Current Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

imageThis week, I’m re-reading a book I read almost 16 years ago: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s J.K. Rowling’s’ first book in the Harry Potter series, and a game changer in the world of literature. I’d like to re-read the entire series, but we’ll see how that goes!

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last eighteen years, here’s what Goodreads has to say about the book:

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. (Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard! The first book in the “Harry Potter” series makes the perfect introduction to the world of Hogwarts.

The first time I read this book, I was skeptical. Why would I be interested in a book about a boy magician? Why would that interest me? It was a different reading experience because I didn’t have any movies to shape my perceptions of the characters or world, and I didn’t know how to pronounce the name “Hermione.” Needless to say, it’s very different to read this book a second time around. I not only know how the book ends, but I know how the series ends, and I can’t help but to see Daniel Radcliffe as Harry.

This time around, I’m struck by how flawlessly Rowling created her wizarding world. Everything is so well thought out, yet there is never an info dump. Everything a reader needs to know is seamlessly integrated into the text. We learn about this amazing world right along with Harry. Around 300 pages long, the book is well-crafted, but easy to read and understand. It is not as dark and sinister as the movies make it out to be, but I think the danger and intrigue increases as the series goes on and the books become longer and more complex.

However, the ending of the book is sort of silly if you start to think about it too much. CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD! Let’s be real here. Voldemort is a powerful dark wizard, and while he might not have much physical strength in this book, he does have power over his followers, like Professor Quirrell. If he’d wanted Harry dead, he could have done it. Apparently, Quirrell can’t kill Harry in the final scene because it’s too painful to touch him…but why didn’t he use his wand?! He should know plenty of curses – after all, he teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts! Quirrell attempts to knock Harry from his broom during a quidditch match, but that’s the ONLY attempt on his life all school year. I guess Voldemort didn’t realize what a hinderance Harry would be to his comeback. Also, why didn’t Quirrell wait to go get the stone until after the students had left the school? They would have been gone in just a few days, and then there wouldn’t have been any interference. Oh well, this is the suspension of disbelief we as readers must endure at times. For Harry and J.K Rowling, I guess I’ll let it slide!

Have you re-read the Harry Potter series? What did you notice the second time around?

I’ll Give You the Sun: A Dream Cast

imageJandy Nelson’s Young Adult novel I’ll Give You the Sun is just the sort of book that would be great as a movie. It offers both a male and female teenage lead, a cute British love interest, an eccentric mother, a grumpy tortured artist, a ghost grandma, plus a whole lot of teen angst and drama. Read this post to hear me gush about the novel some more. Hollywood is already buzzing about this movie. As of yet, a Gossip Girl writer and two producers from If I Stay are signed on to the project.

In summary, the novel focuses on twins Noah and Jude as they navigate their early teenage years dealing with sexuality, sex, love, their futures, and their parents’ possible divorce. Jude is beautiful and popular. She’s daring and can surf as well as any of the boys. She fights with her mother about how she dresses and parties, yet strives for her mother’s love and attention. Noah is the weird one. He is a loner and sees the world as works of art. He wants to attend a prestigious arts school. He is also questioning his sexuality, which has him worried because he thinks his macho, sports-loving dad won’t understand. An unexpected turn of events throws their world into turmoil. Suddenly, Jude is the loner, trapped in her guilt and grief, while Noah becomes the daring, social butterfly and stops painting. Can a ghost grandma, tortured artist, and British bad boy get the twins back on track with their lives?

casting_GiveUtheSun

Would you go see this film?

~ Visit the Dream Cast page to see more of my book to film casting ideas.

Recent Read Haikus

Gah! I’m failing at posting!

All I’ve got to show for the past two months is a pile of half-written drafts. I’ve read so many books since my last blog post and I haven’t shared anything about them. In an effort to catch up, I’ve decided to write haikus for each of my recent reads. I hope it won’t be quite so long before you hear from me again. Enjoy!

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What books have you read recently? Care to share a bit about it in the form of a haiku?! I’d love to hear it in the comment section.

Baby’s Book of the Week: I Like it When…/Me gusta cuando…

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The last three nights, my baby has been obsessed with Mary Murphy’s bilingual book I Like it When…/Me gusta cuando… My husband was born and raised in Mexico, so it’s very important to us that our daughter learns Spanish. We have several books that are in Spanish or have both English and Spanish translations. We like this book because Mommy can read the English parts and then Daddy reads the Spanish parts. I Like it When… had been part of Baby’s bedtime routine for a long time, but there is a renewed interest in it this week. As soon as I read the last page, Baby says, “ma ma,” short for “mas” (which means “more” in Spanish). I’m not even exaggerating when I say I read it eight times in a row last night! Baby giggled each time I started reading the first page again – which, of course, makes it all worthwhile.

imageI Like it When…/Me gusta cuando… is a board book featuring illustrations of a big and little penguin. The illustrations are lively and bold – only the colors red, blue, green, yellow, black, and white are used. The little penguin lists things he or she likes doing throughout the day with the big penguin. These are things like dancing together, reading stories, eating new foods, holding hands, and saying good night. Since this is the bilingual version, each page is translated into Spanish as well. “I like it when we play peekaboo. Boo! Me gusta cuando jugamos al escondite. Bu!” It’s a simple book, but an instant favorite.

Other Spanish/bilingual Books Baby Loves:

  • Opuestos and Buenas Noches a Todos by Sandra Boynton. These translations of Opposites and The Going to Bed Book are must-haves at our house.
  • I Love My Daddy Because/Quiero a mi papa Porque by Laurel Porter-Gaylord, illustrated by Ashley Wolff. This book features great illustrations of baby animals interacting with their daddies in the wild. image

Current Read: The Kingdom of Little Wounds

imageMe, a week and a half ago: Hm, this book sounds like something I would love. It’s a mix of historical fiction, fairytale, and mystery. Oh, and it’s a 2014 Printz award nominee? It must have great writing.

Me, days later: Ugh, this book is going nowhere…and gross, did I really just read that? Didn’t it say this was Young Adult? Yikes. I’m not sure this book is for me.

I really wanted to like The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. The blurb was great. Or rather, the blurb was the best part about it. Here, read about the book first, and then I’ll tell you why it missed the mark for me.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.image

Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem—and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

I’m struggling to get through this book. I have considered abandoning it on several occasions, but then I think, if I just read a bit further, maybe it will get better. I’m now 48% of the way though and the book hasn’t gotten any better. Here are a few issues I have with the book:

  1. It’s labeled YA, but it shouldn’t be. Even though I’m not a teenager and am technically mature enough to handle the content of this book, I was still surprised at the sexually graphic scenes included. I would not want my child reading this book and can only imagine the phone calls from concerned parents if I were to use this book in the classroom. I’m all for celebrating everyone’s freedom to read and understand some teens wouldn’t have a problem with this book, but I also believe in age-appropriate content. This book feels very adult.
  2. There are too many points of view. The book changes narrators in each chapter, but I don’t know who the protagonist is, or who I’m supposed to care about. There is a king who spends a lot of time on the toilet, a servant who lies to get herself ahead, a mute servant who is treated like she’s less than human, and two ambitious courtiers who are trying to gain power (one of whom stores gems inside his royal jewels, if you know what I mean). No one is very “likable.” They seem petty and self-serving instead of complex and interesting. The POV is odd, too, because it’s not really first person. It’s like first person, but then an omniscient presence creeps in every so often and tells us things that the character wouldn’t know. This feels like a mistake to me. Like an editor should have told the author that the point of view needs more consistency.
  3. The plot drags on with very little action. I feel like I’ve been reading and reading and nothing is happening (I’ve already spent over a week on it). The story is getting more and more depressing at this point. If something interesting doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to give up on this book.

What do you think, should I keep reading to find out why this book was a Printz nominee, or simply give up?

Current Read: The First Five Pages

imageOnce you’ve written the rough draft of a novel, it’s hard to figure out what to do next. It’s a ROUGH draft, after all. It’s a long way from a finished product. How are you supposed to go about refining it? I’ve searched on the web for editing and revising advice and techniques, but I still felt lost. During a recent trip the library though, I came across a book that finally seemed useful to me. The book is called The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, written by Noah Lukeman.

Back of the Book Blurb:

Whether you are a novice writer or a veteran who has already had your work published, rejection is often a frustrating reality. Literary agents and editors receive and reject hundreds of manuscripts each month. While it’s the job of these publishing professionals to be discriminating, it’s the job of the writer to produce a manuscript that immediately stands out among the vast competition. And those outstanding qualities, says New York literary agent Noah Lukeman, have to be apparent from the first five pages.image

The First Five Pages reveals the necessary elements of good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or poetry, and points out errors to be avoided, such as a weak opening hook, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, flat or forced metaphors or similes, melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue, undeveloped characterizations and lifeless settings, uneven pacing and lack of progression.

With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher–and more successful–level.

If you’re looking for a book that helps you plot, plan, and write a novel, this book isn’t for you! This book is more about how to strengthen your writing once you’ve put in the hard work. Even though I don’t plan on submitting my novel to an agent or publisher (I know my work isn’t strong enough), I still want to complete it to the best of my abilities. I like this book because I’m able to focus on topics where I want to improve but skim through other sections that I feel more confident about. For instance, I know that writers need to stick to a consistent point of view and narrative style, but I have a bad habit of using too many adverbs in my writing. I’m over two-thirds of the way through the 200 page book, and I’ve already flagged several exercises and tips that I want to apply to my own novel. I need to fix my overuse of adverbs and adjectives, and choose interesting, specific words and active verbs. So if you’ve got a novel manuscript sitting around and you can’t figure out how to refine it, this just might be the next book you need to pick up.

Do you have any books (or websites) on editing and revising that you would recommend?

Current Read: I’ll Give You The Sun

imageFinally! Here’s a book I’m really excited to share with you: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It’s Young Adult fiction and pretty spectacular. Despite the fact that the book has several ridiculous coincidences, talking ghosts, and a cliche British bad boy, this book still manages to feel real and honest.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.image

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

For me, the realness and honesty comes from the fact that our main characters and narrators, Jude and Noah, are dealing with true dilemmas: What does it mean to be that girl? Is it rape if I never said no? How do I handle guilt and grief? How do you continue on when you lose someone you love, but you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye? Will my family and friends still love me if I’m gay? Am I special or just weird? What if my parents get a divorce? Do my parents love my sibling more than me? These are relatable issues that teens (and even adults) can empathize with and learn from. This is exactly the kind of book today’s youth needs.

Jude and Noah were very real to me. They were more than words on a page. While at first I was drawn to Noah, Jude quickly won me over once I found out more of her story. The long chapters alternated between Jude and Noah’s point of view, and also from different ages. This allowed the author to reveal the different things each twin knew (or didn’t know) at the time. I found Nelson’s writing easy to read. It had moments of poignancy – like when you find out how the title of the book comes into play – as well as humor, suspense, and even a little romance. I highly recommend this novel and am looking forward to reading more works by Jandy Nelson in the future.

What are you currently reading?