Sunday, March 30, 2014

An American reading the British editions: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

(SPOILER ALERT: I’m sharing details of the Harry Potter series in this post, and in every post on the last Sunday of the month for the next six months. Just so you know!)

It all started in an English bookstore in Brussels, Belgium. I was studying abroad in Fall 2007 and realized I hadn’t brought any books (they are heavy, after all). So I went downtown and picked up a copy of the British edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I read it twice before returning to Indiana.

Fast forward to Ireland, 2009. I wanted to add to my collection, so I acquired the British editions of Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince on a week-long trip to Dublin. The remaining three (Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban) arrived as Christmas gifts later that year. My collection was complete!
Pure and colorful beauty.
Now here’s my deepest, darkest secret: I’ve only read one of them! (Don't worry, I've read the American editions, which my family owns, multiple times. But I'm still a disgrace to the Potterhead community.) So, I made it a goal for 2014 to read and review and thoroughly enjoy all seven of the Harry Potter British editions. And I'm documenting that journey here!

All aboard the Hogwarts Express!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
First Line: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

British vs. American English: I’ve been overseas, so there are some things that I read and don’t even recognize as different. Like car park vs. parking lot or jumper vs. sweater. But here are a few differences that popped out to me.  
(British edition word = intrepretation)
philosopher = sorcerer
Sellotape = scotch tape
lemon ice lolly = lemon popsicle
jacket potato = baked potato
Hallowe’en = Halloween (Okay, so I know this is the same word, but I thought the use of the apostrophe was interesting.)
revising/revision = studying

Laugh-Worthy Moment: Hagrid being a sappy, apron-wearing mum to Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, even though he was a fire-breathing, quick-growing dragon.

Cry-Worthy Moment: When Hagrid gives Harry the leather-bound book of photographs of his parents, because he didn’t have any pictures of them.

Notable Quote: “The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” (page 216)

Last Line:  “They [the Dursleys] don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”

If I knew nothing of books 2-7, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone would appear to be a traditional MG novel. Young and eager protagonist, quirky characters, bonds of friendship and a world of magic. But this is not a stand-alone novel; it’s a brilliant start to a world-changing series. This book hints at the greater themes of the series, including the nature of good versus evil, the prejudice that can fester in any society and the power of a mother’s love.
Rowling shows that she is a great plotter, by seamlessly including scenes with flying on broomsticks, playing chess and showing Hermione’s logic before the trio descends through the trapdoor. Those scenes establish abilities and knowledge so when the trio encountered those obstacles, it was believable that three 11 year-old kids could work through the problems, together. Also, I adore that Rowling crafted her world with so much detail that she was able to foreshadow an event in Half-Blood Prince just over halfway through Philosopher’s Stone. (Though I’m not sure it was intentional foreshadowing, it’d be pretty cool if it was.)
Another great facet of Philosopher’s Stone is friendship. Harry, Ron and Hermione are different, yet they fit well as friends. They each bring something special to the table: bravery, loyalty and intelligence (as well as many other attributes). Their friendship, although easy at the end of PS, did not start as such, which is realistic for middle school kids everywhere. Their initial impressions and misconceptions were overcome by a shared experience.
                “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.” (page 132)
Harry and Ron went from being at odds with Hermione, to being best friends. Which is lucky, since her skill and knowledge proved invaluable in the climactic scene.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a humble beginning to an epic series, but it’s also shows the potential and introduces powerful themes, strong friendships and hints at the ultimate showdown between the evil Voldemort and the young and brave Harry Potter.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Talking to My(self) Characters

I’m trying something new. In my monthly writing goals, I’m designating a focus for that month. March is CHARACTER. I’ve buried myself in character profiles and questions and am even working on generic body outlines to fill with physical descriptions. I’ve been answering questions ranging from What’s your style of dress? to Was your childhood happy? to What are your bad habits? for all my characters. Especially my main character, Quinn. Having these in-depth, detailed conversations with my characters has been extraordinarily helpful. Even if it means I’m staring into space for hours, muttering to myself and basically looking like a crazy person. A crazy writer person.

Anyway, there are some questions that have been better getting to the heart of my characters than others. Here are the best, most soul-sucking (in a good way) questions that I've come across:

·         What’s the best thing that has happened to you?

·         What’s the worst thing that has happened to you?

·         Who are you protecting?

·         When was the last time you cried? Why?

·         What are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night?

·         What do you want? What’s standing in your way of getting it?

·         Give an example of a time you lied to protect another.

·         Give an example of a time you lied to protect yourself.

·         Give an example of a situation where you were violent.

·         Give an example of a situation where you were heroic.

·         Tell me something you’ve never told anyone.

·         Tell me the first lie that pops into your head.

Yeah, these aren’t your What’s your job and do you like it? run-of-the-mill questions. These are meant to dive into the soul of characters. They are deep and dark. They are meant to bring something to the surface that will surprise you or make you shiver. Or both! These questions drudge to the depths of what truly defines my characters.

What’s the next step, after filling page after page with answers? Applying them to my novel. Rewrite necessary scenes with relevant answers in mind, considering that the character might react differently or subtly or outrageously. Edit backstory with pertinent answers. But really, once I know the answers to the questions, it will affect my writing without me even thinking about it. The more I know about my characters, the more they will (hopefully) seem like well-rounded, REAL LIVE people in text as I continue editing my draft.

Now, back to conversing with my characters… Okay fine, I’m just talking to myself.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Most Anticipated Teen Books: Spring 2014

Spring has come! (Thank goodness.)This crop of YA releases is heavy on series finales (three!), but otherwise it’s a mix of new and established authors with settings that range from an alternate nineteenth century British Empire to Soviet Russia to modern-day, fantasy-drenched Prague. I can’t wait for each and every one!

April 1
Sekret—Lindsay Smith

What it’s about: Yulia's father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But when she's captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she's thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit and horrifying power. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

Why I’m excited: Soviet Russia. KGB. Psychic spy. U.S. space program. From the description (even just those key words) I can tell this has potential to be a great historical and political thriller. Yulia sounds like a strong girl and I’m excited to dive into her unique story.


April 8
Dreams of Gods and Monsters—Laini Taylor

What it’s about: In the conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, Karou is still not ready to forgive Akiva for killing the only family she's ever known. When a brutal angel army trespasses into the human world, Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat--and against larger dangers that loom on the horizon. They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love.

Why I’m excited: This series is one of the most imaginative modern-day YA fantasies I’ve read. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the third and final book in the series for over a year, and I can’t wait to revisit Karou and Akiva’s exhilarating yet tortured romance. Plus, angels. And monsters.


The Summer I Saved the World… in 65 Days—Michele Weber Hurwitz

What it’s about: It's summertime and thirteen-year-old Nina Ross is feeling lost. Her beloved grandma died last year, her parents work all the time, her brother's busy and her best friend’s into clothes, makeup and boys. Nina doesn't know what "her thing" is yet so she decides to mix things up. Every day this summer, she'll anonymously do one small but remarkable good deed for someone in her neighborhood in an effort to find out: does doing good actually make a difference?

Why I’m excited: Because every now and then I need a feel-good summer tale. Hopefully with a heartfelt, light romance and an abundance of inspiration. This release sounds like it will fit perfectly, so I'm excited to relax a little with Nina's story and breathe in the scent of summer.


April 22
The Inventor’s Secret—Andrea Cremer

What it’s about: In an alternate nineteenth-century North America, sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth, they have their health (when they can find enough food) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp, he brings new dangers with him.

Why I’m excited: Steampunk. By Andrea Cremer. That pretty much sums up my excitement, but the concept is fantastic as well. The setting is an alternate nineteenth-century North America where there was no Revolutionary War and the British Empire is a global force of majestic and horrible machinery. WHOA.


She is Not Invisible—Marcus Sedgwick

What it’s about: Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers—a skill at which she's remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness.

Why I’m excited: Because Sedgwick just won the Printz Award for Midwinterblood (which is on my to-read shortlist), and this is his first release since that honor. The description is vague but intriguing, and I imagine this book will be a mysterious, intelligent read with an interesting perspective.


May 6
The One—Kiera Cass

What it’s about: The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of IllĂ©a, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

Why I’m excited: Because I need to know if America picks Aspen or Maxon! (Sometimes I’m such a fangirl.) Anyway, this series is an interesting mix of dystopia and The Bachelor, which is why it’s so intriguing. The first two books in the series tugged my heart strings and were an unexpected surprise, so I’m hoping for the same from the conclusion of the trilogy.


May 27
Allies & Assassins—Justin Somper

What it’s about: Prince Anders, the ruler of Archenfield, has been murdered, leaving his younger brother, Jared, to ascend the throne. Sixteen-year-old Jared feels unprepared to rule the kingdom and its powerful and dangerous court, yet he knows he can rely on the twelve officers of the court to advise him. He also knows he can be at their mercy-especially when one of them may be responsible for his brother's death. Unable to trust anyone, Jared takes it upon himself to hunt down his brother's killer-but the killer may be hunting him, as well.

Why I’m excited: Because high fantasy YA with princes and assassins and uncertain loyalties? That basically screams my name. In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently in possession of the DRC (digital review copy) of this novel. I just started it, but am already intrigued by the multiple perspectives and the intricate mystery.


June 17
Ruin and Rising—Leigh Bardugo

What it’s about: The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne. Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army. A weakened Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. As she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields.

Why I’m excited: Because this series is expertly written and plotted. I read the first two last summer, and they were simply unputdownable. I imagine this series finale will be the same, if not better. And I’m not at all worried that my high expectations will go unmet.

Are any of these spring releases on your to-read list?

*Book descriptions were adapted from those on

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Mysterious YA Mystery

I’m a bookseller. (If you didn’t already know.) Customers regularly ask for YA dystopia, YA romance and YA fantasy recommendations, and I know just want to suggest. Twice now, I’ve been asked for YA mysteries. YA mysteries?! What are those? I’m sure they exist. In fact, I know I’ve read some. But there’s no easy answer. There’s no section or table or display (at least in any bookstore I’ve been to). So, what YA books are mysterious? Here are my suggestions:

Death Cloud – Andrew Lane

Gallagher Girls series – Ally Carter

Heist Society series– Ally Carter
Kat Bishop is a thief, as are all her friends and family. After leaving the family business for a normal high school existence, she’s pulled back in when her father is named the only suspect after a mobster's art collection is stolen. Kat has two weeks to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history, and steal her life back along the way. In this series, we follow Kat, Hale and other teenage talents through their cons, but the reader doesn’t learn how they did it until the end, leaving the mystery open so readers can attempt to solve it along the way.

Pretty Little Liars series – Sara Shepard

Shelter – Harlen Coben
Mickey’s year is off to an awful start after he witnesses his father’s death, sends his mom to rehab and is forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron. Then, his new (girl)friend, Ashley, vanishes. Following her trail into the underworld reveals Ashley isn’t who she claimed to be. Soon Mickey learns about a conspiracy that leaves him questioning everything. Coben writes adult mystery novels, but ventured into the mindset of his main characters nephew for this classic mystery YA tale.

Stormbreaker series- Anthony Horowitz

The Body Finder – Kimberly Derting

The Book of Blood and Shadow – Robin Wasserman

The Diviners – Libba Bray

The Face on the Milk Carton series– Caroline B. Cooney
She’d never paid close attention to the missing children on milk cartons, until she saw the face of an ordinary girl with pigtails who had been kidnapped twelve years before in New Jersey. Janie Johnson is shocked to realize that girl is her. Did her loving parents kidnap her? As she searches for clues, she realizes nothing makes sense. And Janie will stop at nothing to find out her real identity. This is a suspenseful tale that's (so far) stood the test of time for a YA novel, as it was originally published in 1990.

The Liar Society – Lisa Roecker

The Lying Game – Sara Shepard

The Name of the Star series - Maureen Johnson
The same day Rory arrived at boarding school in London was also the day a series of brutal murders reminiscent of Jack the Ripper broke out across the city. The police have few leads and no witnesses, until Rory spots a man now believed to be the prime suspect. But she's the only one who saw him, and she quickly becomes his next target. The Name of the Star begins a thrilling series by Maureen Johnson with elements of mystery, paranormal and romance.

The Naturals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Unspoken – Sarah Rees Brennan

What I Saw and How I Lied – Judy Blundell
When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life quickly. But soon Evie realizes her father brought back more than just good war stories. Peter Coleridge, a young handsome ex-GI who served in her father’s company in postwar Austria, shows up and Evie is caught in a complicated web of lies only she recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter and ignoring his secrets until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and her life. This novel leans more toward historical thriller than mystery, but it has a classic-type feel in its engrossing, creative descriptions.


Are there any YA mysteries I missed? Let me know in the comments!

*Book descriptions were adapted from those on

Sunday, March 2, 2014

If JK Rowling cares about writing, she should write.

Beware, this is a rant…

So this happened last week. I suggest you give it a read. Unless you’re in a really good mood right now and don’t want it spoiled.
I read the article last week when it was published. There are so many things wrong with it that I almost don’t know where to begin. Almost.

1)      It’s shameful to read Harry Potter if you’re an adult?!?!

a.       I can’t even.

b.      Okay, maybe I can. Here’s another adult who thinks kids books (MG) and YA books are “below” them just because the books are written for kids. The common denominator between the people who say this: they haven’t read it! Ms. Shepherd admits to not having read Harry Potter. Others have written about how adults shouldn’t read Twilight or romance but if they haven’t read it themselves, how can they even judge? 

2)      It implies writing for kids is inferior.

a.       Writing, reading. Potato, potato. (This works better when spoken.) See above.

3)      If you’re taking aim at JKR, why not take aim at Patterson or Connelly or Roberts or the dozen or so other authors who dominate bestsellers with every release?

a.      I know JKR is a kahuna, but seriously, Patterson releases a new book every month and it’s always on the bestsellers. If that’s not domination, I don’t know what is.

b.      Ms. Shepherd singles out an author who wrote for kids before writing for adults. She didn’t mention all the adult authors who dominate the bestsellers (see above) who now write for kids too. (Patterson, Coben, Grisham and more have books in the MG and/or YA sections.) It’s like allowing people from Village A to move to Village B but if anyone from Village B wants to move to Village A? Their welcome looks like this:
Source: Warner Brothers
4)      Maybe if Ms. Shepherd had read Harry Potter, she would feel differently.

a.       If you haven’t experienced the magic, then sure, judge it all you want. (Hint: SARCASM.)

5)      Also, what if this was just a fancy *cough* lowly *cough* way for Ms. Shepherd to get more sales for her books? Did we just see a twerking episode of the publishing industry?

People reading books is good for the publishing industry as a whole. (I mean, duh.) And JKR gets people to read, no matter if it’s Harry Potter or Cuckoo’s Calling. She makes it more likely for people to visit a bookstore and buy books. (As do Patterson, Connelly, Grisham and all those mentioned above.) This is good for publishing, for authors and for literacy.

I’m a 26 year old adult. I have a Harry Potter poster above my bookcases. Those bookcases are full of YA. I own children’s books and adult books too. I’ve even read some of them.

I know YA is for me, but I’m not about to degrade or judge someone who reads MG or mystery or true crime or biographies or adult fiction or romance. So I’d appreciate it if people who prefer other genres didn’t do that to MG and YA readers.

Yes, I love YA. But most importantly, I LOVE BOOKS.

And no one I MEAN NO ONE tells JK Rowling to stop writing.

(See what I did there?)