The Books that Built Me: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This is the (long overdue) second installment in my “The Books that Built Me” series. Read my first post on The Things They Carried here. 

I was twelve years old, and my sister Emily had sent me an Easter present.

It was a book.

Being that I am me and this is a book blog, you might be surprised to hear my reaction was not unlike the grandson’s in The Princess Bride when he opens his grandfather’s gift:

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“A book?”

However, this had less to do with the gift being a book than that it was a book I’d seen before in the hands of the kid who had, of late, taken to roaming the halls of school in a cloak, a lighting bolt drawn on his forehead in ballpoint pen. He was also the kid who made his own armor and got up in English class to recite “Jabberwocky” from memory, in its entirety, just for fun.

In hindsight, this kid was awesome. At the time though, he was weird, and any book he liked enough to cosplay was probably weird too.

I’m not a total monster, though;  I couldn’t have a new book in my possession and NOT read it for long.

So despite my initial reticence, it was only a few hours later that I found myself stretched out on the carpet in my bedroom reading the first page of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

What a lovely beginning.

From that first line, I was utterly enchanted. I read Sorcerer’s Stone cover to cover and then went back and read it again. I remember checking out the second and third books from the library later that week (the only others out in the series at that point) and devouring those too. Over the next ten years or so, Rowling couldn’t write fast enough; I was hooked.

So what was it about this story that spoke to me at twelve and continues to speak to me, eighteen years later, at thirty?

At its most basic level, Rowling’s seven book series is a school story. Yes, Harry’s world is a fantastic setting and it’s filled with fantastic things—dragons and goblins and house elves who long for freedom and festive socks. Yes, he and Ron and Hermione go to school in a castle where they take notes with quills on parchment as they sit through classes on Potions and Transfiguration and have their mail delivered by owl.

Despite all that, at twelve, Harry’s problems were a lot like my problems: dealing with bullies and mean teachers, figuring out how to make friends, still having to do homework when you felt like your world was ending.

Sidebar: Middle school is rough, y’all.

HP

Credit: Jim Kay

But even as an adult, it continues to resonate. In Harry Potter, we find the extraordinary in ordinary moments. Some of the scenes I remember most vividly are the ones in which Harry faces off with the Mirror of Erised. Our orphaned boy, so long unloved, gazes into the mirror and sees himself united with his parents for the first time, sees himself as part of family that loves him.

It’s an intoxicating sight, and one Harry returns to again and again, staring into the mirror’s depths, until he is gently reprimanded by Albus Dumbledore: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

The dreams on which I tend to dwell may have changed a bit since I was a tween, but the significance of Dumbledore’s message hasn’t dimmed as I’ve entered adulthood. After all, who among us hasn’t suffered a loss? Who among us can’t identify with Harry’s desire for more or with his struggles to belong? Grappled with might-have-beens and if-onlys?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread the Harry Potter series over the years. My copy of Prisoner Azkaban has broken totally in half along the spine (it’s my favorite). I started a new tradition the summer of 2016 and listen to Jim Dale’s magical narration of the entire series on Audible from about May to July—all 118 hours and 38 minutes of it. Over the years, Harry and his friends have nestled into my bones and have become part of me.

I wrote about my love affair with Harry Potter in a post on another blog several years ago, right around the time the final movie was released. Here’s what twenty-four year old me had to say:

I don’t love Harry Potter just because I love to read, or because there are spells and magical creatures, or because any time a new book or movie is released, I have an excuse to play dress-up (though that is a definite plus). I love it because in those hours I spend with Harry, I find myself completely immersed in a world that is my own and not my own, with characters that have become as familiar to me as old friends. Over the past twelve years, The Boy Who Lived has taught me valuable lessons about friendship, truth and goodness; that what is right isn’t always necessarily what is easy, that it’s not about what you can do, but what you choose to do with your life that matters, and that one should make love, not horcruxes.

The act of reading itself is its own kind of magic; a peculiar kind of alchemy of words and the imaginations of both author and reader that, when combined, spark something marvelous and entirely new.

A book on a shelf is a dead thing. A book in our hands is alive. In the reading, we breathe life into paper and ink, and stories and characters become real to us in a way that never ceases to amaze me.

The Boy Who Lives lives on in us, because of us.

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

-J. K. Rowling

Whenever I return to Hogwarts, I get to spend a few hours in a world both familiar and fantastic. I can soak up the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore, travel the globe by Floo Powder, broomstick, or side-along apparition, be a hero and triumph against insurmountable odds. And isn’t that why we love stories?

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A Gaines Duet

I forget during which of my sisters’ remodels that the term “shiplap” was thrown around, but when it was, I remember being utterly confused, and my family being totally bewildered in response that I’d never heard of a little show called Fixer Upper.

Sidebar: I lived without cable for many years, and even when I had it, I never really got into any of HGTV’s offerings…¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Despite their insistence that Chip was the funniest and that Joanna’s taste was unparalleled, it was only recently that I fell down the Magnolia rabbit hole.

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

Why I picked it: Though I’d been reading/listening to The Last Black Unicorn for awhile, I decided I needed something a bit lighter for a road trip to Austin a couple weekends ago. Despite being able to (at the time) count on one hand the number of Fixer Upper episodes I’d seen, I spearheaded a girls’ trip to Magnolia Market this spring. This little road trip to Austin seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn a bit more about Waco’s golden couple before heading there myself.

Truthfully, I thought this was a finance book when I first saw it in Barnes & Noble. Let me put your mind at ease right now—it is not, lol.

Blurb in brief: “The funny and talented Chip Gaines is well known to millions of people as a TV star, renovation expert, bestselling author, husband to Joanna, and father of 4 in Waco, Texas. But long before the world took notice, Chip was a serial entrepreneur who was always ready for the next challenge, even if it didn’t quite work out as planned. Whether it was buying a neighborhood laundromat or talking a bank into a loan for some equipment to start a lawn-mowing service, Chip always knew that the most important thing was to take that first step.

In Capital Gaines, we walk alongside him as he relives some of his craziest antics and the lessons learned along the way. His mentors taught him to never give up and his family showed him what it meant to always have a positive attitude despite your circumstances. Throw in a natural daredevil personality and a willingness to do (or eat!) just about anything, and you have the life and daily activity of Chip Gaines.

Capital Gaines is the perfect book for anyone looking to succeed not only in business but more importantly in life.”

What I thought: Not really coming into this as a fan of the show (YET), I was pleasantly surprised by it. Chip and Joanna’s whole schtick with Fixer Upper andI’d argue, the secret to their success, is that they’re the real deal, and that authenticity shines through this whole memoir. Chip is a goofball, but he’s seriously hardworking and obviously loves his wife, his kids, and of course, Demo Day.

There is a lot of silly in this book, but there’s also a lot of heart—Chip as narrator is one part clown, one part coach—and at several moments, I found myself nodding along mouthing “Yes!” to some of his more profound rambles.

The book begins with and is structured around Ecclesiastes 3, with sections titled “A Time to Learn,” “A Time to Grow,” and “A Time to Build.” I think that framing works out so well with one of this book’s main themes: timing.

Chip Gaines has done a lot of stupid stuff (see: the title of this book), but despite that, I think he’s a man with few real regrets. He trusts in God’s timing, but he also is not a man who is afraid to act, to throw himself in wholeheartedly into any venture he thought worthy of his time and attention.

““Not one of us is getting any younger, and waiting for your ‘perfect moment’ or for the ‘most convenient time’ could very well turn into a missed opportunity.” -Chip Gaines

If you’re a fan of the show, I’d say this is a must-read, but even if you’re only passingly familiar with the Gaineses like I was, I’d still say it’s worth a look.

Total read time: 2 days on Audible

My rating: 4/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 4.09/5 stars

 

A book written by two authors: The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Why I picked it: There is no middle ground for me when it comes to pop culture; I’m either totally obsessed or uninterested. Once I drank the proverbial Kool Aid, I really had no choice but to read this book. And by read, I mean listen to.

Blurb in brief: Are you ready to see your fixer upper?

These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. As this question fills the airwaves with anticipation, their legions of fans continue to multiply and ask a different series of questions, like—Who are these people? What’s the secret to their success? And is Chip actually that funny in real life? By renovating homes in Waco, Texas, and changing lives in such a winsome and engaging way, Chip and Joanna have become more than just the stars of Fixer Upper, they have become America’s new best friends.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.”

“I don’t think it’s irrational or too conservative of me to think, I never want to carry my baby into the county jail ever again.
Is it?” -Joanna Gaines

 

What I thought: I just love these two. Joanna wrote and read the forward in Capital Gaines, but I really enjoyed getting to hear both of their voices throughout this one.

The story of Magnolia truly is the story of Chip and Joanna, how they met and fell in love despite their vastly different personalities, and how together they built a beautiful family and a wildly successful business. The journey there wasn’t easy, and it was inspiring to hear about the setbacks and failures they met along the way and how they were able to surmount them with a mix of faith, gumption, and a willingness to get their hands dirty.

“If I had planned my life, it never would have ended up like this. So maybe it’s kind of fun not to plan. Maybe it’s more fun just to see where life takes you.” -Joanna Gaines

Total read time: 2 days on Audible

My rating: 4/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 4.25/5 stars

Chip and Joanna will admit themselves that they prove the old saying, “opposites attract.” This is made abundantly clear in both Capital Gaines and The Magnolia Story, but it’s also clear that, because of their differences, they bring the best out in one another. I’ll admit it, I was charmed, and consequently, spent most of last weekend binging episodes of Fixer Upper. #noregrets

The Woman in the Window

To paraphrase my girl, T-Swift, it’s been a long eighteen months, friends. Since last we spoke, I’ve added another ninety or so books to my “read” shelf on Goodreads and added probably that same number to my never-ending TBR list. And that’s how you never run out of things to read.

My library and I both managed to survive Hurricane Harvey unscathed, though it was a little dicey there for a few days…I’m only slightly embarrassed by the fact I shed actual tears when I thought they might not make it. Thank God for elevated shelving and AC units which somehow continued to function while mostly submerged! #humidityisnotabooksbestfriend

My babies are safely packed away in storage while we renovate, and, in what can only be deemed a superhuman act of self-discipline, I have managed to only purchase/acquire about ten physical books in the last five months since the storm. As I find myself currently shelfless, I am attempting to practice restraint, and so have done the bulk of my reading lately either on my Kindle or via Audible.

Since it’s January (AKA the month of fresh starts), I figured I’d pick this little blog back up with what I’ve read so far in the new year. I’m not doing any sort of book challenge this go around so be prepared for my picks to be even more random than usual.

Sidebar: If you’re looking for one, the Pop Sugar challenge is always good, though I have no idea what “nordic noir” is supposed to mean.

Now, without further ado, my first read of 2018!

A book with alliteration in the title: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

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Why I picked it: I think this was actually the third book I picked up this year, even though it was the first one I finished. The other two were memoirs, but that particular weekend, I was in the mood for something a bit more pulpy. Enter the latest book in the “Girl Thriller” category.

See: The Girl on the Train, The Woman in Cabin 10, The Girl Before, Gone Girl, and The Good Girl, all of which I have read over the last three years because if there’s one thing I love, it’s a theme.

Blurb in brief: “It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, mother, their teenaged son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble?and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.”

“Watching is like nature photography: You don’t interfere with the wildlife.”

What I thought: My Goodreads reviews (if I’ve bothered to write anything at all) have left much to be desired of late. My only note on this one was “A better Girl on the Train than the original,” and I stand by that assessment. While both have unreliable narrators, I actually cared about and liked Anna, while I found Rachel, the main character in Girl on the Train, utterly insufferable.

This book is basically Rear Window set in the suburbs, but with some surprising twists and interesting variations on the Hitchcockian-style thriller. Anna herself is a huge fan of the genre, and it’s easy as a reader to question how much of what’s happening is real and how much of it is a drunken fantasy borne of two bottles of merlot and one too many viewings of Rope.

Anna’s house is essentially her whole world, and I loved that it becomes a character in the story itself. Beautiful but neglected and almost a kind of mausoleum to Anna’s past, it makes for a great setting for Finn’s tale. It felt very Manderley-esque to me.

Sidebar: If you haven’t read Rebecca, do.

The book is pretty tightly plotted overall, though there are a few plot points that seemed a bit odd; however, in hindsight, they were probably meant as red herrings.

The Woman in the Window is a worthy addition to the “Girl Thriller” genre (and I’d say one of the best ones).

Total read time: 1 day on Kindle

My rating: 4/5 stars; Goodreads rating: 4.15/5 stars

**Addendum: I might kind of do the Pop Sugar Challenge, so I’ve added the category into which I shoehorned this book to the title**

The Grisha Trilogy

As I am WOEFULLY behind on this blog, I’m going to be doing some creative and some not-so-creative grouped reviews to try and catch-up with my backlog. Since this is a trilogy, it seemed natural to review it as a whole. I shall endeavor to avoid spoilers! It’s also been a month since I read these and my Goodreads reviews are more about rating my book boyfriends than any sort of serious critique of the story. For that, I apologize.

Why I picked it: Spend any time on bookstagram and you’re going to see/hear readers talking about the Darkling and how he makes them FEEL ALL THE FEELS. Intrigued, I ordered the first book off Audible and a new obsession was born. For real, this is the series that got me over my ACOMAF hangover like nothing else did. Also, Lauren Fortgang’s narration is MAGIC.

Book 1: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo 

Blurb in brief: “Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.”

What I thought: At it’s most basic level, this follows your average YA fantasy/dystopyish plot line: first person narrative, female protagonist who thinks she’s the definition of average, hot childhood friend, female protagonist discovers she’s actually FAR from average, a training montage commences, the battle begins, and chaos ensues.

However, this story had a villain who is as complex as he is magnetic. And there are overt (and, based on some other reviews I’ve read, not super culturally accurate) Russian overtones. Call me a philistine, but I didn’t mind it so much—I actually quite liked the Ruski flavor.

But the Darkling. Oooooh, the Darkling. I have a weird soft spot in my heart for characters who are kind of evil, but also mysterious and tortured and unhealthily obsessed with the heroine.

See: the Phantom, Littlefinger, Loki, Hannibal (from the TV show, in which he’s obsessed with our hero. Murder husbands forever!)

Yes, they are rather murdery. Yes, basically everything they do is manipulative. Yes, I understand that that the enduring fondness I feel for them despite all that probably does not speak well of me.

“Fine…Make me your villain.”

I can’t help it. The Darkling is INTERESTING. What’s his whole backstory? What event or series of events turned him into the tyrant he is today? How much was he faking it with Alina? Could Alina just drop Mal and become Dark!Alina and rule together with the Darkling for all eternity? I’m sure there’s fanfiction about this that I will probably read later and love.

Update: There is and I did.

After this first installment, I was really excited to see where Bardugo took the story and what she would reveal about her Dark Prince and his backstory.

My ratings: 5/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.07/5 

Book 2: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Blurb in brief: “Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.”

What I thought: SaS suffered a bit from middle-child syndrome for me. There was some good action at the start, but then things kind of slowed down a bit.

For some reason, this was the book during which my mind started making dubious connections to the Gilmore Guys (Rory’s love interests, not the podcast). I liked Mal well enough in the first book, but he began to veer into dangerous Season 2 Dean territory for me in SaS. Sturmhond was bae and his delicious chemistry and witty banter with Alina was giving me hella Logan vibes. He was definitely a delight for all the senses after Mal started being such a snit.

This will probably be the most worthless of this trilogy of reviews.

My ratings: 4/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.11/5 

Book 3: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo 

Blurb in brief: “Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.”

What I thought: So Siege and Storm was a little slow at times, and this book did have some places where the plot meandered a bit (it felt a little LotR/Hobbit-esque in that sense with all the questing and the planning and the side jaunts that invariably result from the questing).

Bardugo did some really great things with character development. At the end of SaS, I was definitely not Mal’s biggest fan. However, I felt that he grew up a lot in this book and I was able to appreciate him much more. Sturmhond is still bae, and the Darkling has my heart forever.

I found this last installment to be a very satisfying ending to an excellent series!

My ratings: 5/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.19/5 

 

A Court of Mist and Fury

A book that’s more than 600 pages: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Why I picked it: Because I am slightly obsessed with SJM and this was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2016, the other being the fifth book in her other series which comes out in less than 70 days because yes, I am totally counting.

Blurb in brief: “Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.
Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.”

What I thought: Oh. Em. Gee. It has been a very long time since a book has given me a book hangover like ACOMAF did. I devoured it in two nights and then was ruined for all other stories for a solid two weeks. All I could do was go back and dazedly reread SJM’s other books and curl up in the fetal position because this book made me feel ALL THE FEELS.

Backstory! I read A Court of Thorns and Roses not too long after it was released last year. I had never heard of Sarah J. Maas before (apparently I was living under a rock), but I love Beauty and the Beast retellings, so when it popped up on Audible, I downloaded it. Alas, I didn’t write an actual Goodreads review upon completing it so I don’t have a record of my thoughts at the time, but I did rate it 5*, mostly because of the second half of the book. I found the events of Under the Mountain much more interesting than the events in the Spring Court.

Full disclosure: I never loved Tamlin, who was a bit too blandly alpha male for my taste. You know who did set my heart a fluttering? Rhysand. Sexy, silver-tongued, cheeky Rhysand who stole my heart the second he appeared.

Long story short—I loved ACOMAF SO HARD it hurts. Feyre, whom I liked well enough in ACOTAR, turned into a character who rivals Celaena from Maas’ Throne of Glass series in my heart. And Rhysand! Sexy, silver-tonged, cheeky Rhysand gets all of the depth I missed with Tamlin. And bonus! We get the characters of Rhys’s badass inner circle and all of the accompanying  banter and camaraderie. Plus, THE NIGHT COURT. Starfall? Are you kidding me? Sarah, I want to live in your head for awhile.

“To the stars who listen—and the dreams that are answered.”

My rating: 5/5 ; Goodreads rating: 4.77/5

May Litcube Review

I’ve been really enjoying seeing all of these awesome nerdy book subscription boxes crop up over the last year or so. As much as I’d love to, I can’t afford to subscribe to ALL of them, so I’ve been dabbling. LitCube first came to my attention due to a stream of very excited Instagram posts about their one-time Gilmore Girls box (which has since been spun-off into a monthly Stars Hollow box!).

LitCube “strive[s] to pair hand-picked books with high quality literary themed products to bring you a magical reading experience each and every month.” Each themed box contains something readable, wearable, and snackable, plus a few additional goodies, and runs $34.95 a month with free shipping in the US. Unlike a lot of other book subscription boxes, LitCube does not feature exclusively YA titles, sending books from a wide variety of genres.

The box itself is super bright, which definitely set it apart from other boxes I’ve seen.

 

Once again, I proved that I cannot be trusted not to ruin a surprise and checked the #litcube tag to sneak a look at what was in the box.

Sidebar: Yes, I was the kid who peeled back the edges of the wrapping paper on gifts to try to see what was under the paper.

And now…here’s what was inside the May Alice in Wonderland LitCube!

What was inside:

    • A LitCube limited edition paperback copy of Alice Takes Back Wonderland by David D. Hammons—retail $19
    • An exclusive Wonderland-themed tee that says “You’re entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret: the best people are”—retail $20
    • A darling “Eat Me” cookie, baked with love by Sweets By Steph!—retail $3
    • A custom Alice in Wonderland makeup bag—retail $13
    • Through the Looking Glass compact mirror—retail $9 
    • Mad Hatter and Alice art prints and bookmark (not pictured) by Star in my Pocket—retail $13 and $3

Total value of items in box: $80

Final thoughts: I didn’t love it.To be honest, the items included in this box just aren’t my taste. Plus, I’m not a huge Alice in Wonderland fan (though I do love the Cheshire Cat), so this box was fighting an uphill battle with me.

The pros: It’s clear that this box, just like every other box I’ve tried, is lovingly put together by someone/people (I don’t actually know who’s behind LitCube) who love(s) books and reading and fandoms.

The cons: This is the most expensive box I’ve ordered, though as it does include shipping for me, the price pretty much evens out. That being said, I wouldn’t pay the listed price for any of the items in the box, so to me, it wasn’t that great of a deal.

My favorite item in the box for sure was the cookie; naturally, I ate it immediately after shooting these pictures. The book isn’t something I would have normally picked up, which is usually the case with these boxes—the ladies behind the boxes know how to push me out of my reading comfort zone!

I’m signed up for one more month, and so I’m hoping I’ll like the June “Roaring 20s Mystery” theme better. Order here now!

A Feast for Crows

A book and its prequel (Part 1): A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Why I picked it: After a misstart in 2012, I began slogging through Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series last spring at the same time I binged all four available seasons of Game of Thrones.

Sidebar: Yes, I was very late to the party on both counts.

I wrapped up the third book, A Storm of Swords, right around Christmas last year, and decided to embark on book four almost immediately afterwards instead of giving myself of break (SoS was THAT good).

Blurb in brief: “After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it’s not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes…and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.”

What I thought: This book took me three months to get through. THREE MONTHS. I am a fast reader. Despite Storm of Sword‘s length, I managed to finish it in two and a half weeks; I could hardly put it down.I had heard from many Feast for Crows was the least enjoyable book of the series, so perhaps my struggle to plow through TEN chapters of Book!Cersei’s poorly-thought out plotting.

Sidebar: All credit to Lena Hedley for her nuanced portrayal of Cersei on the show. She may still be a bitch, but she’s a bitch with whom I can sympathize at least.

I’ve read that GRRM intended to include a time jump between the action in ASoS and when AFfC was due to pickup, but realized that while that gap would work well for characters like Ayra and Bran, it would be less useful for other important characters like Jon Snow and those in King’s Landing because the readers couldn’t be expected to believe that nothing happened in that interim (and writing that many flashbacks was unproductive).

Then of course, he decided to break up his monster manuscript geographically instead of chronologically, which is an interesting choice, but resulted in my being separated from most of my favorite characters who found themselves outside of Westeros proper at the end of book three.

Sidebar: Tyrion! Oh, how I missed Tyrion.

So what we got was filler. A LOT of filler. Most of which I couldn’t be bothered to care much about. The Greyjoy succession plot? Meh. Pretty much everything that happens in Dorne? Bleh. I think part of the problem is that none of the POV characters in this book is particularly witty. A Song of Ice and Fire is a dense story, with a lot of violence and gore, which is why I think characters like Tyrion, Bronn, and the Queen of Thorns are fan favorites (anyone else adore Lady Olenna? She’s basically a hybrid of Lady Violet from Downton Abbey and nearly every character Judi Dench has played, which is to say: perfection)—you need a bit of sass (sometimes a LOT of sass) to balance out all of the depressing deaths and humorless characters.

GRRM’s world building does continue to be incredible. To not only create a whole mythology/history but also keep it straight in your heard when writing thousands upon thousands of pages—it boggles my mind.

So long story short: if you’re making your way through the whole of A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ve got to read this book. Perhaps you’ll find it less of a chore than I did (though if you get really annoyed you can try this reviewer’s method for cutting out the boring bits).

My ratings: 3/5; Goodreads ratings: 4.07/5 

May Bookish Box Review

 

 

I’ve been eyeing Appraising Page’s Book(ish) Box for awhile. However, when I saw their May theme was Harry Potter, I was desperate to get on the list. Some lucky timing and too much time spent on Instagram allowed me to snag one of Justine’s extra subscriptions—and I’m so glad I did!

The Book(ish) Box brands itself as a “monthly subscription box for stylish bookworms.” Each themed box contains a t-shirt from Appraising Pages and 4-5 additional literary-inspired items and runs $29.99 a month, plus shipping. This subscription box does not include a book.

I’m a sucker for pretty packaging, and the Book(ish) Box does not disappoint. Even the box itself is gorgeous.

Sidebar: I’m sad I didn’t get a shot of the sides of the box, which have the theme and a really pretty watercolor of the Deathly Hallows symbol printed on them. It’s dark now, but I’ll try and get some shots of it to add here later.

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Getting closer to the magical goodies within…

 

I was bad and checked the #bookishbox tag on Instagram to get a peek at this month’s box early (I’m also the person who looks up the menu online so I can pick out what I want to eat before I even get to the restaurant); I was drooling over the Hogwarts Coffee tumbler and consequently was checking the tracking info every few hours so I’d know exactly when my box arrived!

Now without further ado…the contents of the May Harry Potter-themed Bookish Box!

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I had to stand on a step stool to fit all the awesome in one frame.

What was inside:

  • A watercolor “Expecto Patronum” print from Lexy Olivia—retail $12
  • A bubble pendant necklace from Rich Love Shoppe that says “The stories we love best live in us forever”—retail $17
  • The aforementioned, much anticipated Hogwarts Coffee tumbler from Knot Knirvana—retail $15
  • A sample package of Butterbeer-scented bath salts from Cherry Pit Crafts that made the entire box smell like creamy, butterscotch goodness—retail approximately $2
  • An Appraising Pages t-shirt with one of my favorite Dumbledore quotes: “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic”—retail $15

Note: You have the option to upgrade your shirt to a different style. I chose the regular women’s fit option, though I did size up and get an XL since I had a feeling the fabric would shrink a bit, and I prefer to wear my shirts on the looser side.

Total value of items in box: $61

Final thoughts: A+, 5 stars, 10/10 would recommend. When you add everything up, it’s plain to see this box is a great value. I was a little disappointed that my tumbler had some scratches on it, but other than that, all items arrived in mint condition.

You can tell Justine puts a lot of thought and care into choosing each item, and everything was wrapped and boxed beautifully. The fabric of the District Made brand shirt is SUPER soft and the screen-printed (not vinyl!) graphic is darling and should wash and wear well. Other than the tumbler, most of the items in the box things I would probably would not have bought on their own but are definitely things I will use and enjoy!

Sidebar: If I’m being honest, and I think I should be, I’ve already used all the bath salts. My skin smells delicious, and I anticipate visions of pumpkin pasties dancing in my head tonight!

Next month’s theme is Classic Reads, so I’m crossing my fingers for some Pride and Prejudice-inspired items. Order here now!

At the Water’s Edge

The first book you see in a bookstore: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Why I picked it: I kept seeing this on my Audible feed over the past few months, so I decided it was time to finally download it after I finished binge-listening to the entire Winner’s trilogy. This audiobook is also narrated by Justine Eyre, who continues to amaze me with her ability to do accents. I LOVED Water for Elephants but hadn’t read any of Gruen’s other books, so all in all, this seemed like a good pick.

Blurb in brief: “After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind.

To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war.

Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants.”

What I thought: Ultimately, this book was somewhat of a disappointment. The basic plot is very similar to a less tightly-plotted, gender-flipped Water for Elephants, with Maddie subbing in for Jacob’s fish-out-of-water character who runs away to the Scottish highlands rather than to the circus. Maddie’s agency is somewhat diminished as she is dragged across the Atlantic on the whims of her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank, rather than choosing to strike out of her own accord.

Sidebar: Ellis is absolutely the worst. THE WORST.

The alleged reason for their trip is to find the Loch Ness Monster, an endeavor in which Ellis’ estranged father failed. I was never clear on if he was hoping to win his father’s favor back by vindicating his claims or if the caper was meant as a kind of eff-you to his dad. Ellis and Hank’s motives (and relationship) remain a bit murky throughout the book.

Despite the fact that Maddie is an adult, this really is a kind of coming of age story as she grapples with the truths about her place in her family, her marriage, and society.

“It was full of luxurious trappings and shiny baubles, and that had blinded me to the fact that nothing about it was real.”

Gruen writes beautifully, and her writing in this book doesn’t disappoint; there are some truly lovely descriptions sprinkled throughout.

I initially thought I’d give this book 4 stars after I finished reading it; however, the more I thought about it, the more some of the plot holes bothered me. Perhaps Water for Elephants had these same issues and my memories of Jacob and Rosie are just colored rosy (pun intended), but ultimately, I think that is the better story of the two.

My rating: 3/5; Goodreads rating: 3.64/5

The Rose and the Dagger

A(nother) book based on a fairy tale: The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Why I picked it: This book has been on my TBR pretty much since last spring when I finished The Wrath and the Dawn. I’m a huge fan of retellings (in case you haven’t already figured that out yet), and Ahdieh’s reimagining of Scheherazade and her king was beautifully written and fun to read. This was an automatic Amazon pre-order.

Blurb in brief: “In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.”

What I thought: This started slow for me. I reread The Wrath and the Dawn last month in preparation for the release (ah, the days when I remembered everything I read with stunning clarity), but even with the first half of Shazi and Kahlid’s story fresh on my mind, it took me about 150 pages to get my bearings. Ahdieh introduces some new characters whom I loved—her little sister, Irsa and the magical, maybe genie, Artan (seriously, did he come from a family of genies? That was never really clear to me). The relationships that developed between Irsa and Rahim and Irsa and Khalid were very sweet to read. Artan was a saucy delight; my heart has a soft spot for prickly-but-charming, irreverent male characters (see: Roshar, The Winner’s Trilogy; Tyrion Lannister, A Song of Ice and Fire). I could have done without the lingering love triangle with Tariq, who definitely needs to read the classic scroll, The Calipha is Just Not That Into You.

The story wrapped up quickly—I was thumbing through pages towards the end, concerned as to how Ahdieh was going to finish in time, and for a fleeting, horrifying moment, thought maybe this was going to be a trilogy after all.

But it wasn’t! Ahdieh manages to get all her loose ends tied up before she ran out of pages in a way that was very satisfying. If you’re looking for a love story with a sense of history and a dash of magic and mystery, this series is a great read!

My rating 4/5; Goodreads rating 4.45/5