Sunday, April 27, 2014

An American reading the British editions: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

(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 five months. Just so you know!)

I’m just an American girl reading the Harry Potter British editions in my spare time, then posting about it here! If you missed the first post about Philosopher’s Stone, check it out here!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
First Line: "Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive."
British vs. American English: I’ve been overseas, so there are some things that I read and don’t even recognize as different. Like jumper vs. sweater or pitch vs. field. But here are a few differences that popped out to me. 
(British edition word/phrase = interpretation)
completely at sea = completely confused

Father Christmas = Santa Claus

up at cock-crow = up at dawn

matron = nurse

jump-jets = fighter jets / military planes

to grass on = to tattle on

Laugh-Worthy Moment:
“Harry came round, rain falling on his face, still lying on the pitch, with someone leaning over him. He saw a glitter of teeth.
       ‘Oh no, not you,’ he moaned.
       ‘Doesn’t know what he’s saying,’ said Lockhart loudly, to the anxious crowd of Gryffindors pressing around them. ‘Not to worry, Harry. I’m about to fix your arm.’” (page 129-130).

Cry-Worthy Moment: Even though Harry is lying to Professor McGonagall about missing class to visit Hermione in the hospital wing (when Harry and Ron were really trying to question Moaning Myrtle), it’s a heartfelt moment. McGonagall gets emotional, and Harry and Ron visit Hermione because they don’t want to have lied to McGonagall.

Notable Quote:  “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” –Professor Dumbledore (page 245)

Last Line:  "And together they walked back through the gateway to the Muggle world."
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry has been a part of the wizarding world for a year. He’s learning the basics of magic and is about to return to Hogwarts for his second year, though not if a particular house elf gets his way.

JK Rowling ties her plot together nicely, like a bow. Everything’s mentioned, explained or foreshadowed so when something happens, however small, it makes sense as the reader already has previous knowledge of it. For example: Fawkes. Harry visits Dumbledore’s office (because he’s in trouble, so for good reason) but he sees Fawkes burn and be reborn. He knows Fawkes is Dumbledore’s phoenix and Dumbledore tells him that phoenixes are loyal creatures with healing powers. So when Fawkes turns up in the Chamber of Secrets after Harry shows loyalty to Dumbledore, it makes sense. And when Fawkes’ tears heal Harry after he’s stabbed with a basilisk fang, it’s not an unforeseen surprise.

I have to admit it’s a stretch that any 12 year-old could defeat a giant snake and the 16 year-old diary version of Lord Voldemort, but of course Harry isn’t just any 12 year-old. He’s brave and quick-witted and he had loads of help. Rowling didn’t make Harry a master swordsman when he pulled Gryffindor’s sword from the sorting hat (as that wouldn't have been believable). Harry acts on his instincts regularly (with both good and bad outcomes) so it’s plausible that he knew to impale the diary with the fang. Even though I’m only on the second book in the series, I’ve already seen Harry’s growth and expect it to continue (as his actions will be based more in knowledge and skill as the books continue and less on chance). And luckily as he grows, he will be less susceptible to things like being fooled by a diary that thinks for itself. Harry and Ginny are both still young and innocent (and Harry relatively new to the wizarding world), so it’s believable that the diary could weasel into their minds. It’s a good balance of what could/would happen to the average 12 year-old and what Harry, an exceptional pre-teen, can accomplish.

I did miss Hermione in the later portion of Chamber of Secrets, since she was lying petrified on a hospital bed. Though, in her absence, I got to know Ron better. I saw his dry sarcasm and learned more about his brand of bravery and the extent of his fears (spiders!). I can’t wait for more Ginny, as in Chamber she’s mostly sad and depressed and rarely talks due to her schoolgirl crush on Harry.

In Chamber of Secrets, the reader learns more about Lord Voldemort (the madman formerly known as Tom Marvolo Riddle), meets new characters such as Dobby, Arthur Weasley, Lucius Malfoy, Gilderoy Lockhart and Cornelius Fudge and has another adventure in the depths of Hogwarts.

Up next month: Prisoner of Azkaban!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Six Star Reviews: Prisoner of Night and Fog

The highest rating a book can get on Goodreads is five stars. Five stars means the book was awesome, worthy, well-written, etc. But sometimes I wish I could give six—YES 6—stars. These instances are rare, but there are some books that stand out that extra inch. They are truly unputdownable. They are not just great, but extraordinary. They speak to me, and I love them.

So, I’m starting a new blog series called Six Star Reviews. The posts might be infrequent because I’m only sharing the best of the best. And even though this is the first post, I’d like to mention that this is actually the second time this year I've felt a book deserved six stars. The first time was Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse, which I wrote about in this multi-review post earlier this year. Now, onto the main attraction:

Prisoner of Night and Fog—Anne Blankman
In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her uncle Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet. Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

I admire Gretchen Müller, the main character of Prisoner of Night and Fog. She’s strong and brave and true. In the beginning, she’s entranced by her Uncle Dolf, following his commands and believing his ideals. But when she’s presented with a contrary opinion, she doesn’t get stuck. She’s open-minded about it, really thinks for herself and doesn’t let her past cloud her possible future.  

(SPOILERS: highlight to read, if you dare).  And when she comes face-to-face with mad, vindictive Hitler, no longer her loving uncle, she doesn’t back down, she doesn’t agree just to agree or shrink back or run away. She looks him straight on and tells him he’s wrong. This scene was so powerful and terrifying and heart-lifting, all at the same time.

In this novel, we see Hitler’s charisma and his madness. We see how they intertwine and how easily people fell victim to his powerful presence. It’s spine-tingling and unsettling because it’s based in truth. Even though this book is set in 1931 Munich, we know what happens over the next 15 years. We know where Hitler goes and what he does, and so to see him as a human character in a fiction novel is both interesting and cringe-worthy.

Prisoner of Night and Fog is well-researched, as proven by the bibliography at the end of the book. (I love historical fiction novels with bibliographies!) It’s based in fact, which makes it that much more thrilling, because even though Gretchen and Daniel are fictional, the danger they're in was very real for many of Hitler’s opponents in 1930s Germany.

This novel reached into my chest and wrapped its pages around my heart and tightened. I flew through the book, somehow both appalled (mostly at Hitler and his Nazis) and intrigued. The story is thought-provoking on so many levels. There’s action and suspense and drama and history and love, all mingled together.

Even though it has yet to be released—the official release date is April 22, just two days away!—I’m already anxious for the sequel (which is mentioned in the Author’s Note.) And just to let you know, I will be buying this book on Tuesday. I can't do this often because it's not within my budget to buy hardcover books regularly, but I’m determined to have a bookshelf adorned with the very best of YA and this novel definitely deserves a spot.

Prisoner of Night and Fog is a 6 out of 5 stars book, and I can’t wait to stroke its spine and smell its pages and wrap it (carefully) in my arms and yeah, I’m a book geek. But I’m a passionate, unapologetic book geek.

My recommendation: READ THIS BOOK. (Especially if you like history and/or star-crossed lovers and/or free thinkers and/or edge-of-your-seat thrillers.)

*Book overview courtesy of

Sunday, April 13, 2014

MORE Teen Books-to-Movies 2014 & Beyond

So, I may have already written about the major YA books-to-movies coming out in the next six months. In my last books-to-movies post, I covered The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver and If I Stay. And a year ago, I talked about The Maze Runner in this post, whose release date has since changed. Therefore, I decided to do something different with this semi-annual post about YA books-to-movies. I’m going to share some recent movie news about YA films currently in development. The earliest we might see these in theaters is 2015 and it will likely be later as these awesome adaptations are still in the very early stages of the book-to-movie process. 

The 5th Wave
Cassie has survived the first four waves of an alien invasion that has devastated Earth’s population and forced the remaining civilization back to the Stone Age. As she navigates the 5th wave of the invasion, she is also searching for her younger brother, who was taken from her months before.
In this recent article, it was announced that the lead role of Cassie will be played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Moretz is also starring in If I Stay (in theaters in August), so she’s no stranger to the YA book-to-movie scene.

Eleanor & Park
Misfit teenagers Eleanor and Park bond over comic books and music on the school bus. But when their friendship extends past their encounters on the bus, they are faced with obstacles to their budding romance.
Dreamworks recently announced that they optioned the film rights to this bestseller, with author Rainbow Rowell signed on to write the screenplay. The current plan is to start filming in 2015.

Paper Towns
Paper Towns is a story of two high schoolers, Margo and Quentin, who shared a traumatic childhood experience then reunite to exact revenge on anyone who Margo feels has hurt her. Then Margo disappears and only Quentin has the information to find her.
This announcement means John Green will have another book coming to the big screen soon(ish). The same studio, producers and screenwriters as The Fault in Our Stars movie (in theaters June 6) will bring Paper Towns to life, and even one of the actors will stay on. Nat Wolff, who plays Isaac in TFIOS, will play Quentin in Paper Towns.

That was a good day on the internet.

I am excited about ALL of these! But I’m trying not to be too excited, because it will be a long wait until any of these projects in development grace the big screen. But still, yay!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

My Favorite YA Books from High School

When I was in high school, I remember visiting the local bookstore with its smallish YA section that was overshadowed by children’s books. In the past decade that section has grown and transformed, surpassing my wildest expectations for the genre that I love. When I think back, there are some books from the early 2000s that stick out. They existed in that smallish section and are wonderful and worthy, even though they aren’t on the shelves of most bookstores now. These books existed before vampires sparkled, before Katniss volunteered, before Tris chose Dauntless and before Hazel Grace Lancaster met Augustus Waters.

Here’s my favorite YA books from when I was in high school, over a decade ago.

The Princess Diaries series—Meg Cabot
Published starting September 2000
Finding out you’re secretly a princess is every girl’s fantasy, right? The Princess Diaries series mixed every girl’s fantasy with every girl’s normal high school experience. It managed to be relatable—if we weren’t awkward, lanky or bad at math like Mia then we certainly had a friend who was. Plus, Michael?! Pretty sure Mia and Michael were my first ship (closely followed by Ron and Hermione).


The Seer and the Sword—Victoria Hanley
Published October 2000
My fascination with fantasy began with this novel. When Princess Torina’s father, the King, returns home from conquering a neighboring kingdom, he gives her the boy who would have been king. Instead of keeping him as a slave, Torina releases Landon, and they grow up together as friends. But when a villain plots to overthrow Torina’s father, the peaceful kingdom is thrown into chaos. This novel was intricately planned and crafted, plus it had assassins, secret identities, a coveted sword and a prophetic crystal. I STILL remember its gasp-worthy reveals and heart-stopping twists.

Violet Eyes—Nicole Luiken
Published January 2001
This novel was dystopian before I knew to call it dystopia. Angel and Michael are in a historical immersion program, so even though it’s year 2098 (and the world is vastly imperfect), they are in a town simulating 1987. Except that Angel’s never been outside the program and everyone else seemingly has. So why is she different? Why was she raised in 1987, when the rest of the world is living in 2098? This was an action-adventure, with powerful connections and cringe-worthy surprises.


Circle of Magic series—Tamora Pierce
Published starting July 1997
Four mages-in-training come together in this series, with each Sandry, Briar, Daja and Tris (yes, TRIS) headlining their own book. They are misfits, some with turbulent pasts and all struggling to control their powers. This series was classic high fantasy riddled with different kinds of magic, but what made it special was the strength of the quartet’s friendship, even though they were startlingly different.

I normally don’t have too much time for re-reading, but I need to revisit each of these as soon as readerly possible. Oh, nostalgia.