her old bond with Georgia. Meanwhile, Anita must confront her growing (and reciprocated) feelings for Marty, the kind neighborhood deli owner. And when the unthinkable happens, they realize what they've created: not just a knitting club, but a sisterhood.

I have mixed feelings. I liked it: I didn't love it. I enjoyed it: I was disappointed.

Georgia Walker is a single mother, raising her pre-teen daughter and supporting herself through her knitting/yard store. Lost and lonely customers begin gathering each Friday night to knit, and through that, come together as friends. Predictably, each one finds herself by the end of the book.

Set in New York City, the "F" word is sprinkled through-out and there is a distinct lack of morality. The characters here are diverse; pretty much every ethnicity is represented, and all, in some way, are misfits. However, Georgia is likeable. You really root for her and Dakota and James.

The idea of women coming together though knitting echoes the Elm Creek Quilter novels from Jennifer Chiaverini. I admit I enjoyed those novels much more than this one. It might be that the book was due back to the library and so I rushed through it. I'm also re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and I found myself wanting this book to be finished so that I could get back to Harry.

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

Read 7/08

* * 
2/5 Stars

Friday, July 4, 2008

Then She Found Me...Review

About the book:
Meet April Epner, the serious, scholarly, adopted daughter of two equally staid parents. They die, but April finds that she's far from orphaned when her birth mother, Bernice Graverman, comes to claim April's heart and improve her wardrobe and love life, too. April is a Latin teacher, given to wearing flannel jumpers. Bernice is hostess of a third-rate daytime talk show and wears designer labels and toad-sized earrings. She descends upon April's quiet life with the tact of a size-six locust, and the delightful and surprising results of this unlikely reunion will keep you turning pages long after bedtime.

An interesting, even compelling story. In a nutshell, April was born in 1952 to a 17-year old mother and adopted by German immigrants. She is smart and educated, but has a nice, quiet life. She has never desired to know her birth parents. However, at the age of 36, after her adoptive parents have died, her eccentric birth mother arrives, ready to be the perfect mother.

April is a Latin teacher and her birth mother, Bernice, is the host of a local talk show. She fancies herself the celebrity and can't understand why April doesn't instantly and completely accept her as her mother. She's eccentric, flamboyant and intrusive and at first, a compulsive liar who tells April that her birth father is John F. Kennedy. However, Bernice also means well and, as the story unfolds, she manages to become part of April's life.

While there seems to be equal treatment to the adoptive parents and the birth parents, the tone of the novel suggests that the birth parents are always the real parents. It wasn't until the end, when April is talking to Jack that you see appreciation for the adoptive parents.

There is some vulgarity and liberal use of the "F" word, which as always, doesn't make the story any better, just disappointing.

Helen Hunt has made a film based on this story and I was looking forward to seeing it. However, the film is rated R, which means I won't, and it is also significantly different than the book. As far as I can tell, the only things that are the same in the film are April and Bernice, and the adoption story. It does look interesting though.

I expected more from this novel, but it was a good read.

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

Read 7/08

* * *
3/5 Stars