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.

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.

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.

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

25700544by David Kudler
YA Fantasy / Historical Fiction
4 of 5 stars

This is a case of cover love becomes whole book love! Risuko was so fun for me to read! Something completely different, well-paced, and with a heroine you can’t help but love.

Kano Murasaki lives in feudal Japan. She’s never left her home or province before. All she likes to do is climb–trees, buildings, cliffs, anything that gets her as high as possible. (This earns her the nickname Risuko – squirrel). But all that changes when a mysterious old woman buys Risuko from her mother and sister and takes her to a faraway holding known as the Full Moon. There she will learn to be “a very special kind of woman.”

Risuko won me over almost immediately! She has simple desires and a strong will. She is a samurai’s daughter, and holds herself to that standard–even if her father died in disgrace. While a miko (apprentice) at the Full Moon Risuko learns many things about herself, her father, her nation, and her future. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but this short book is a perfectly balanced coming-of-age / mystery / adventure story and I loved it!

You’ll also find female rivalry and female friendship, interesting historical figures, and Risuko’s wry sense of humor as she narrates her story. (I’ve seen this shelved as MG and YA but I would vote YA just based on the tone and some of the everyday life descriptions like butchering animals). I really can’t wait for the sequel to see how her story ends!

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

Similar reads:

  • Eon by Alison Goodman – A girl disguised as a boy is training to be a candidate for bonding with one of the zodiac dragons that keeps balance in an Asian-inspired world. If she’s caught, she’ll be killed. See my review here.
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead – A small remote village faces starvation if they can’t communicate with their supplier at the mountain’s base. Fei chooses to go on a dangerous quest to save her sister and her community. See my review here.
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – The tight pacing and writing of Risuko reminded me a lot of this book, and that’s really why I’m including it here. This is the nonstop race of Safi and Iseult as three different factions try to claim Safi’s truth-telling abilities for their own use. See my review here.
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke – A fun story set in historic Venice as young brothers Prosper and Bo try to survive on the streets. Then they meet Scipio, who gives them a home and slowly reveals tantalizing secrets of the city.

What’s new this month

The second part of fall release season is here! Take a look at these gems that are finally here:

2777927510/4 – This Adventure Ends – by Emma Mills

This is a case of cover love at first sight for me–so gorgeous! Sloane leaves Florida for New York, and falls in with twins Vera and Gabe. Fast friends, and maybe something more, Sloane becomes even more involved with them when their mother’s painting goes missing. I’m intrigued by the Goodreads’ hints of LGBTQ themes, and honestly I just want to see what happens and if this story lives up to the beautiful cover art. (Seriously, this aquamarine / seafoam color is my absolute favorite).

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

2822082610/4 – When the Moon Was Ours – by Anna-Marie McLemore

I am so excited for this! LGBT magical realism that sounds beautiful and incredible. Miel and Sam both have strange abilities and the two of them are inseparable. Miel has roses that grow from her wrist, and Sam hangs moons in the trees. They’re both threatened by witches who want Miel’s roses for themselves, to make anyone fall in love. There’s aspects of romance and dark magic here and I can’t wait to see how this unfolds!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

2858834510/11 – The Midnight Star – by Marie Lu

The epic conclusion to Adelina’s story is finally here! I absolutely fell in love with this series last year. Adelina’s downward spiral into evil so well-done and so sympathetic. The writing is stellar, and I honestly have no idea if Lu is going to steer Adelina towards redemption or damnation. Now that she rules as the White Wolf, Adelina has lost everything she holds dear. What is her next move going to be? As the voices in her mind threaten to take control, Adelina must choose her legacy and her fate.

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

2330283810/11 – Goldenhand – by Garth Nix

This has been my one of my favorite fantasy worlds for almost twenty years! We follow Lirael again as she attempts to save Nick from Free Magic and learns there’s a message waiting for her with the Clayr and a woman from the north from her dead mother, Arielle. For the first time, we get an expanded map beyond the Clayr’s glacier! Although I suspect this will be much like the other stories in this realm, I can never resist the urge to return and see what’s new for the beloved characters (especially Sabriel and Mogget). I am so excited to see what lies in store for Lirael!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

2548829910/11 – The Secret Horses of Briar Hill – by Megan Shepherd

Again, the cover grabbed me and the jacket summary held me! Winged horses, mirrors, and a little girl trying to protect them. The Horse Lord tells Emmaline he’s hiding one of his own winged horses, Foxfire, in her world to protect him from the Black Horse, which hunts by colorless moonlight. The magic is intriguing, and this story sounds like everything my junior high self would have loved so I am all in!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

2741438910/25 – A Darkly Beating Heart – by Lindsay Smith

Time-travel between present-day and 19th century Japan! Reiko is an angry girl with unresolved issues. After a failed suicide attempt, she is sent to a small, historically preserved Japanese village. There, Reiko connects with the spirit of Miyu–the only person that might be more obsessed with revenge than Reiko herself. She will have to face Miyu’s demons and her own if she wants to live. I’m intrigued on multiple levels and I really hope this is good! Historical fiction seems to be the author’s strong suit so I hope to be swept away with this revenge tale.

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

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