Thursday, August 27, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling (1998)

In the second book of the Harry Potter series, it again starts off with a terrible disaster happening at the Dursleys, for which Harry of course gets the blame. This time, Dobby, the house-elf appears, and proceeds to ruin Uncle Vernon's important dinner party with a business client. Luckily Harry is saved by Ron in a flying car and whisked off to the Weasleys for the rest of the summer before school starts.

Harry and Ron somehow miss the Hogwarts Express train and decide to fly to Hogwarts in the car, where they end up crashing into the Whomping Willow and get in big trouble.

Trouble is brewing at Hogwarts as well: the new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, the vain and pompous Gilderoy Lockheart, and all the other staff, cannot prevent a series of attacks on students whereby they are petrified. Rumors abound, some blame Harry for the attacks, and word has it the mysterious Chamber of Secrets has been unlocked, unleashing the Heir of Slytherin upon the school. Of course, Harry, Ron and Hermione set out to unravel the mystery! Their plan includes Polyjuice Potion to turn into Malfoy's pals for a few hours and get information out of him, former student Tom Riddle's interactive diary, Hagrid's friend Aragog the giant spider and a clue from Moaning Myrtle in the girl's toilets.

In the end, Harry finds out much more about Voldemort, prevails in a wizarding battle, saves Ginny Weasley (and wins her heart!) and cleverly sets Dobby free from bondage to his master.

This and much much more takes place in the whirlwind second volume in the Harry Potter series - what a great read!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BBC Book List - how does your reading history stack up?

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 great books here... how do your reading habits stack up? I recently saw this and thought I would put it up, as a kind of wish list for future reading for myself! (x = have read or currently reading)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen x
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte x
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling x (currently reading!)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee x
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte x
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy x
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier x
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger x
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot x (just got this from the library!)
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald x
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck x
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x (LOVED these as a child!!!)
34 Emma-Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis x
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hossein
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne x
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell x
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez x
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery x
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding x (re-read this recently)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan x
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert x (ages ago when I loved sci-fi in high school!)
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen x
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon x (read part of this)
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley x
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck x
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt x
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett x (re-read this recently, great children's book)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola x (French major in college!)
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert x (see 78)
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White x
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albomx
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery x
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams x
95 A Confederacy of Dunces- John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl x
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

How did I do? 34 that I am sure I read, I am not so sure about some of them, especially which Jane Austen novels I have read. Some of them I know I will most likely never read, but it does inspire me to look for some of the others!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Harry Potter Challenge: Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone (1997)

I still remember my mom telling me about this great children's book she had heard about and how I should get it for my boys. So I got ahold of it somehow, and started reading it aloud to my oldest. He loved it! And by the time the second one came out, he was hooked and able to read on his own. I credit the Harry Potter series to my oldest son's love of reading, and his proficiency in reading in English.

So for me, re-reading Philospher's Stone was very nostalgic. I love the feeling of how new everything is for Harry and the wonder of finally discovering a place where he really feels he belongs, after all the mistreatment he has received at the Dursleys. The affection he gets from Hagrid, his new friendships with Ron and Hermione, his search for knowledge about his parents, make this in fact, a romantic story.

And then of course, there is all the adventure, mystery and danger... but with the satisfying wind up at the end of the year banquet, where everything seems to work out in the end. Totally appropriate for ten year old readers. What I think is brilliant about J.K. Rowling's plan for the books is how they get progressively longer, darker, and more grown up, right along with Harry himself and his friends...and the readers themselves.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trans-Sister Radio, by Chris Bohjalian (2000)

I loved "Midwives", I loved "Buffalo Soliders", both by Chris Bohjalian, but when I saw this one in the library I wasn't sure... the story is about a 40 something divorced school teacher who meets this film professor, starts dating him, falls in love - and then he tells her he is scheduled to have sex change surgery in a few months. What would you do? Would your life fall apart?

Well, that is exactly what happens to Allie in this book, as well as to her boyfriend, her ex-husband, and the town she lives in. The only person who seems to be able to deal with the fall out is her daughter, a freshman in college. Chris Bohjalian manages to write about this rather delicate topic in a way that doesn't make you see the main characters as players in a vaudville, they are real people and as a reader you manage to get past the raw details of their lives and see the bigger picture. I could not put it down, and finished it late at night the same day I started it!

I saw the twist at the end coming, but it makes for a fitting way to end the story, even if it is just a tiny bit implausible.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I won!

I am so excited - I actually won a book, The Constant Princess, over at - she has some great giveaways on her blog. I am really looking forward to reading this book, as it is a historical novel about the Spanish Princess Catalina, who married into the British royal family. I will certainly post a report about it here when done

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant (2005)

Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent" is one of my all-time favorite books. So when I saw "The Last Days of Dogtown" in the bargain section at Half Price Books a few years ago, I grabbed it. It took me a long time to get to, however, and it rested in my pile of "to be read" books. Finally this summer it got its chance!

The story is about a real village called Dogtown, situated on a desolated and rocky pennisula on Cape Ann, off the coast north of Boston. Based on actual history, the story follows the last inhabitants of Dogtown as they slowly die or move elsewhere with their lives, the great majority of them women who were outcasts of "normal" society. Their stories are gracefully interwoven in this novel, and the cast of characters grows on you until at the end, you are sorry to leave them behind but satisfied to know their various destinations.

Most moving to me was the story of the relationship between Judy Rhines, independent and lonely spinster, and the freed slave, Cornelius Finson, which is spun bit by bith through the entire book. Additionally, I loved the sense of community and caring (aside from a few individuals) that develops between the group of outcasts and how they help each other survive with dignity.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Harry Potter Book Reading Challenge

This is so seredipitous! My son has read all the Harry Potter books, many times over, and we have always gone to see the movies right when they come out. I always planned to read the books myself, but kept putting it off. A few weeks ago, after seeing the movie for #6, I finally decided to get started on the books – I realize there is so much that you miss when you haven’t read the books and I decided I want to see the last movie being totally “in the know”. So now I am busy with the second one, and recently discovered a reading challenge over on GalleySmith that fits me like a glove! Anyone else up for it?