Saturday, April 1, 2017

March 2017 Bookshelf

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Hogwarts Library)
by J.K. Rowling, Emma Nicholson (Afterword), Hermoine Granger (Translator), Albus Dumbledore (Commentary)
111 pages

The muggles have their fairy tales and the world of magic has theirs. These tales, first recorded by Beedle the Bard, give insight into the lives of the magical world. Hermoine re-wrote them in an updated translation and Professor Dumbledore's personal notes about each tale were found among his things after his demise. This edition is the result of Hermoine's updated translation and Dumbledore's commentary.
Each story in the book contains a lesson to be learned - not just for the witches and wizards but for the muggles as well.
A fun, short book that is a great accompaniment to the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter.





Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2
by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne (Adaptation), J.K. Rowling
309 pages

Because the world, including myself, can't get enough of Harry Potter. The curiosity of Harry as a father, a husband, and working a "normal" job. Is he still special or now that Voldemort is dead is he just like everyone else? This is not a novel, it's a short story that Rowling wrote and has been adapted into a stage production.
We meet Harry and Ginny and their three children as the two boys, Jack and Albus, are boarding the Hogswart Express for the new school year. It's Albus' first year, along with his cousin Rose Granger-Weasley. As Albus and Rose try to find a compartment to spend the train ride to school in, they meet Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy. Rose refuses to stay but Albus does and he and Scorpius become fast friends. A Potter and a Malfoy - friends? It seems impossible but yet it is true. And as the years progress they remain best mates. As the years progress Albus also comes to resent Harry more and more - hating the fact that his Dad is famous, it carries a weight for Albus himself. In order to prove himself, Albus coerces Scorpius into a great adventure that is dangerous as well.
This was a super easy and quick read because it was written as a play script. It wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. I think it's hard to create such well-loved characters into adults. Most of them were fairly believable but Draco Malfoy I didn't buy as who Rowling created him to be as an adult. In order to believe his adult character I would need to have the history of his transformation since Voldemort's death. It wasn't as tightly written as books 1-7. Although this was, or is, the play adaptation. I haven't read the short story Rowling wrote - has anyone? Is it on Rowling's blog at some point in the past? I would be curious to read it and see what kind of depth it might, or hopefully, have that the play adaptation is lacking in.





The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
by Mike Slaughter, Karen Perry Smith
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I started reading this book February 5. Sickness derailed me and then I just couldn't get through it. Not because it is bad. It's actually quite good. But I just couldn't get engaged with it for any length of time so it took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to read, much longer than it should have.
Slaughter leads the reader through several main thoughts about money, stewardship, and generosity. The only chapter that I really couldn't engage with at all was the chapter about investments. My eyes glazed over! That's a lot of numbers talk for someone who doesn't do numbers.
My thoughts/review of the title is less than adequate because it took me so long to read it. I think it is a very well written book with great living examples of each main point. I may try to pick it up again at some point and see if I can wrap my head around it a little more.





Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
320 pages

G's first published book is a series of short essays, so to speak, about life - her stories of her story, motherhood, marriage, and other relationships. Her determination to keep it real and to be real comes through in her writing. G and I are similar in that we are introverts and prefer it that way. We get stressed by hostressing, er hostessing, other people in our homes, and we struggle with depression. I can relate to G on many levels. Throughout the book I highlighted several passages that I want to make sure I remember, insights that G shares that ring true. One that I think is very important is, "People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don't need help." Another, based off the child's game Chutes & Ladders is the idea that sometimes what feels like a chute might actually be a ladder. As G says, it depends on what perspecticles you are wearing. I loved her thoughts on carpe diem and the two times that exist - chronos and kairos, I'm really thinking through that. Insights about quitting and wading in the faith pool. All of it very good, especially at this time of my life, to read and think about. Melton is an engaging and smart author and what she has to share is stuff we all need to hear. Next up? Her book titled Love Warrior. Carry on.






Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Kindle Edition 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

"....I wanted to tell a story of small betrayals in the middle of a big war. I wanted to illustrate the split-second decisions we make of moral courage and cowardice, and how we are all heroes and villains." (Monica Hesse)
Hanneke Bakker lives in Amsterdam and it is the early 1940's. World War II is in full swing and the Germans have occupied the Netherlands. Hanneke has fallen into supporting her family through the black market with ration cards. They are the lucky ones. They have the right last name and the right looks so their lives aren't in danger. On a delivery one day Hanneke is asked to find something that ration cards can't procure. Despite her best efforts to not get involved, Hanneke can't stop herself. The pull of her humanity wins out over her fears. This sets Hanneke on a search for a girl in a blue coat and it sets her on a path she didn't intend to walk.
Hesse writes a story that highlights the tragedies of World War II and the courage it required and called forth in people. She also crafted a story that showed life still moving forward despite the Nazi chaos all around them. People were still going to school, getting married, preferring a certain brand of cigarettes, fighting with their parents, seeing the dentist for a toothache. It was a well-written book that showed yet another side to the war that changed the world forever.





The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Kindle Edition 416 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

What an interesting book. In some ways it felt like Barnett couldn't decide which version of Jim and Eva to write about so she decided to write about all three. Even if that is the case it works, or rather Barnett made it work.
Jim and Eva meet three times in 1958, but in the same moment. And each moment takes the story of them on a different path that lasts the rest of their lives. We read their stories as versions - and some details are the same in all three versions, while some details are very different. The idea that they know each other in a way they can't explain runs through all three versions, whether they know each other or not. This reveals itself in Jim's painting titled "The Versions of Us" that is created in version 2 of Jim and Eva's story. To say much more gives away the intricacies of this story.
My only real complaint about the book is keeping straight who was what, etc in each version. When a new chapter started I had to really think for a moment what was going on in that storyline. Otherwise it was an engaging story that explores the "what if" we all have of meeting someone in our younger days and thinking of them later in life. It explores the idea that life doesn't have one clear way, there can be several paths to chose - the choice is ours.




The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles
Kindle Edition - 217 pages

I just recently made my way through the Merlin TV series so when this book was chosen for a book club I am in, I thought it was perfect timing! I think I liked the TV series better. It took me way too long to get through this rather short book of stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When all was said and done it was a book of the same story over and over again with different knights inserted and a few details changed. Basically a knight goes out and fights, or knights fight each other in tournaments, or the knight goes on a quest and fights. The book is about 98% fighting, 2% other descriptive words and names to try and make it a story. No wonder all adaptations of King Arthur and the Knights since this book have been embellished and expanded on. It's amazing to me that someone read this book of stories and thought it should be made into a visual for people to watch - in the case of these stories I am definitely in favor of stepping away from the original story and enhancing it "a bit." Honestly it took me so long to get through the book because I kept falling asleep while reading it! Even now, just writing this review I am yawning widely thinking about the book. Well, I can check it off my list but from now on if I want stories about King Arthur and his Knights I'll be rewatching Merlin or finding other - better and more engaging - stories to watch or read.




Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
293 pages

I am fully immersed, once again, in the wizarding world J.K. Rowling created with Harry Potter. While this story takes place years, about 70 or so, before Harry's it does feature the same beasts that Hagrid loves and Harry and his mates are wary of.
This time the wizards are in America and it's in the golden age of the 1920's. Newt has arrived from England to NYC and is carrying a rather beat up case with him. He's seen whispering to the case from time to time which draws a bit of attention. In one moment Newt's case gets mixed up with someone else's and a little chaos ensues since a creature or two may have escaped. So Newt is off on a race around the city to try and contain the creatures before the muggles, er the no-maj's, figure out that there is magic afoot. Tina, from MACUSA, picks up on the clues that Newt isn't a normal human but one with magic and she tails him to get close to him and these creatures she suspects he has. During this time the no-maj's of NYC are making noise about witchcraft and campaigning for strong legislation against it. So the American community of witches and wizards are taking extra precautions and Newt's escaped creatures put them in danger. Meanwhile, Credence - an orphan boy being raised by an anti-magic shrew of a woman is meeting secretly with someone from MACUSA in an attempt to find a child that has special magic. Credence's adoptive mother has no idea but he has magic and if he can get free of her he is ready to join the magical community and finally be who he is. In Newt's attempts to capture his creatures and Credence's attempts to be who he is the two finally meet up. But their meeting isn't quite what anyone thought it would be and the magical community is at danger of being exposed and a war between them and the no-maj's is imminent, unless Newt can contain Credence and the creatures.
I'm American so I feel like I can say what I'm about to. We Americans lack charm and class. We are rough around the edges, even the ones we say are refined are rough around the edges. We have language that lacks meaning and even context. I'm saying this because this crass American way of ours is clear even in the wizarding community of American. Muggles in England are No-Maj's in America. The Ministry of Magic in England is MACUSA. The American versions lack charm. They lack the, well magic, of the wizarding world. This isn't a criticism as much as it is an observation on Rowling's ability to draw the distinctions between cultures even in the wizarding world. This was a weird read because it was the screenplay for the movie. I eventually got into the flow of reading it but I was wishing there was an actual novel of the story. There's the book of the same name written by Newt but it isn't the story, it's just his notes about the creatures - the book used as a textbook at Hogwart's. I'm interested in more stories about the American wizarding community. After finishing this I read the very short story about Ilvermorny, the American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because I'm so curious about how Rowling depicts the differences between the American magical community and the rest of the world. Click here if you are curious about the American school as well. But I'm not sure the American wizarding world would be as charming as the rest of the world.




Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
272 pages

In Carry On, Warrior G mentions marriage problems. Love Warrior is the memoir of her marriage. The book ends with a statement by G, "I do not know whether we will spend our lives married or loving each other from a distance..." and if follow G on Facebook or Instagram or her blog then you know - spoiler alert - that they have chosen to go their own ways but are still trying to remain a family. This doesn't invalidate the lessons G learns and shares with us in this memoir.
I think memoirs are tricky to review. It's a person's story, it is someone's choice to share a part of their life that feels scary or vulnerable and that takes bravery. Some people and their stories we connect with, others we don't. Some people and their stories bother us because of our own insecurities or ignorance - it is those times that we are quick to pass judgment on that person for how they handle their situations - or don't handle them. We can be quick to pass judgement on people when we don't think their reasons for their story are valid or make sense. Just because it doesn't make sense to us doesn't mean it isn't real for them. G received some criticism for her memoir of marriage. A lot of it centered around how centered G seems to be on herself. And maybe that's true. Maybe she is too self-absorbed. Or maybe she's been too self-absorbed in the wrong ways and is trying to correct course now. Honestly, it's not our place to be judge and jury on how another person handles trauma in their life. I believe there are lessons in everyone's story for us to take away and think through.
And the truth is we are all, hopefully, on a journey moving forward through life. As we move forward we leave parts of ourself behind or we pick up parts of ourselves we haven't seen ever or in a long while. We pick up people and we leave some. Whether you have faith or not Ecclesiastes 3 in the Bible is true about all of us and our journeys through life - there is a time and season for everything. All this being said, I can't pretend that I don't scratch my head at a few of the decisions G has made in the past year and has shared with the public but she's only shared the actual decision, there's a whole process that hopefully was careful and intentional behind the end decision. And as she continues to heal and grow and move forward in her journey, as I hope we all do, may she be led by the One who created her. Namaste.





Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
616 pages (large print)

Yet another book club pick. I've lost track of how many book clubs I am participating in. :)
The focus of this story is St. Oswald's - a boys school for the elite. And by elite I mean those who have money. The Head Porter of the school (a glorified maintenance man) is John Snyde - a single dad and drunk. The story is told from his child's POV and from the POV of Roy Straitley, the school's Latin teacher. John's kid has become fixated on St. Oswald's, they live right outside the grounds in the gatehouse and the more they think about the school the more their anger and longing to be part of it grows. The story is told in equal parts present day and flashbacks to 15 years ago. Mr. Straitley is one of the POV's for the present day telling. Anyway, a new term - in the present day  is about to start and there are 5 new teachers joining the St. Oswald's staff. Right away things start going badly - there is a whiff of something wrong in the air. Things disappear, students start acting in ways they never have before, suspicion of each other is planted. Straitley isn't sure what is happening but something is and he begins to look more carefully at these 5 new teachers. There were no problems before they came along. He's right to suspect one, because one of them is John Snyde's child - grown up and back for a revenge on the school that they equally hate and love. The weird fixation still exists, and has grown through the years, until it has become a target of revenge for every single thing that has gone wrong in their life in the past 15 or so years. As the backstory is told to bring us up to present day a picture is drawn of a child who has never quite grown up - placing blame on anyone else for choices made, for the lot in life dealt them, for the parents given them, etc. Eventually the day of reckoning comes, who will be victorious?
What an interesting book/story. Harris managed to pull the wool over my eyes in several instances and I appreciated it, I love it. I love being twisted and turned just enough that when the path straightens out everything that didn't quite make sense to me is all of a sudden very clear. She draws, with her words, an accurate portrait of a blame-shifter and it's such an interesting story. It's really, I think, a story of a sociopath and how sneaky those types are.



Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Hogwarts Library) by Newt Scamander (Pseudonym), J.K. Rowling
123 pages

If you are a wizarding family then this title is a must - you need to know what you are dealing with if something comes across your path! As a muggle it's less important to have a copy of this book but it might be important to know about the possibilities of what kind of beasts are out there, just in case.
Fortunately Newt Scamander did the work for everyone by scouting out the world and the beasts in it. He put together this useful guide to the beasts of the wizarding world and where to find them - and what to do with them if you do find them! Some of them, like the dragon, have some really important magical qualities - useful for potions and such. Others are just a nuisance. Either way Scamander informs on how and what to do with these creatures and most especially which ones to walk a wide berth around.




Honorable Mention:

Almost four years ago I read the Harry Potter series for the first time (it won't be my last) and have been hearing how good the audio book versions are - a good narrator/reader makes ALL the difference people.
In October I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. This month, I squeezed in books 6 and 7 on audio. Now that I'm done listening I feel bereft, I either need to read the books again or watch the movies (not near as good but sufficient) as I'm not quite ready to put down Harry Potter for the time being.


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