Weekly Reading Check-in: Rereads abound!

This past week, I finished:

Something Wicked (Horatio Wilkes Mysteries, #2)Something Wicked by Alan Gratz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars, rounding up

I finished this last night, forgot to post about it here, and, when I sat down to type this up, forgot how I felt about it. Which is to say that I liked it well enough while reading, but it was kind of forgettable beyond that.

Here’s the thing, though: If Gratz wrote more of these, I would read every single one. He integrates and updates all of the elements and characters really well. And I will be forever amused that Horatio’s sisters are all heroines from other Shakespeare plays, and Gratz includes nods to their plays as well (Mona mentions a jealous soldier boyfriend; Kate can outargue/outsmart anyone). Also! Gratz hinted at a Tempest story in Horatio’s future.

So, you know. Three stars.

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House of Many Ways (Howl's Moving Castle, #3)House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this because it’s the last in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy. This is the weakest of the three books, especially since I found myself putting it down and forgetting about it for days at a time.

I mean, it’s a fine way to pass the five minutes of pomodoro time at work, but other than that it’s pretty meh. What I liked most about it, though, is how obnoxious Charmain is. More books with difficult female characters, please!

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Same DifferenceSame Difference by Derek Kirk Kim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, rounding up

This story took a little while to grab me because it didn’t really become interesting until about 1/3 of the way through. I loved the ending, though, and I really liked that it’s basically a character study that takes these two kind of small moments and expands them out to show how we can be simultaneously really crappy people and genuinely good people.

Bonus points for Nancy and Simon’s most excellent relationship.

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As of today, I’m reading:

I’m still making my way through Necessary Endings. But! I have also started rereading two books. One is The Cracks in the Kingdom, which I loved and am reading in preparation for the final book in the Colors of Madeleine trilogy out next week (!!!). The other is Silver Sparrow, which I loved and picked for my book club to read next month. Excitement!

Happy reading, everyone!

“Don’t let the muggles get you down!”

I went out of town last weekend, and, as I was waiting for my flight, I decided to (re)read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling.

After finishing it, all I can say is that Rowling is a mothereffing genius. Like, for real.

***Spoilers for the entire series included in this post***

Continue reading ““Don’t let the muggles get you down!””

2012 Harry Potter Reading Challenge

I added one more challenge to my list for the year. The Harry Potter Reading Challenge, which is a challenge to read all seven HP books before the end of the year.

I know, I know. I said I wasn’t doing any un-challenging challenges this year. And I’m not, truly.

I mean, yes. I have read the Harry Potter books before. But this time I’m going to listen to them all on audiobook. And, okay, yes, I have listened to all of the audiobooks before. I know that.

But! BUT. I haven’t listened to the Stephen Fry (i.e., British) version of the audiobooks.

Here is a true story: Some years ago a friend sent me the Stephen Fry books and I, shamefully, have never listened to them. I know. I KNOW. I KNOOOOOOW. Even though I said that I wanted to listen to them. Even though I had them when I listened to the Jim Dale audiobooks.

I don’t even understand it myself.

But I want to listen to them! I do! Especially because I was talking to a British friend of mine who said she loves the Fry version so much and it makes her so happy to listen to, and I was like, “Maybe I should listen to mine.”

So here we are. 2012 is the year I listen to the Stephen Fry narrated HP audiobooks. I have already ripped them to my iPod and everything so I can listen to them in and out of the car.

Also, since I have already read the books several times, I won’t do straight reviews but will instead just post observations I make (however random they may be) as I listen. All spoilers will be marked.

For example, I already started listening to the first book. How much do the Dursleys suck? They are terrible. I mean, the most exciting part of Vernon’s day is drills. DRILLS. No wonder they hate imagination so much. Also, they could be any kind of bigots, couldn’t they? I mean, we don’t really know what kind of sort the Potters are to start with, do we? Plus also, it takes a lot of work to be as cruel as they are to Harry. Just wow. WOW.

And it just goes to show: you never know who is sleeping under your roof, do you?

Audiobook Review: Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a reread for me, though the audiobook narrated by Eden Riegel is a brand new experience. It has been years–years!–since I’ve read EE. In fact, the last (and first) time I read the book was right after the movie came out.

What can I say about this book? It is pretty much perfection. I love Ella so much. I LOVE HER. Love, love, love, LOVE. I wish words could adequately express how awesome Ella is because she is JUST THAT AWESOME. She’s smart, funny, clever, stubborn, bullheaded, and just…I just love her is all. She is so great.

I mean, really. That is my largest take away from the book.

And, yes, the rest of the book is awesome, too, but mostly I just love Ella THE MOST.

As for how it fares as an audiobook: I’m not the biggest fan of Riegel as a narrator–only because Ella sounds much younger than fifteen. And, yes, I realize that’s how Riegel sounds in real life, but that’s not the way I expect Ella to sound. Also, there are weird musical interludes that I didn’t care for.

That said, I could ignore all of that because the story is just so amazingly fantastic.

Did I mention I love Ella? She is really my favorite. Love her.

YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 6; Support Your Local Library: 38; YA Reading Challenge: 34; Audiobook Challenge: 6/6; Page to Screen: 5/5;

Mini Book Reviews: August

I spent most of August grading. Grading, grading, grading. Every time someone asked me what I was doing, the answer was grading. Grading! Then, once grading was done, I spent most of my time on prep for the fall semester. So here we are at the end of August, and I have books to review and no time to review them all in depth. Mini reviews it is!

        

How to Avoid Making Art by Julia Cameron – This one is actually a reread. Cameron explores all the reasons and ways we avoid being creative, accompanied by illustrations/comics. The first time I read it, it shamed me a little bit. This time around, it inspired me. So if you’re someone who sometimes has a hard time committing to doing the things you love, it’s a cute little book to check out.

Graphic Novels: 6/10; Off the Shelf: 8

Athena the Brain (Goddess Girls #1) by Joan Holub – This is a super cute, fast read that does mythological retellings from the goddesses’ points of view. The setting is a middle school, so some of the retellings are super tame. At the same time, they’re pretty loyal to the mythology. Athena still sends olives to the Greeks, she still turns Medusa into a snake-haired woman, her dad is still Zeus, she still sprang out of his forehead, etc. I love the way the Odysseus story is handled: the kids are taking a class and are responsible for moving their particular heroes through the quest. I consider this book more elementary level than middle grade as it is way shorter and less complex than, say, Percy Jackson. Still: super cute.

Support Your Local Library: 29/30

       

How Not to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey – I liked the plotting of this book a lot. Several unexpected twists and turns that I did not see coming. I mean, yes, the romantic stuff was all predictable (so predictable), but the way the plot moved forward was not. My only problem is that the characters are kind of flat and have no real depth, which means I was less engaged in what they did. Everything is very on the surface here, and if the character development were amped up more, the book would have been stellar. As it stands, this book was strictly bathroom reading material. I think it’d make a cool movie, though.

Off the Shelf: 9; YA Reading Challenge: 26

Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart – The King Arthur story in graphic novel form. I found this to be really boring. I mean, Lee and Hart managed to cram just about everything in the book, but I didn’t feel the characters were that well developed. I liked the art for the most part, except I hate the way the faces are drawn. All of this amazing detail on the page, and no real detail for the faces. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t connect to the story.

Support Your Local Library: 30/30; Graphic Novels: 7/10

Nostalgia: Sharing Sam

“You know, just because she’s sick, hon, it doesn’t mean you have to put your life on hold. Just because something bad’s happened to Izzy doesn’t mean you can’t have good things happen to you.”

Gosh, how I love Sharing Sam by Katherine Applegate. Love. It.

I decided to reread it because I was in a bit of a reading slump–at least where fiction was concerned. I’m so glad I did. The book is so engaging from the beginning until the end. I so love the humor of the first chapter, the way Applegate sets up so well the comedic awesomeness of Sam/Alison and the awkward awfulness of Izzy’s cancer revelation. The balance of the chapter just perfectly introduces the impending conflict as well as the tone. Not only that but it’s clear right away why Alison has that split loyalty.

The duality (or *~levels~*) of the title just hit me during this reread. Alison is not just sharing Sam in the sense that she’s, you know, pretending not to be interested in him so her BFF can date him. She’s sharing the experience of Sam, the heady feel of first love and the joy and bliss of feeling that cared for. Even though Sam is his own fully realized character with his own motivations and desires, he does act as a symbol and a stand-in. Sam could be any awesome experience that someone with a terminally ill loved one feels guilty about having. The difference, of course, is that Sam is a person with his own feelings, which makes everything deliciously messy.

I think Applegate is also adept at handling survivor’s guilt here. When I was younger, I didn’t really know/understand that term, but as an adult, I can appreciate how Applegate deals with it. Contrary to what she says, Alison does feel guilty/bad that she’s going to live while Izzy dies. And Alison does feel like maybe she shouldn’t get to be happy while Izzy is miserable, so finds a way to make herself experience a great loss while Izzy is sick. I love that there are characters who call Alison on it, too. That her mother says, “Hey, it’s okay for you to be happy,” and that Sam’s own situation parallels Alison’s in so many ways.

I also love that the book makes the reader question how selfless Alison’s act is. And that the book asks the reader to question whether or not she could handle such an arrangement

But I especially love that this Love Stories book is as much–if not more so–about the love between best friends, about Alison’s love for Izzy even as it has that Sam element throughout.

YA Reading Challenge: 25/75

Nostalgia: Sweet Valley Twins and Friends: The Magic Christmas

I am reading two very serious books (serious in different ways–one is an autobiography, another is just kind of hard to read), so to give myself a break on Christmas Eve, I broke out my copy of The Magic Christmas because I knew it would be easy, and it’s always fun.  The twins get dolls that come alive!  They go to a magical world!  There are riddles to solve!  And magic!

Anyway, there’s not much to say about it except I totally laughed at Elizabeth being self-centered and twelve because her grandmother was all, “Samantha and Amanda stopped speaking because Samantha (I think) framed the love of her sister’s life and got him sent to prison and they regretted it their whole lives” and Liz is basically like, “Yeah, okay, whatever, but Jessica hated my lame Christmas gift so she totally deserves my ire.”  HAHAHAHA.  Oh, Liz.

The book is great because even if you don’t know the twins, it’s easy to follow their drama.  Also, you could cut out all of the details that make it specific to Liz and Jessica and turn it into a story about some other twins.  Plus also, it is kind of creepy cool that each girl basically develops a crush on her sister’s personality doppelganger.  I don’t know how to feel about that except…creepy cool.

Fun way to end the year.  Now I have to finish the other two books.

Nostalgia: Girl Friends #1: Draw the Line

“You know, if you had told me two weeks ago that I’d be involved in a rally and have a whole new group of girl friends, I never would have believed it…I don’t know whether it’s the rally that’s making me feel so good, or the girls…It’s…I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Exhilarating?”

“Yeah, but that’s not really strong enough,” Stephanie said. “It’s just…the best.”

Last month I said I was rereading the first book in one of my favorite series, Girl Friends, and I finally finished. This is a book I’ve read lots and lots of times, and what I find most interesting is that, of course, as I reread, I notice different things that I hadn’t before.

girlfriends1-front

When I first read the series back in 1993, I related most readily to Natalie and Cassandra, since they’re black cousins.  Natalie is a lot like girls I knew in school and her situation with a deadbeat dad and knowing pregnant teens is something I could easily grab on to.  Cassandra is a ballet dancer, and since I took dance, though not as intensely,  I totally got that part of her.

I also related a lot to Janis who has a big mouth.  There’s a part in one of the later books (book 3 maybe?) where Cassandra laments that Natalie and Janis have found each other since they’re the two biggest antagonists she knows.  It’s a small detail that I’ve always loved because, yes, Janis and Natalie would have been my friends.  And me and my friends were totally obnoxious and loud in high school.

I had a huge crush on a guy who got high all the time, so I got Stephanie and her relationship with Phillip (although, my pothead was not in love with me, sadly).  I was also writing an epic novel/series of my own, so I loved that Stephanie always referred to Frances, the heroine of all her stories.  Stephanie frequently rewrites scenes she’s living in her head or on paper, and that still is awesome.

I never much related to Maria. I mean, yes, I was on the pom squad in high school, but she’s pretty and popular and her family has money. However, on reread, I find her story the most fascinating. I remember most of the details of her story, of course:  she bucks the popular crowd to hang out with the girl friend; her brother is the front man of a local band; her boyfriend assaults her and then brands her a slut.

What Grey does with Maria that I didn’t catch back then or even five or six years ago is pretty thoroughly deconstructs societal pressures on girls.  Maria stays with her boyfriend that she hates because she is terrified of what will happen in her circle of cheerleading friends if she chooses to break up with him.

This is how she describes Leif:

He was in her way, like a thick, brick wall, preventing her from escaping, making her feel trapped and anxious and she wouldn’t be sorry if she never saw him again.

This comes on page 52, which is pretty early in the book, and is the beginning of an exchange when she realizes she should break up with him because she doesn’t really like him, but it’s nice to have someone to date who is in her circle.  Right as she’s about to tell him she doesn’t want to date him anymore, this happens:

“Leif,” she began, then stopped as an image of Vanessa rose in her mind.  ‘You what?’ the image shrieked, clutching its chest in horror. ‘You broke up with your only squeeze less than a month before Homecoming because he tried for serious sugar? What’re you, nuts?’

Maria then “surrenders to the familiar logic” and instead of breaking up with Leif, politely says good-bye.  And the thing is Maria HATES Leif.  He completely disgusts her.  When they go on dates, she dresses in what is essentially armor because he has grabby hands, and if he can’t get his hands inside her clothes, she ends her dates with a sense of triumph because she’s bested him.  It is pretty thoroughly disgusting, but Maria is all about appearances.  And not only appearances but maintaining the status quo, keeping things on an even keel. She would rather go out with Leif who is disgusting and who makes her feel anxious than risk not having a date for the dance or having to explain herself to her cheerleading friends.  It’s just easier for her, socially, to go along with it all than to dump him.  Because if she breaks up with him, she’ll be bucking expectation, and worse, she’ll have to explain.  Which she says!

Leif would be showing up anytime now and she hated the thought of dealing with him in front of everybody.  Driving home with him after the game on Friday had been a bad move but everyone had expected it, so what was she supposed to do? They were, in a way, a couple and blowing him off now, for no good reason, would be social suicide.

Everyone had expected it!  She knew it was a bad move, but she knew what was expected of her, so she did it.  Way better to deal with Leif and how gross he makes her feel than to commit social suicide.

Then there are Maria’s parents and brother.

Her parents had always taken great pains to protect her.  They had rules regarding what was acceptable and if her rules were stricter than Jesse’s had been, it was, her parents explained, because more harm could befall a girl.  Having fun was one thing, but once a girl got herself in trouble, it would follow her forever.

Jesse, by the way, is a huge slut.  And that’s what the books call him with no qualifiers (i.e, he is not a “male” slut, just a good old slut) who sleeps with groupies who he describes as a “nameless, faceless way to work off energy.”  He also tells his sister not to be like the girls he has sex with.  And Maria knows and understands it’s a double standard, but she can’t help living it.  Her reputation IS everything to her.  And not just sexually, because she knows the boys lie and say they have gotten something from her, but socially.

So Maria plays by the rules.  She doesn’t break up with Leif. She tries to maintain appearances.  And in the second book, Leif assaults her.

SHE DOES EVERYTHING RIGHT.  She tries to please everybody.  And it fails.  And what I think is brilliant is that Grey clearly shows WHY a girl would stay in a relationship with someone who makes her anxious and suffocates her and who she hates kissing and doesn’t want to touch.  I mean, no, Janis or Natalie wouldn’t do that, and even Stephanie has Phillip who loves her, but Maria wants to fit in and wants to belong and wants to not rock the boat.  And she knows she should like Leif, on paper at least, and she doesn’t really have anybody else right now, and isn’t it better to have someone to go to the dance with than not?  ISN’T IT?

And if Maria is doing all of this with a boy she doesn’t even like, what about the girls who love their abusive boyfriends?  (And let’s be clear here: even if Maria doesn’t think of his relentless pawing of her as assault, there is clearly something about him that threatens her and makes her feel panicked and anxious around him–basically fear.)  Taking out the question of love, erasing whether or not she likes him, makes it even clearer how sometimes there are these unspoken expectations for girls.  It’s better to have a boyfriend than not.  It’s better to have a date than not. It’s different for boys.  Boys want it, girls don’t. Etc.  Of COURSE Maria would put up with Leif then.  Of course.

Anyway, that makesgirlfriends1-back the books sound super heavy, and they do deal with some pretty serious topics (like racism, school shootings, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, death, bulimia, drugs), but oh my word, they are delicious to read.  Here it is sixteen years later, and I’m just now getting how freaking brilliantly a lot of these topics are handled.

Another thing I like is that these girls are isolated or loners and it makes perfect sense, but they all have someone to talk to so that they’re not friendless.  Janis is all about her causes, but she has her friend Simon.  Cassandra is all about dancing, so doesn’t really interact with anyone at school…except Natalie.  Natalie is new to the school, but she has befriended Gus.  Stephanie works to take care of her family and maintain straight A’s so she can get a scholarship, but she has Phillip.  And Maria, while a cheerleader, doesn’t really feel comfortable with them or count them as her actual friends.

So, yes, they have these relationships, but none of that compares to the five of them coming together.  Empowerment through female friendships.  I’d be lying if I said that this series hasn’t inspired my dissertation topic focusing on female friendship.  If I didn’t love these books with all of my heart, I doubt very seriously that I would even think about or consider friendships between girls as much as I do.

I am so sad they are out of print.  Because I want to make other people read them.