Monday, August 29, 2016

The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger






  There are different categories of "amazing books" in my head.
  There are series that I love, like Twilight, Outlander, The Hunger Games, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. There are also books that I enjoy, but don't see myself reading more than once in my lifetime. Then there are books which hold such undeniable beauty and mysterious magical abilities, I feel as if my hands are glued to the book's pages, and won't separate themselves until I am finished. These books touch my soul so, that I fear their end before I'm even halfway through. These are novels that stay with me forever. Novels I would reread in a heartbeat, and read and reread until my old, arthritic hands cannot hold their binding anymore.
  The Ruby Ring is one of these books.
  The only books I remember being as captivating (at least for me) as Diane Haeger's story of Raphael and his very own Madonna, are Susanna Kearsley's time-slip novels. I had the same reaction to The Ruby Ring as I did with Ms Kearsley's The Rose Garden. Every time I would put down the book, my mind would still be in my characters' time. With each time I would pick up the book, I would almost be in tears in fear of the story actually (God forbid) ending.
  With Diane Haeger's The Ruby Ring, I actually slowed my reading pace, JUST so I could be with Raphael and Margherita that much longer. Which I never ever do. Ever.
  To sum up the plot, I will say that this book takes place in 16th century Rome, and follows the life of the painter, Raphael Sanzio, as he searches for the perfect woman to be the model for his masterful painting of Madonna. Instead he finds Margherita, a baker's daughter, who not only is the perfect model for his Madonna, but is also the love Raphael has been searching for his entire life.
  Promises to the Vatican, and financial status (among many other things) try to keep these two apart, but when a flame of passion and romance is lit, especially between the painter Raphael and his love, Margherita, it's impossible to extinguish it.
  This book is just so beautiful. I wish I could carry it with me everywhere, just to read and reread in my spare time.
  I wish now that I could wipe its story from my memory, just to be able to read it again for the first time.



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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany






  Yes, it's time for this review.
  If you have not read the much anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet and are interested to hear my viewpoint before you go into it, have no fear, because my reviews are spoiler-free.
  It's 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone has just been released. An author, rejected by so many publishers, has no idea what lies in store for her and her story. A boy, with a lightning bolt-shaped scar, has just been born by paper and ink, and his world is about to change forever.
  It's 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has just come out at midnight, and I am an out-of-breath eager (almost) twelve year-old, with a fresh, new hardcover in my hands.
  The Battle at Hogwarts had not happened. No one had yet perished at the hands of the Dark Lord (besides those who died in previous books). I had no idea that all would be well. All I knew was that this was the last book, and I had it in my hands. The final chapter of Harry's story. The book that completed the series, and the book that would tell all.
  I, like many others, thought that it was over.
  Fast-forward to 2011, I am an emotional fifteen year-old, who is wearing entirely too much makeup in hopes that my crush would finally ask me out. I am sitting in a dark theater, surrounded by fans both young and old, head to toe in Wizarding garb. Robes, scarves, glasses (taped in the middle), and lightning scars galore, I am in my element.
  This was the end. The last time I would hear Hedwig's Theme playing as the Warner Brothers sign edged closer and closer to the camera (which I later found out was in fact replaced by Lily's Theme, much to my surprise and tearful delight). This was the last time I would see a Harry Potter movie for the FIRST time. This was the end.
  I, like many others, thought that it was over.
  It is now 2016, and I am twenty-one. I am sitting on the stage in the children's section of Barnes and Noble, making wands with hundreds of children and adults (five or so at a time). Once again, robes, lightning scars, and wizard hats galore, and I am overly thrilled to be surrounded by my people.
  But this time, I'm noticing something that wasn't there five years ago. Babies, toddlers, and young children, children who weren't even alive when book seven came out, are possibly more excited than me. They're waving wands, casting spells, dueling, and answering trivia that even gave me a pause.
  The Harry Potter Generation has grown up, and has raised a new generation of nerds.
  I am standing in line for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I am flanked by a woman in her mid-twenties, and two very young children who beg to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando every year for summer vacation.
  I am hit with nostalgia. Like a blast of cold wind in mid-February, my breath is taken away, and it hits me how many lives depend on the Wizarding World to turn on the light when the world seems the most dark.
  Nine years after book seven, five years after movie eight, and nineteen years later for Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Ginny, we have our story.

  There is a common misconception that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is book eight (which is basically the fault of whoever decided to call it the eighth book as a tagline). Yes, it is the eighth story (nineteen years later), but no. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not the eighth book.
  A Harry Potter book is written by J.K. Rowling, the Queen herself. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a script from the play currently in London, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was written by two playwrights, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany.
  ANY reader who goes into this book expecting it to be like its seven predecessors will be severely disappointed. This is not the eighth book, it is a script, from a play, based off of J.K. Rowling's nineteen years later.
  In addition to that note, the book is laid out like a play. There are characters entering and exiting stage right and left, and it leaves a lot to the imagination because, as you may have guessed, THIS IS A PLAY. Not a book that gives you a clear visual of what's going on in the author's mind, it is a script, from a play, which is acted out on stage. I say there is a lot left to the imagination because John Tiffany and Jack Thorne have given us a visual as to what's happening, but we, as eager readers, have to resort to this Shakespearean form of technology called "using our imaginations" to grasp an idea of how the story is played (literally) out.
  What bugs me the most about the "Cursed Child" hype is that everyone is disappointed. This isn't what they thought/wanted/expected/yearned for for nine years. I say that we can't be picky with what J.K. Rowling herself releases to us, because when book seven came out, she said she was done. Done, done. And now we have Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Ilvermorny, new books, new movies, new Pottermore stories-
  (Takes a moment to take a sip of coffee and calm down.)
  Anyway...
  I understand that many fans were disappointed with the eighth story. I don't relate, but I hear their outcries. I don't agree, but I listen.
  For an eighth "book" based off a play in London (that everyone was complaining they couldn't afford to see, and yet they're complaining about having the script now), written by two playwrights who are not J.K. Rowling, based off of J.K. Rowling's beloved characters, and continuing a story so dear to my heart, my life would be incomplete without it, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was everything I wanted and more.
  Completely, honestly, totally, swear to the book Gods, J.K. Rowling, and all that is holy, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was what I needed in my life.
  It adds such a new depth to the story, I literally cannot think back to it without crying. (More than I did before.) I cannot read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban without crying. I cannot watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire without thinking "what could have been" and, yes, crying. I cannot think about that night at Godric's Hollow without wanting to find Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, grabbing them by their dress robes (everyone dresses like wizards in my mind) and sobbing, "WHY?"
  This eighth story sinks into your heart like the giant squid sinking into the Black Lake.
  There is one aspect of the book that throws me off, as it has with many others. (Again, no spoilers.) When I first finished the book, it unsettled me, because it gave me the gut-wrenching feeling of thinking perhaps this book would end up being a desperately-awaited disappointment. But after time, and the more I let the story settle in my brain, the more I realized that this is the Wizarding World. Not everything in the original seven books made sense when I first read them. Heck, I was a child. Of course they didn't make sense with the first read-through!
  That's why, after I finish rereading the first seven books for my third annual reread, I will reread Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I will sob like Moaning Myrtle.
  So yes, this book can come off as being disappointing to some. For me personally, I feel sorry for those who didn't take out of it what I took out of it. I am sorry that it wasn't what many fans were expecting, and they went into it with preconceived notions.
  For me, a fan of Harry Potter, the Wizarding World, and J.K. Rowling ever since my mom first read them to me when I was five (after she picked up book one at a Scholastic book fair), I am in love with the eighth story.
  If you haven't read the book yet, please keep my warnings above in mind as your start it. Please don't go into it prepared to read it like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Please enjoy it for what it is, and for what the Queen has bestowed upon her loyal servants- er, fans.
  If you have, and you didn't like it, I am sorry. Please consider rereading it after some time, and see if you can come to terms with Jo, John, and Jack's story for Harry as an adult. As someone who accepted it right off the bat, I promise it isn't that bad. After some time to digest Harry and Albus Severus' fate, it's quite a satisfying beginning to the next (hopefully) more peaceful generation at Hogwarts.
  If you have, and you loved it, I only have one thing to say to you; For Voldemort and Valor.



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Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett






  Before The Color of Magic, I had never read a book by Terry Pratchett. But thanks to a friend who suggested it as part of my Recommended Reads of 2016, I dove headfirst in to Mr Pratchett's work.
  Now, if you read the synopsis of The Color of Magic, it is very easy to become overwhelmed (especially if fantasy is not your forte). In short, there are four elephants on a giant turtle's back in space, and on this bizarre planetoid are many cities, provinces, and villages. This is the Discworld.
  As we start The Color of Magic, we (theoretically) zoom in on one of these villages, where we meet Rincewind the wizard, who was kicked out of the university of magic (long story), who has just met Twoflower, a tourist. I know, the plot is all over the place. But it is for a reason.
  A wonderful reason.
  This book, these books (because as I write this, I have already finished The Light Fantastic, book two in the Discworld series), are HILARIOUS. Rincewind and Twoflower become the most unlikely of friends, and travel far and wide across the Discworld. They come across many people, some dangerous, some kind, all funny in their own way, and all are trying to kill them.
  Packed full of adventures and witty British situations and one-liners, The Color of Magic makes excellent company for fantasy-lovers and non-lovers alike.
  I love this series so much. The friend who recommended this book to me may or may not read this post, but I'll risk some judgement in saying that I fully went into this book expecting to hate it. Not that I don't trust his taste in books, but as soon as I read the plot, I was incredibly skeptical and confused. (Which is not difficult to achieve.)
  I was wrong. I was so wrong, and now have 39 books on my "to buy" list. (The rest of the Discworld series.)



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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

End of Watch by Stephen King






  End of Watch, Stephen King's latest and last installment of the Bill Hodges/Mr. Mercedes trilogy, is the perfect ending to such an exciting and intense story.
  With Mr. Mercedes going one direction, and Finders Keepers (book two) going another, End of Watch ties the two together, and serves a perfect ending for our two main characters.
  I will be honest in saying that I feel as if End of Watch is missing the gripping action of the previous two books, which isn't a bad thing. This factor just distinguishes End of Watch from its two predecessors. This book has more narrative than dialogue, and more thinking than action, which has its reasons, for in End of Watch we learn more about Brady's previous, and unfortunately, current plans to wreak havoc.
  When I talk about my favorite Stephen King books to friends, I of course, mention the obvious. Doctor Sleep, 11/22/63, and Duma Key to name a few. I also say Mr. Mercedes, without hesitation. When I first fell in love with Bill Hodges, I was worried that his later books wouldn't satisfy as well as book one, but now that the series is over, I'm relieved to say that the entire trilogy has made it to my top favorite pieces of work by Mr. King. 


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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Finders Keepers by Stephen King






  The sequel to Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes is just as intense, just as remarkable, and just as unforgettable as its predecessor.
  Although it follows two very different stories from Bill Hodges' and Brady Hartsfield's, Finders Keepers opens our eyes to a world beyond what happened on that terrible day outside of the City Center, and intertwines two new factors to our story.
  When I say Stephen King is getting better with his work, I mean he is really getting better. These new(er) stories of Mr. King's will stick with you until the day you die.
  I catch myself referring back to the Bill Hodges (now) trilogy, and I think, "Oh that was a good book/series...that was a REALLY good book/series!" Stephen King is the master at horrifying his readers; if not by ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, by the twisted labyrinth of the human mind. What makes a serial killer tick. What makes a sick, twisted soul rub his (or her) hands together as he (or she) plots the perfect plan.
  He is a genius. A mad genius, and it shows in Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers.
  Finders Keepers may be my favorite of the trilogy, but it's hard to say, because it's hard to beat Bill and Brady's first book.
  It's odd. Mr. King is most famous for his older work, and after reading The Stand, I get it, but this trilogy is just undeniably addicting. Sickening, disturbing, horrible, and everything else awful that makes the Master of Horror himself, a New York Times Bestselling Author.
  


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Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay






  The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay uncovers the secret world of South Africa during the frantic tyranny of Hitler's reign, through a child's eyes. Suffering from the political and social strain of World War II, Peekay learns to grow up in a violent and terrifying world with no parental guidance, and no friends to lean on.
  But the stars begin to align for Peekay when he leaves the private school in which he was mercilessly bullied, to begin a new chapter of his life, and create the most unusual of friendships. From a young boxer, to a German doctor, to a beautiful school teacher, to an amateur banker, Peekay will live the lives of a thousand men, and learn the ways of the world as only a young pre-welterweight champion of the world can.
  I savored this book. I took my time with Peekay's story, and enjoyed every minute of it.
  The Power of One can be compared to eating beet greens. (It always comes back to food now, doesn't it?) At first they may look daunting, and even as you delve into them, you're unsure of whether you like them, or if you're just eating them because they're good for you, but in the end, they were satisfying, tasty, and you know you'll want them again. (If this analogy does not suit your taste, then either come over to my house and I'll make you good beet greens, or equate my analogy to something that's equal to beet greens.)
  Basically, this book was large, serious, and drier than your average fictional read, but boy was it good. You will come out of your reading experience of The Power of One more knowledgeable and more informed about what growing up was like on that side of the world during such dire times.
  Because I had my friends recommend books for me to read this year, I find myself learning more and more about parts of history I had never considered before. I've learned about communist China, and now South Africa in the 1930s to the 1950s. Call me naive, but until now, I had never given thought to what the world was like in South Africa during those times. I, like many others, have mostly learned the history of Germany, America, and a bit of England.
  The Power of One has opened my eyes, not only to a new part of the world, but to life lessons and powerful statements brought to me by Bryce Courtenay's colorful characters.



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Friday, July 15, 2016

The Human by Stephanie Erickson






  Splitting the narrative into two, The Human by Stephanie Erickson has the best factors of the previous two Children of Wisdom books; Penn and Michaela. (But I have to say, I am partial to Michaela.)
  Michaela is missing after her run-in with our villain, Penn is desperate to save the love of his life, and all hell is very close to breaking loose. Literally.
  It all comes to an end in Stephanie Erickson's latest installment of the Children of Wisdom trilogy, and it's quite possible that not everyone will make it out alive.
  Ms Erickson knows that when I read her first two Children of Wisdom books, The Fate and The Reaper, I highly and vocally favored the latter. I was worried that The Reaper would continue to stick in my head as "the best," and a part of me still feels as if it was the best of the series, but I have to say, The Human was VERY satisfying. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
  There were many things that worried me about the possible outcomes of this book, but without spoiling anything, none of them came true. I was very, very, very happy with the way this book ended, and now that I think back to it, I remember more and more things I loved about it.
  The Human was a fantastic way to end a beloved Stephanie Erickson series. In fact, this ending may even bypass my favorite series of Ms Erickson's, the Unseen trilogy.
  But who knows, perhaps I'll have to reread them one day to make a final decision.



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