Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Bingo / Book Club / Halloween: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

(American cover; picture taken from Goodreads)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling is the first in a series about an orphaned boy who has lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousin since he was one-year-old. On his eleventh birthday, Harry finds out he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by a very powerful, dark wizard who then tried to kill him and was somehow struck down. Harry receives an acceptance letter to a wizarding school called Hogwarts, and so begins one of the best and most well-known children's fantasy series of all time.

(British cover; picture taken from Goodreads)

Memory: I don't remember my exact first impression of this book, since it was 1998 or '99 when I first read So, I'll have to tell you what I do remember. I had heard the hype about the Harry Potter books and specifically avoided reading them because I didn't usually enjoy books that were really popular with other kids my age. The second or third book had recently come out. I was at a bookstore in Springfield, Missouri, and my cousin was visiting us from Minnesota. She kept trying to convince me to read the series and I would turn her down, until finally, she pushed me into a wooden chair and told me to read the first two chapters of the first book. She said she was going to watch me and keep pushing me back down until I at least gave it a chance, so I agreed to her two-chapter stipulation. After a few pages, I was intrigued but still convinced that I would put it down after two chapters. After two chapters, I was completely absorbed. After about twenty minutes, I was in love with Hogwarts, and my cousin ran off to a different part of the store to look at something else. After about an hour, my mom came to get me to leave, and I convinced her to buy me the book. And the rest is history!

Conclusion: As always, this book is amazing. Even if nostalgia was not a factor, I would still be captivated by Hogwarts and Rowling's magical Britain! There's not a lot to say except one must always experience Harry Potter for oneself. It's not important who your favorite character is or in which house you belong at Hogwarts--we are all united somehow by our individual and completely different experiences with this series. It was nice to read the first book again.

(newer cover; picture taken from Goodreads)

Recommendation: This is a great book for people who like fantasy and/or coming-of-age stories. There's some middle grade adventure in there, too--the never-ending battle of good versus evil!

I decided to count this toward my Book Bingo goal since I still have a spot where it would fit. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is my ninth Series pick for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. My favorite cover is the older American version, I think, although all of them are pretty neat. Which is your favorite? Do you have any good Harry Potter-related memories to share? I'd love to hear them! Comment below! And don't forget to subscribe and stay posted for more reviews! Happy Halloween!

Book Bingo / Audio / Halloween: Iced

Iced by Karen Marie Moning is the first book in the Dani O'Malley Trilogy, a spin-off of the Fever series. I haven't read any of the other books in the series, so my review only refers to this one book. Dani "Mega" O'Malley is a fourteen-year-old girl who can move in fast mode and kill dangerous Unseelie creatures with her sword of light. The setting is Dublin, Ireland AWC (After the Wall Crash between Faery and the human world). Dani finds herself constantly in motion trying to kill Unseelie, protect her fellow humans and keep them informed on the dangers around them, and avoid the ever-growing number of adults monitoring her and trying to set ground rules for her to follow. Needless to say, it's quite a trick, and things get even more complicated when an unknown creature comes out of nowhere and starts covering parts of Dublin in ice that explodes rather than thawing.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: I haven't read any other books by this author, but I picked this up at a sale a while back, and it's just been sitting on my shelf. The first couple of chapters are really confusing because this book begins a spin-off of another series. I can't decide how I feel about Dani. On one hand, I think her motivations are good, and she has a lot of handy capabilities. On the other hand, she's a bit annoying and selfish, and her abilities are dwarfed by a couple of guys not very far into the book, which makes them less amazing in comparison. I question Moning's decision to make Dani fourteen-years-old--or to have a fourteen-year-old main character in an adult book. I know this was a character from the main series, but sixteen- or seventeen-years-old might have been more appropriate. Maybe her intention was to make Dani more hormonal and reckless? Ryodan is something of a mystery. Is he a vampire? Elf? Goblin? Who knows? And what are his intentions and motivations? Christian seems like an obvious romantic interest: good guy trapped in a bad situation, not much older than Dani...but I have to admit, I like Dancer best so far if she's going to pick a guy.

Conclusion: It's really hard to review this book, because my opinions are so split about different characters and events. I mostly like the world Moning has created--Dublin AWC. It seems somewhat believable, what with Unseelie flooding the human world with lots of other creatures and the Seelie staying away most of the time. You have a lot of people staying at home while others flock to clubs or religious organizations to find comfort and warmth. There are some characters that I love, like Dancer and even Christian to some extent. Then there are characters like Ryodan. I think he's supposed to be attractive in a powerful and controlling way, but I kept seeing a flashing EXIT sign out of the corner of my eye when he'd show up. Get away from the abusive, somewhat psychotic killer! The ending is believable and probably perfect for the story, but the last chapter kind of tainted my view of the book by its boring and unnecessary existence. Also, what's with all the sex? Moning constantly has her characters talking about sex, and it has almost nothing to do with the storyline! I've ever seen something so prevalent that was so unnecessary to a story in my life! Oh well. I'll probably read the next one so I know what happens...or possibly go back and read the main series where Mac is the main character, because Dani is pretty annoying.

Audio: Natalie Ross has a good voice for Dani, although it's pretty obvious that she's older than the character. She does well at changing her voice for different female characters as well. Sometimes her voice for Kat was so low-key it almost put me to sleep--that's my only complaint. Phil Gigante did a pretty amazing job changing his voice for each male character--I would have never guessed that it was the same person speaking for all of the guys! Great performance all around.

Recommendation: If you like modern stories of the fae in an urban setting, this is probably a good story for you. Or if you like books where the main character is a self-centered teenager with superpowers. Not why I read it, but you never know. There is a lot of talk about sex (without actual explicit scenes) and a fair amount of cursing, so don't read it if that bothers you.

Iced is my Fantasy choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Since it's kind of a dark fantasy, I thought it appropriate to review for my Halloween celebration. Wish I could have done more celebrating with you guys, though! Next year I'll go all out and have blog parties and giveaways and stuff! It will be fun!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spooky Classics

To continue my celebration of everything Halloween, I've been checking out the various covers available on classics that are known for being scary/spooky! Here are a few for you to check out (pictures taken from AbeBooks)!:

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Creature from the Black Lagoon by Vargo Statten (pseudonym for John Russell Fearn)

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

I hope you enjoyed these! My reading this month has been slower going than I expected, but I'll have something else for you soon (at least a couple of posts before Halloween, I promise)!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Somewhat Literary Halloween Prep.

Okay, normally around this time of year, I'm aware that Halloween is coming. I plan costumes for my family, and we carve a jack-o-lantern, and there's some sort of activity to plan for at work (usually a scavenger hunt or murder mystery, as well as a kids' Lego-building competition). But the changing season always overshadows the holiday for me. Not this year! Within the last couple of weeks, Gabe has decided that Halloween is going to be the greatest event of all time. And he's swept me up in his enthusiasm! A friend of ours gave us a pumpkin from her garden the other day, and this was his face when he saw it:

How can I resist that face? He also painted a jack-o-lantern-shaped treat bowl for handing out candy, insisting on using yellow and red individually but not orange:

So, I'm going all out for Halloween! Not with the costumes...I may or may not dress-up this year...but we're going to paint and carve pumpkins, bake jack-o-lantern cookies, and (most of all) read up a storm! I'm already reading a few fantasy books right now, but they're not necessarily scary or even suspenseful. I also started The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells and Dracula by Bram Stoker to throw in some classics love! Hopefully I'll finish a couple of books to review for you while Halloween spirits are high. Meanwhile, here are a few Halloween-related literary finds for your perusal and enjoyment:

Frankenstein, MD is a modern, vlogger interpretation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. (I just recently started watching this, so my comments aren't on the complete show.) It's pretty good, although everything happens a little faster than I expected. Maybe that's because the book itself is kind of short? Or possibly because I'm only used to seeing Austen stories reproduced in this form. Speaking of which, it's put out by Pemberley Digital--the same group that brought us The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Welcome to Sanditon, and Emma Approved, so it can't be bad, right? The actors are perfect for their characters, and I can't wait to see how they end the story!

Ollie's Halloween by Olivier Dunrea is Gabe's favorite book right now. Five goslings (Gossie, Gertie, Peedie, BooBoo, and Ollie) go trick-or-treating, "prowling" through pumpkin patches, and "stalking" through cornfields. They are enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday while collecting treats, but Ollie keeps a treat-less distance from the others, pondering Halloween decorations. By the end of the story, Ollie's friends invite him to share their treats, and everyone's having a great time. As always, the author's illustrations are great fun and the coloring is very pretty. Dunrea's Gossie & Friends series is just adorable, and I never get tired of reading these sweet books about the little group of gosling friends.

Check out these Halloween-themed dust jackets for your books! Diane of SouthHouseBoutique and Jill of ForStrangeWomen developed these clever covers. Just in case you want to use your personal library to help you decorate--this is a fun, inexpensive way to do so (without any damage to the books, I might add!).

I hope you enjoy my finds! There will be more to come, as well as book reviews, of course!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Bingo / Truman Award: The False Prince

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen is a Truman Award Nominee for the 2014-15 school year. It is the first book in The Ascendance Trilogy. Sage is an orphan in Carthya who gets by on his wit and quick pickpocketing skills. When Conner, a nobleman with questionable practices and motives, pays the orphanage for Sage, the boy tries to fight back and get away. He quickly discovers that Conner won't let him go that easily. The royal family of Carthya has been murdered, and Sage (or one of three other orphans Conner picks up) will be the nobleman's ticket to restoring their country and gaining power. All they have to do is convince everyone at court that one of them is Carthya's lost prince, Jaron. And so the action and intrigue begin!
(jacket art by Tim O'Brien;
jacket design by Christopher Stengel;
picture taken from Goodreads)

First Impression: I'm curious how this will all play out. I kind of assume at this point that Sage will win if the two-week competition for Conner plays out, but I'm not sure what will happen to the other boys. I like that even though the boys have had hardships, they still have some childlike qualities--shock at Conner's violence, for instance, and not being able to see their charade as an act of patriotism as the adults do. Imogen will obviously play a bigger role at some point, although I can't tell what. Not sure if it will be romantic or not. And I'm curious what Sage will do. That's my main motivator to read at this point, honestly. He seems to really hate the idea of pretending to be something he's not. Conner does not seem like a kind or merciful person, and his motives and future actions are predictable. Mott, Conner's right-hand man, is a bit of a curiosity. Maybe he'll stick with Sage later on? I'm excited to see how this plays out. I thought it would be a fantasy rather than historical fiction (in a land that isn't on a real map, but still), but it's actually more creative and unique this way.

I couldn't find a way to share the book trailer I found directly in my post, but here's the link!:

Conclusion: Boy, can Jennifer Nielsen keep a secret! This book has a crazy twist about 3/4 of the way in. I had a couple of suspicions about the secret earlier in the book but dismissed them and assumed I was being too suspicious. This book is just well-written middle reader fiction all the way around, so hurray for Nielsen! I will definitely be continuing this series--I'd like to know how the author chooses to continue the story and what happens to all of my favorite characters!

Recommendation: Readers ages 10 and up (including adults) who enjoy sassy characters, adventure, suspense, and a little intrigue. There are a few brutal moments, so I'd recommend not reading it if you're especially sympathetic to characters' physical pain. Also, Nielsen's writing style has a distinct fantasy feel to it even though the story is fiction. It's hard to explain, but you're more likely to enjoy the story if you like fantasy books.

I'm using this book as my eighth "Series" choice for the 2014 Book Bingo Challenge. Those have been the easiest ones for me to knock-out this year! I haven't made as much progress on my award nominee readings, but I'll have to give you an update on that later. Thanks for reading! Don't forget to subscribe, and check back soon for something fun and a little different!