Sunday, October 6, 2013

Harry Potter / The Series by J. K. Rowling

My 2 cents:

J. K. Rowling's September 12 announcement enchanted and delighted millions of Harry Potter readers around the world, of whom my 13-year-old daughter is just one. She wasn't born when Harry Potter first popped on the scene in 1996; she discovered the wizarding wonder last year, during seventh grade. At her urging, I decided to read all seven books, too. My quest ended today, when I read page 759 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and closed the book. I admit, it was a little emotional.

So I promised Lizzey I'd write a review of the books for my blog. Even though they were first published over a decade ago. Even though they've been reviewed thousands of times, by many far more famous than I. Even though there may not really be anything new to say.

The Harry Potter series, quite simply, fascinated, captivated me, and, yes, taught me much about life itself. J. K. Rowling is as brilliant a writer as her fans and critics say. The mind-blowing number of copies her books have sold and the tons of awards she's racked up attest to that. I once saw a documentary about Rowling that showed some of her fans lining up for an appearance, and a teen-aged girl stood there, in the crowd, with piercings and spiked hair, and a sign that said, “Thank you for writing those books.” I know how that girl feels.

The series starts, of course, with Year One at Hogwarts School, a fantastical boarding school for young witches and wizards. Harry Potter, who's living with his aunt and uncle and cousin, the Dursley's, at Four Privet Drive in England, turns 11. An owl marks this most momentous birthday with a special delivery, a bulletin to Harry announcing his enrollment at Hogwarts School. Students travel to Hogwarts on a bright red steam engine from Kings Cross Station in London, on Platform 9 and 3/4. Hogwarts students wear robes, and use wands, cauldrons, spellbooks and potions. Harry has never been happier. He makes friends right away with Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, two “first-year's”, like himself.

Soon, however, Harry learns his mother and father didn't die in a car accident, like he'd always been told. Harry's parents were murdered by an evil dark wizard, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and Harry's mother, Lily Potter, died trying to save him when he was just one-year-old. Young Harry finds himself pitted against Lord Voldemort again and again, and he strives to learn everything he can from his wise headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, in order to defeat Voldemort, and save his school, his friends, and the entire wizarding world. “Sometimes the only way out,” Harry learns, “is through.”

No book review can do Rowling's work justice. Many reviewers have said the Harry Potter books tell the age-old story of the fight between good and evil. They do. Other reviewers say it's a magical story, full of made-up words, made-up sports (Quidditch), spells and tales. It's all that, too. It's also a story of friendship, love, perseverance, and courage in the face of death. And, also, even if you've watched the movies and know how it ends, it's also riveting, spooky, and intensely exciting. And full of life. I think that when my daughter is fully grown, raising children of her own, that she'll look back at the Harry Potter books as the most influential of her childhood. Sort of the way I look back at Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and Frances Hodgson Burnett's. Her favorite line is from Book 4:

As Hagrid had said, what would come, would come, and he would have to meet it when it did.”

Length: 7 books / Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Worth Your Time? Yes! They're bloody brilliant!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe

My 2 Cents:

It's not too late! Even though Labor Day Weekend's passed, and school's back in, temperatures are still climbing past 90 during the day, and the calendar says it's still officially summer until September 23. Indian Summer is what my grandmother used to call it.

So I got my hands on the audio book of Mary Alice Monroe's new book, The Summer Girls, which hit shelves just in time for beachgoers and vacationers this summer. And, let me tell you, MAM has really hit her stride. I became a fan of Monroe's fiction with Swimming Lessons and The Beach House, having spent time in and around the Isle of Palms. But, The Summer Girls, set on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina's Lowcountry, is, I believe, her best novel, yet.

34-year-old Carson Muir leaves L.A., broke and jobless, to spend the summer with the grandmother who raised her, Marietta Muir, who's celebrating her 80th birthday, at Sea Breeze, their beloved Sullivan's Island home. Joining Carson at “Mamaw's” are her two half-sisters, Harper and Dora. Harper is 28, an assistant to her high-powered, magazine editor mother in New York City. Dora (for Eudora Welty – all three girls are named after literary giants) is a stay-at-home mother and home-schools her autistic 9-year-old son, Nate. In the middle of an unpleasant divorce, Dora finds herself staying at Sea Breeze while her home in nearby Summerville undergoes renovation before it goes on the market for sale.

Throw in a near-death-experience with a shark (Carson), and a friendly dolphin named Delphine, alcohol, secrets from the past revealed, and you have the makings of a life-changing summer. For all three women.

Monroe's writing is deft, funny, heartwrenchingly honest, and enlightening – about dolphins and their plight along the Atlantic coast, about family relationships, about autism … and the Lowcounty meals her characters eat will leave your mouth watering.

I'm just glad The Summer Girls is the first book of three in The Lowcountry Summer Trilogy, because I can hardly wait to see what happens next. And, meantime, it's fun to guess. (Write fast, Mary Alice).

Length: 10 CDs, Unabridged.

Worth Your Time? Yes. I literally groaned when a disc ended.

Bonus: Read by the author.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Something Told the Wild Geese by Rachel Field

My 2 cents:

Something Told the Wild Geese

by Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered “snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring
Berries, luster-glossed
But beneath warm feathers,
Something cautioned “frost”.

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly
Summer sun was on their wings
Winter in their cry.

That poem is my favorite fall poem. I thought about it when a loud, honking “V” of geese flew over my head on the Friday before Labor Day, just at dusk. What fall means to me: my birthday, chilly nights and warm days, Indian Summer, school starting, football games (even if I don't go), shorter afternoons, a feel of poignancy, endings and beginnings, cozy nights under covers. Happy September.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

My 2 cents:

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld is worth a second look. Narrated by Daisy, a 30-something former social-worker, stay-at-home mom who is married to Jeremy, a loving husband and professor of geophysics. Daisy and Jeremy live in St. Louis, Missouri near the giant arch and are parents to Rosie, 3, and Owen, 1. Daisy is also an identical twin. Her sister, Violet, is a psychic/medium who often talks to her spiritual guide, Guardian, is perpetually short of cash, and generally drives her twin crazy on a regular basis. Daisy also has “senses,” but works hard to shake them off, and be a “normal” wife and mother.

Things get shaky when Violet publicly predicts a major earthquake for the St. Louis area and names a date for the event, October 16. Something earthshattering does happen on the 16th, but it's not the earthquake Vi and Daisy expected.

Sittenfeld's novel, both dark and enlightening, is also funny and sweet in places. Some of the best dialogue comes unexpectedly from Daisy's daughter, Rosie.

Length: 397 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes. Curtis Sittenfeld is also the NY Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My 2 cents:

History and romance buffs alike will swoon over Nora Roberts' newest novel The Perfect Hope. Set in real-life historic Boonsboro, Maryland, The Perfect Hope is the third book in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy. Filled with the camaraderie of the Montgomery brothers; together with their mother, Justine, the three brothers proudly own and operate a booming construction business.

Beckett Montgomery is married to his high-school sweetheart, Claire, who has three young sons and is expecting two more. Owen Montgomery is engaged to red-haired fireball Avery McTavish, who runs Vesta Pizza and dreams of opening her own upscale restaurant and bar in the town square. Ryder Montgomery, a diamond in the rough, falls hard for Hope Beaumont, the bed-and-breakfast's innkeeper.

Also keeping company at the Inn is Lizzie, a ghost from Civil War times, who is waiting faithfully for her soldier lover, Billy Ryder. Lizzey likes to play with the doors and the lights at Inn Boonsboro, and becomes intertwined in the Montgomery brothers' stories, even as she eventually reveals her own.

The Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day in the entire Civil War, plays a pivotal role in this modern-day story. Romance fans will enjoy the intimate love scenes and happy endings. All fans of NY Times Bestselling Author Nora Roberts will enjoy the playful, humorous dialogue. (And will probably make you want to go back and read the first two novels in the Inn Boonsboro series, if you haven't already).

Length: 10 hours, 20 minutes on 9 CD's.

Worth Your Time? Yes, this audio-book by Brilliance Audio is performed by MacLeod Andrews, and is good for bedtime when you need a little help getting to sleep.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My 2 cents:

Activate Your Goodness by Shari Arison is subtitled Transforming the World Through Doing Good. Which says it all. A second-time author, Shari Arison is an Israeli-American mother of four and the leader of an international business empire, as well as a generous philanthropist. Arison was ranked one of the World's Most Powerful Women in 2011 and 2012 by Forbes Magazine. Not too shabby.

This little orange book is both anecdotal and informational. Arison tells story after story of people doing good, thinking good and speaking good. Arison talks about her own life, her own tumultous childhood (which included the divorce of her parents, her father's banruptcies, and her bouncing back and forth, by herself, from New York City to Israel). Arison's early adulthood included three marriages … and three divorces. She talks about all this and more, and how learning to do good transformed her life.

Arison also instituted an annual Good Deeds Day through her companies, and she explains in detail how this celebration works, and how readers can institute such a day in their own communities.

Length: 139 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My 2 cents:

No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey had me at the title. Lucy finds herself living in New York City with her British husband, Richard, and their two young sons, Max and Robbie, at the start of a blazing hot September.

It was, as the forecast told them one day, as if a blowtorch had gone through the city.”

With the downtown of the stockmarket, Richard lost his job, and Lucy lost her nanny, housekeeper, home, and her luxury life as she knew it. Richard gets a new position in NYC, and the family moves into an 800-square-foot apartment that Richard had previously used for a hotel room. Optimistic and energetic, Richard believes the new lifestyle will be good for their family.

After a rocky start in the heat of the city, weeks of sobbing and the death of her mother, Julia opens herself to her new home, and finds a new life.

Reminiscent of Nora Ephron's witty, meaty style, Casey posts this quote by Ephron at the beginning of her novel, just after the dedication page:

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Anne-Marie Casey now lives in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and two sons. This new novel, her first book, “was inspired by her time living in Manhattan, and her love-love relationship with the city.”

Length: 275 pages

Worth Your Time? Yes, especially if you liked The Nanny Diaries or Nora Ephron's movies. It's a quick read.