Five Star Books of 2016

fivestarbooksof2016Once again, I was pretty tough on the books I read this year. While I read many books that were good, good wasn’t enough to earn a coveted five star rating! Like I said last year, I reserve the five star rating on Goodreads for books I truly loved. Books that hooked me and I couldn’t put down. Books I had a connection with, characters I loved or enjoyed, and plots that were unexpected. These are books I’d read again. These are books I’d recommend to others (and then feel heartbroken if that person didn’t love the book as much as I did). This year, I marked nine books (out of 61 total) worthy of five stars. It’s interesting to note that two of the books were ones that I read over Christmas break – I was lucky to finish the year with such great books. I plan to write more about Reconstructing Amelia and Three Dark Crowns later. For now, just consider adding them to your TBR list! 

  1. Most of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  4. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
  5. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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Honorable Mentions:

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  

What were your most favorite reads of 2016?

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Voldemort Likes My Hair

voldemortmyhairI’m in what feels like a theater, as there are rows of chairs where various people (and other magical beings) are seated, when suddenly, Voldemort enters the room. He floats up and down each row along with some sort of creature that can find missing people, searching for Harry Potter. It’s terrifying to be in the same room as him, but I can’t run away because that will draw his attention to me. And he mustn’t know that I’m Harry Potter in disguise! Yes, Harry Potter is disguised as me!

This is the dream I had the other night as I was finishing up the final book in the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Apparently I’ve been spending too much time in the wizarding world this summer as I re-read the series! It has managed to creep into my dreams. The dream didn’t end there either – instead, it got even weirder…

I try to stay calm – which is difficult when the snake-like face of Voldemort is nearby – but I’m confident that my disguise will keep me safe. How could he think a 30 year old woman would be Harry Potter? Unfortunately, Voldemort stops when he gets to me and starts running his long, thin, grey fingers through my hair. He brings a handful of my hair to his creepy, slit-shaped nostrils and inhales. He is surprisingly gentle with my hair. He says something like, “You have good hair.” While I’m relieved – and weirded out – by this turn of events, I’m still on edge because I’m still Harry Potter in disguise! What if he takes me just because he likes my hair? Then he’ll really have Harry!

Then my alarm went off and that’s where the dream ended. What did we learn from this? Either that Voldemort may have some weird hair fetish, or that you shouldn’t stay up until all hours of the night reading, even if it is Harry Potter!

I had been wanting to re-read the series for a long time, but always thought it was too much to take on. I have the hardcover versions of most of the books and they are huge and intimidating. Also, there are so many other books to read, so why would I read a seven book series again? And perhaps the scariest thought, what if they weren’t as good as they were the first time around? Pushing these worries aside, I jumped into the series (ebook version this time) and enjoyed every minute of it.

First, I’m pleased to report that the books were still just as magical and wonderful as I remembered. It amazes me every time I start thinking about how J.K. Rowling put together these books. How did she make everything fit together so well? How did she create such a believable and incredible world? How did she craft characters that we would care about for years? For real. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, Luna, Neville, Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore, all the Weasley’s, Lupin, Sirius, Snape. I don’t think there is a cast of characters that I love more. Second, the books were not that big of an undertaking. I read all seven books (plus five other novels while I waited for the books to become available through the Overdrive app) in less than three months. The books read quickly, perhaps because they are technically children’s books, but also because they are so wonderful that you want to find out what happens next.

If you’ve never read the Harry Potter series (*gasp* how is that possible?!), or you’ve been wanting to re-read them but you just haven’t found the time, I encourage you to pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and get reading. You won’t be disappointed.

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?

Books I’d like to Re-read

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It’s rare for me to go back and read a book again. After all, there are SO MANY books to read! But I haven’t been in love with my reads lately, so I’ve been considering a re-read. These are a few that have been on my mind…

  1. Allegiant: I was pretty harsh on the novel after my initial reading. I’m wondering if I would still feel as strongly about it after a re-read, and I’m curious to know if it was really as bad as I thought it was.
  2. The entire Harry Potter series: I loved each and every book the first time around, but it’s been many years since I read them. Can you believe It has been eight years since the final book came out? I’ve seen all the movies, of course, but I know they left out a lot of details.
  3. Graceling: I really enjoyed this book and the world the author created. I want to go back to that world again, as well as Katsa and Po’s unique relationship. If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it.
  4. Cress: The final installment of The Lunar Chronicles just came out this week. I haven’t purchased the book yet because I’m afraid I’ve forgotten where the story left off. A refresher would be nice before reading Winter.
  5. The Bronze Horseman: The history. The romance. Tatiana and Alexander. Simply, I loved this novel and I’d love to revisit it.

What books would you’re-read if you had the time and opportunity?

Childhood Reads

childhood_readsI have been working at a tutoring center for about six months, and I’m constantly amazed at how our brains work. How do we ever learn to speak? And to read? And why is it so easy for some people and a challenge for others? Somehow we learn that vowels make long sounds and short sounds. When put in different combinations with consonants, there are different patterns and rules for pronouncing words. Did I really understand that if an “e” is at the end of a four letter word with the CVCV pattern, than the first vowel becomes a long vowel? I barely understand it now, so how did I know that when I was five years old?! It’s pretty extraordinary what we’re capable of learning. I decided to sit down and take a look at my own reading development.

Looking back, I know that my parents were instrumental in my education. We had books at our house and I know that my mom read to me on our tan-colored, corduroy sofa (she even did voices). I have a Raggedy Ann & Andy book with the corner chewed off because this was apparently my favorite book as a toddler! We had a copy of the classic Pat the Bunny, board books, and picture books. I also had plenty of relatives who were book lovers, so I was frequently gifted books and encouraged to read. In kindergarten, I recall taking home the plastic bags with handles that held books inside them. By the time I was in first grade, I knew that I was a good reader. I remember being in the high-level reading group in school—I’m sure the teacher played this off as randomly selected groups, but we knew we were the strongest readers in the class.

My next reading memory comes a few years later. In fourth grade, our class did a Laura Ingalls Wilder unit. The class was going to read the first book in the Little House on the Prairie series, Little House in the Big Woods, but I had already read the entire nine-book collection of novels. This meant I went on to read The Rocky Ridge Years books, which continue to follow Laura, Almanzo, and their daughter Rose. Christmas and birthday gifts often consisted of gift cards to bookstores. Visiting Barnes & Noble was a special treat for me, and my parents always let me pick out a book or two when we were in a town with a B&N. We also frequently utilized our local library, where I checked out lots of Nancy Drew books. I still have my first library card where my mom wrote my name on the back since I was so little.

After thinking about my reading history a bit more, I decided to create a list of books that were important in my life and growth as a reader from the time I was in elementary school all the way up through college. I tried my best to select the ages I read certain books, although my memories of reading in elementary school are a bit hazy.

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Now I pose the question to you: How did you learn to read? What books, authors, and series were instrumental in your growth as a person and reader? Can you relate to the list of books I compiled?

Entry #18 – Literary Best Friend:

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Entry #18 – Literary best friend:  If you could choose any character for a bestie, who would it be? Feel free to expand on why – share a relevant quote, list attributes, whatever floats your boat. Or just give a name, it’s entirely up to you!

At my bachelorette party three years ago, my sister told me my friends were weird.  Not in the sense that they were strange people, but in the sense that this group of girls wouldn’t typically hang out together.  I’ve always had an eclectic group of friends—sort of like a different group of friends for the different activities that I enjoy.  There were my high school friends for doing crazy things like dressing up one another in goofy outfits at Walmart, there were my quiet college roommates who enjoyed watching Grey’s Anatomy every Thursday night, and there were my dance team friends who were always up for a good time and loved dancing just as much as I did.  I could shift between these groups of friends and do all the things I wanted to do.  So when it comes to choosing a best friend from a book, I came up with an eclectic group of characters.

Here are some characters I’ve picked as possible besties, and the qualities I admire them for:

  • Katniss, Katsa, Tris, Cassia: brave, strong, adventurous, rebellious, risk takers
  • Nancy Drew: logical, intelligent…and drives a cool convertible!
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants girls: accept & celebrate one another’s differences
  • Harry, Ron, Hermione from Harry Potter: brave, adventurous, rebellious, magical, loyal
  • Ponyboy & Cherry from The Outsiders: honest, loyal to their friends
  • Benvolio from Romeo & Juliet: good listener, thoughtful decision maker (unlike that Romeo guy!)
  • Bitterblue from Bitterblue: homebody who craves adventure, learns to be a better leader
  • Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries: relatable, normal teen girl (klutzy & awkward like me!)

Who would you choose as a literary best friend? 

Entry #12 – Didn’t want to read…but loved it:

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Entry #12 – Didn’t want to read…but loved it:  Everyone said this book was great but you weren’t interested, or perhaps it was a gift, or a free book—despite your lack of interest at the beginning, it turned out surprisingly well.

Back in the day, I was hesitant to read J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  “Who cares about wizards?” I thought, “And magic?  I don’t read stuff like that!”  But one night I found myself without a book to read and found Harry sitting on a shelf in my little sister’s room, unread.  It was a paperback version of the book, so I’m figuring it was the year 1999 or possibly 2000, which means I was thirteen years old.  I gave the book a shot.  And duh-dun-nuh-na!—surprise, surprise—I loved it!  Suddenly, I cared about wizards and magic!  I was hooked and read each and every book when it came out; eagerly anticipating what adventures would be next for Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the gang.  They were some of the biggest books I had ever read and there was a sense of pride in finishing them.  I don’t know how Rowling created this wizarding world that seems so vivid and believable.  She captured a generation of readers, and I’m glad to say that I was a part of it. 

What are some books that you were cautious to try, but ended up loving?  Anything you’d recommend?