Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

hp1origby J.K. Rowling
Children’s / YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: June 26, 1997

1999 – Some dull party that my introverted best friend and I were avoiding by sitting on the couch in a corner.

“He doesn’t look like a wizard,” I told her when she handed over her copy. “Just read it,” she assured me with a knowing smile.

I read it in 2 days. I immediately read the next two books in the series. Then I began the agonizing wait for book 4.

It’s pretty much impossible to be unbiased about these books! They were my childhood—I grew up on them—they cemented my love of the fantastical and the heroic. Rowling captured my imagination and didn’t let me go.

hp1ukI’d never read about a world like this one before (and for a twelve-year-old I’d read a lot of books). Harry, Ron and Hermione were exploring a world I desperately wanted to be a part of! That combined with keeping the books a secret (witchcraft was definitely taboo in my house) and obsessing over what was going to happen in the next books gives this series some of my favorite memories.

Going back and rereading the first one is always the most charming—they are all so young, and so different from what they grow up to be. Harry’s first thought when he puts on the Invisibility Cloak is, “I’ll go to the library!” I mean, really? It’s the restricted section, but still!

Rowling’s trademark sense of humor is already here, the foundation for the series is here, and it never gets old reliving the Firsts over and over. The first letter, the first Hogwarts Express journey, first meetings between characters, first glimpses of Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. All of these and more are beautifully depicted in the illustrated edition as well. (Can’t wait to collect all of these!)

24490481This is a classic, and definitely a foundation for anyone reading Middle Grade or YA fantasy. The movies may be fun, but they don’t come close to the experience of reading these books!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket – A trio of orphans begin a long and arduous struggle (13 books long) to protect themselves and their fortune from their nefarious uncle with the dubious assistance of inept foster guardians.
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – Hiccup is the disgraced son of his tribe’s chief. He isn’t a warrior. He is, however, the first person who will attempt to tame and train their worst enemy: a dragon. This story is adorable and has illustrations too!
  • The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron – A 5-book series chronicling the early years of Merlin’s life as he discovers his powers. This first book is a bit cliched but the remainder of the series is awesome! Note: They are being republished under new titles. This one is Merlin: The Lost Years.
  • Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce – Four teens are brought together at a magic school to learn to master their abilities. Sandry’s gift is with weaving and light, Briar’s with plants, Daja’s with metal, Tris’ with weather. As they become friends they must also learn fast because their new home is threatened.
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – Meggie is an avid reader who learns her father is able to read aloud and bring characters from books into our world–and accidentally transport humans into novels.

Crooked Kingdom

22299763by Leigh Bardugo
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

The rare case of the sequel being even better than the original! For once I can truly say that the end to a series is perfect yet all I want is more!

Kaz and the Dregs escaped the Ice Court and returned to Ketterdam for their life-changing reward, only to be double-crossed. Now they’re seeking revenge and their money, but Kaz finds himself one step behind at every turn.

Everything I loved about the first book was taken to new heights in this one! Break-neck pacing, emotional character arcs (all the ships!), banter, schemes, dark magic, and waffles. As Kaz leads them to the brink of destruction in pursuit of revenge, the rest of the gang begins to fracture, more interested in personal gains.

The dynamic of the Dregs changes so much, and it’s fascinating to see all of their bonds with each other evolve. Just like the first book, you root for all of them, and you can’t play favorites! The best part of sequels is that you already know the characters and they know each other and that is definitely at play here.

So many good lines, so many close calls–this was enjoyable and stressful to read! New characters come on the scene and old ones make an appearance. Several scenes had me holding my breath, and others had me tearing up. The imagery and dialogue here are masterful. We get to explore Ketterdam and the Barrel in-depth, and just when you think you’ve seen the darkest corners, a new secret comes to light. You really feel like you’re in this grungy world of criminals–it’s so atmospheric! (Can you tell it’s hard to say more without spoilers?!)

The most tantalizing part is that there’s definitely room for more stories to be told in the Grishaverse, and if Bardugo ever revisits this world I will be all in!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Crooked Kingdom is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – A gang of clairvoyants bands together to evade the government that seeks to destroy them. This is a theatrical read with plenty of twists! See my review here.
  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab – Two college students, one thesis seeking the ultimate potential of humanity. Oh, the things that could go wrong and the rivalries that could emerge. This is a suspenseful read with ruthless characters. See my review here.
  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina discovers the path to becoming her country’s most-feared Young Elite is complicated and filled with small choices. This is an excellent trilogy about the darkness in all of us. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel’s delicate dance along both sides of a war gets more dangerous and complicated by the day. I loved the strategies and mind games in this novel. See my review here.
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin – One girl escapes a concentration camp and joins the resistance to kill Hitler in this alternate 1956 ruled by the triumphant Axis Powers. A break-neck plot that you’ll want to read in one sitting! See my review here.


26114463by Jay Kristoff
4 of 5 stars

This cover grabbed me – and then the jacket summary grabbed me – and then finally I had it in my hands! Although this didn’t have quite the start that I hoped, by 100 pages in I was devouring Mia’s story as fast as I could.

Assassins might seem a little in vogue right now, but Mia is the first one to have real teeth behind the name.  We meet her at 16, as she begins the journey of finding and gaining acceptance into the Red Church, to serve Our Lady of Blessed Murder (the Dark goddess, Niah) as a Blade. There are two religions at work in this world, the dominant worship of Aa, the god of Light (and the three suns, etc) and those who serve the Dark. The Luminatii, Aa’s followers, killed Mia’s father and his men for treason, and locked up her mother and baby brother in the darkest prison available. Mia escaped thanks to her strange powers with shadows, and nursed her hatred for six years as she trained in the bowels of the city, waiting for her chance at revenge.**

We learn of Mia’s exploits via a narrator that seems to be part-historian part-confidante. Despite the built-in distance we get from this, I felt so invested in Mia and her quest for vengeance. She is clever enough to be exciting and interesting, but not so perfect that it saps the tension from her battles (of wits and steel). She’s ruthless but calculating, her pragmatism outweighing her fiery temper. I loved seeing her story unfold and I can’t wait for more!

What else did I love?

The world-building is heavy at times but when it came to the Red Church and the darkin I couldn’t get enough of the dark magic, rituals, and mythology. There’s a definite sense of atmosphere and you can never let your guard down. Speaking of guard, the plot is just twisty enough to suit me without feeling like I was strung along or information was withheld. The side characters are all rivals or teachers, yet they felt solid and real even if they weren’t given much page-time.

Finally, assassins that actually perform assassinations. Maybe the issue lies in YA, but this is the first time I felt like a group of assassins were actually dangerous, a bit bloodthirsty, and ruthless. I will say there’s lots of blood and gore, so if that is off-putting you may find this a difficult read. Personally, this is a world and a character I can’t wait to reacquaint myself with when the next installment comes out!

**There are footnotes throughout that range from sarcastic asides, to myths, to history. I found them annoying at first, but they diminish about halfway through, so don’t lose heart, Gentlefriend.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Nevernight is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Young Elites by Marie Lu – The YA version of a dark heroine coming to terms with her powers and the revenge she’ll have with them. Adelina survived the blood fever, but like other children who didn’t die, she bears the marks and scars—she lost her left eye, and her black hair is now white. Betrayed by her father, she finds a new home with the Dagger Society, a group that tries to find the Young Elites before they are discovered and killed for their abilities. But Adelina’s powers are unlike anything they’ve ever seen. See my review here.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – Lyra’s carefree childhood comes to an end when her estranged uncle Lord Asriel returns to put her in the care of Mrs. Coulter, a powerful scholar who offers her all the attention Lyra has lacked. But both of them are involved in a strange and dark battle for alternate universes and the nature of human souls. Lyra journeys to the mysterious north with a magical truth-telling device, the alethiometer, as her only aid to discovering what’s really happening.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – Kell is one of the last Antari, magicians that can travel between the four parallel worlds. Officially, he works for the king of Red London (where magic is vibrant and free) but unofficially, he smuggles objects between the worlds for those willing to pay. But when he accidentally smuggles a piece of Black London (which should be extinct) into Red London, all hell breaks loose across the four worlds. See my review here.
  • The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas – For less bloody but no less brilliant plotting and backstabbing, these 5 novellas about Celaena Sardothien’s assassin education manage to be both fun and dark. See my review here.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, the only one who can keep the Dead in Death. But when he goes missing, Sabriel must assume his role despite having no training and limited knowledge. She’ll be the only one to stand against the greatest evil her world has ever seen. See my review here.
  • Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton – Not nearly as gritty as these other recs, but still creepy. Silla will do anything to learn the truth behind her parents’ deaths—even some blood magic from a strange book that appears on her doorstep. But she quickly realizes she’s part of a larger story that hasn’t ended yet, and someone else will stop at nothing to claim her life and the book as well.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A gang of criminals on an impossible heist, each determined to betray the others first. What could go wrong? See my review here.

What to read again:

Ever since Harry Potter I’ve enjoyed re-reading the previous books in a series before the next one comes out. You get to soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—it just makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

The Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon

This is a case where the first book was on the fence for me in spots, and the second book was amazing! (You can see my reviews here and here). This is a seven-book series set in a futuristic London where clairvoyants (voyants) are hunted by Scion (the government). Paige is a Dreamwalker, a powerful voyant part of a criminal underworld gang (as most voyants are in London) kidnapped as part of Bone Season XX. She learns that behind Scion is an even more powerful, otherworldly force determined to hunt down and destroy the voyants in organized waves known as Bone Seasons. As you can see from my attempt at a summary, the world-building is complex, and that includes a huge cast of characters and vocabulary. I have to say though, that this is a world that sticks with you and I’m very excited for the next installment!

Originally scheduled for a November release, this was delayed until March 2017. However, these books are bit hefty so I decided to promote this re-read with enough time to get through them both, because I have a feeling you’ll need a sharp memory to jump into book three. If you need some assistance, Recaptains has the first book summarized here but there will be spoilers! Get on board now and re-enter Scion in March!

Note: Bloomsbury decided to repackage this series and designed simpler covers for the remaining books. The design on the left is the regular version. The design on the right that matches the previous covers is a special collector’s edition that was available as a pre-order. Both versions will be released on the same day. Going forward, the publisher will be releasing both versions so that if you want, all the hardcovers can match.

Empire of Storms

28260587by Sarah J. Maas
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

Get ready for an unpopular opinion – I did not enjoy this book. I think I have good reasons for this, but I’ll lay them out and you be the judge. I rate this 2 stars for overall experience, an extra star for Manon because she has the only chapters I liked.

I did read the whole thing, so these are the reasons I kept pushing through:

The witches! I love the witch covens. I love Manon.  I love the witch lore and mythology and history. I would read an entire spinoff series with Manon, prequel or sequel, I don’t care! She is all the fun and sass and savvy that Aelin used to be when she was Celaena.

The cameos! We aren’t done with characters from previous books reappearing and without spoilers I’ll just say that I always enjoy this. It really makes the world and the saga feel more well-rounded and complete.

Lysandra! Officially part of Team Aelin, she gets a lot more page time and a lot more agency. Love her! Plus she and Aelin seem to have an actual friendship.

What made this installment drag for me?

It’s just too long (like 200-300 pages too long). There are large swaths of wandering through forests with nothing much happening. Or wandering over the sea with nothing much happening. Or wondering about where to wander next with nothing much happening. This is a slow book. I know the best writers can get caught in the woods of losing the plot (the camping scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, anyone?) but these chapters should have been trimmed or cut.

For being a slow-moving plot, the character changes seem to leap out of nowhere constantly! There are sudden romantic pairings that made no sense to me. There are also several characters that come out as gay or bi but those relationships are all in the past–the only relationships given page-time in this tome are very hetero. Within that, I take issue with the sex scenes leaning toward erotica more than YA. I don’t mind sex in YA but there’s a difference in presentation (or there should be) from YA romance and hardcore erotica. And there’s a lot of biting and blood and male-dominance that makes me uncomfortable–but maybe that’s just not my cup of tea…

And not that this is a departure from the series but there are still only cishet white characters. Where are Nehemia’s people, at least??

Finally, almost moreso than in Queen of Shadows, Aelin plays everything so close to the vest that the big reveals almost feel like author ex machina to me. There’s not much sense of buildup–we muddle along on mysterious quests until the last 100 pages or so. And although I recognized the few hints throughout, the payoff just wasn’t there for me.

I’m pretty sure I’ll stick around for one more book to finish the series. I just wish this series could reach its potential.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Empire of Storms is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – The final book in this trilogy that will give you the emotional roller coaster of your life! Kestrel and Arin are separated once again, as Kestrel works to escape from the labor camp in the north, and Arin struggles to forget everything about the girl he thought he knew. See my review here.
  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – The immensely satisfying end to this trilogy brings the war between seraphim and chimaera to a spell-binding conclusion. The stage and stakes are bigger than ever for Karou and Akiva as they work to dispel darkness and rekindle their relationship. See my review here.
  • Winter by Marissa Meyer – The end of Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress’ stories brings them to Luna and Princess Winter, the forgotten royal slowly losing her mind because she refuses to use her gift against others. They have to work together to defeat Queen Levana’s plans to conquer Earth, and they have little time to do it. See my review here.

Writing Update – First draft fun!

This is a post I’ve been looking forward to for a long time! On October 4th, I started my rough draft of Fox Story. I now have almost 10,000 words!

It is not the easiest draft I’ve worked on, but I think I can polish this rock into the gem it’s meant to be. The characters are slower to open up than the ones I’ve written before, but they also have more depth to explore. Basically, although it’s the hardest project I’ve attempted, it’s also the most interesting and exciting for me! Even on slower days when I have to find the words one sentence at a time, I love working on it and seeing it come to life. Some of the challenges were intentional, some have popped up along the way, but I know working through these is going to make me a better writer.

I am still determined to finish this draft by the end of the year, in spite of shows (The Naked and Famous! Swan Lake!), holidays, and continued research. For now, back to the cave…


A Darker Shade of Magic

22055262by V.E. Schwab
5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this on my list for almost a year and I am so glad I got around to it! I knew from page 1 that this is exactly my type of poison, and it only got better from there. (I am now pestering everyone I know to read it). Dark magic, characters in fabulous coats, and four Londons—my favorite city multiplied by four. For me, it was insta-love!

Kel is one of only two Antari left—powerful magicians that can move between the parallel worlds. He also has a bad habit of smuggling items between the worlds, which is expressly forbidden by laws in all four of them. When he accidentally transfers a piece of Black London (destroyed by dark magic and the reason the four worlds are sealed off and kept separate) he must return it before it destroys the remaining three worlds with its power.

Lila is an aspiring pirate, current thief, making her way in Grey London when she bumps into Kel and proceeds to steal the stone without knowing what it is. Fighting turns to tentative friendship and of course complete chaos follows them from one London to the next.

So much to love here: excellent character studies, fast-paced action, and a twisting plot. The magic system continually evolves and derails what at first glance seems to be a straightforward story, which I loved. You’re never comfortable for long because the minute the characters decide what to do, you can bet it won’t work. I didn’t realize how often you can anticipate the steps of a story until my expectations were thrown aside for an alternative (and satisfying, that’s key) option. The writing isn’t pretty or delicious because it isn’t purple, but it’s my favorite type of specificity that I tend to find with Maggie Stiefvater’s work. There were a few sections of info-dumping but by that point I was so curious I didn’t care. The narration is a bit like a fairy tale or Diana Wynne Jones, so if you like those you will love this!

This is a fun adventure and though you can see its roots clearly (they’re even alluded to on the back jacket flap) this had me hooked! I’m excited to see where the series goes.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Darker Shade of Magic is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I recommend this partly because it’s another book where I knew it was for me from page 1! Agnieszka knows her perfect best friend is going to be the local wizard’s captive apprentice—except when he comes to choose a girl it isn’t Kasia. Incredible world-building, dark magic, excellent twists. See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Another dark London portal fantasy (unsurprising since Gaiman is one of Schwab’s influences) where ordinary office worker Richard Mayhew meets a young girl wounded on the street. Her name is Door, and the doors she creates and opens will change Richard’s life forever.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – One of my favorite YA fantasy novels of all time, also featuring a reluctant wizard with a penchant for magical coats who needs a strong-willed female sidekick to keep him honorable. See my review here.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley – Her foray into adult fantasy features vampires, delicious baked goods, and a girl known as Sunshine that finds herself befriending the very enemy her town is fighting against. This is a vivid, memorable book that I love!
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A gang of criminals with an impossible heist unite to beat the odds—even though they all plan to betray each other in the process. This book is amazing, just read it. If you need convincing, see my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Book 2 in a seven-part series, the author describes this as her love letter to London. Paige returns to her underground criminal home with the intent of turning the voyants against the Rephaim. It’s full of intrigue, action, and theatrics! See my review here.
  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Mia Corvere is determined to survive initiation into the Red Church to become one of the best assassins in the land. Only then can she avenge her fallen family. See my review here.

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