Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

15881by J.K. Rowling
Children’s Lit
4 of 5 stars

As a 13-year-old I just wanted Harry to make Dobby tell him the truth (I was pretty impatient as a kid!) but of course that wouldn’t be any fun! It’s so hard to be objective about these books…

Harry’s second year at Hogwarts is much darker than the first, with a mysterious monster attacking the students and petrifying them. Draco Malfoy is even more horrible in this book, and the mysterious Chamber of Secrets defies Hermione’s library researching skills. Harry is about to learn just how much the past repeats itself in the present (which feels more relevant now that I’m older). The themes of identity here are broken down from many angles–not just Harry’s fears about being a good fit for Slytherin. The students are learning what it means to be in different houses, what it means to Muggle-born or not, and if any of it truly matters. I like to think that Malfoy has some introspective moments off-page, but who can say. All we really know is that Lockhart is the only one who manages to leave this story less self-aware!

29241319Reading this again after a few years was so much fun! Harry is still adorably concerned about rule-following and making friends. He and Ron still do homework! Probably the weirdest magic in this book is Dumbledore keeping the school open while all these terrible things are happening.

The illustrations in the newest edition are charming though not as interesting as the first book’s adaptation. Admittedly, taking the whole series into account this one doesn’t rank as a favorite-favorite but it’s still magical!

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

Similar reads:

  • Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty – Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore Mansion. When Serafina finds a creepy man with a Black Cloak sneaking around down there stealing visiting children, she’s determined to unmask him. See my review here.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • 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.


6492390by Jane Austen
4 of 5 stars

I first read this in high school, and I did not appreciate the satire at all! I came away thinking Emma was a terrible friend (…she is) and far too aggravating for me to love. Rediscovering the delights this book has to offer has been a true pleasure!

Emma is the match-making heroine determined that she will never marry. Her self-proclaimed knowledge of love and relationships leads her to completely bungle life for her friends. Her attempts to pair people off result in comedic moments of awkwardness at parties and so much village drama. Admittedly, it’s a bit slower than some of Austen’s other stories, but her satire on small-town folk and gender roles is still hilarious now! The monologues I found tiresome and pointless as a teenager now make me roll my eyes and snicker. I’ve met, known, overheard people in similar conversations and it’s no wonder such speculations on weather or matching colors of fabric urged the author to vent her boredom with a pen and paper.

Although Emma has many traits that readers could deem “unlikable” I think she’s more honest that other Austen heroines. Her self-deceit is so earnest I couldn’t help but love her. And other times she admits to having no good reason for thinking as she does, such as her dislike of the perfectly amiable Jane Fairfax. Elizabeth Bennet might be sharp-tongued to Mr. Darcy but even she wouldn’t go so far as to admit she dislikes a nice person for no particular reason!

Emma is such a delightful mix of oblivious and self-aware, and Jane Austen’s assertive nature comes through when she defends women and their choices to Mr. Knightley. Both of them have such flawed logic that pushing them together often made me laugh. This has been thoroughly redeemed for me and I’ll revisit it again sometime looking forward to the excessive sarcasm!

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

Similar reads:

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – In order to guard the secret of his sexuality, Simon is blackmailed into match-making his tormentor with one of his friends while attempting to learn the true identity of the email pen-pal boy he’s crushing on, Blue. If there is a rival for Emma’s sarcasm, it is Simon! See my review here.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – A sarcastic and funny take on the popular gothic novels of the time. Catherine Morland stays at an old abbey and begins to wonder if the man she’s crushing on is actually part of a dark conspiracy. All the novels she’s read say signs point to yes!
  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – Paige’s first boyfriend died in a swimming accident last year. Her plan to for a better year includes overcoming her fear of swimming and going out with her long-time crush Ryan Chase. But when Ryan’s cousin Max moves to town her plan is quickly upended in the most unlikely ways. See my review here.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

stylesby Agatha Christie
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October, 1920

I went through a huge Agatha Christie phase when I was around fifteen, and I decided to revisit her first book as my classic read this month. This was fun! What I found most intriguing was the sparse, simple narrative that disguised such an intricate plot. I expected it to sound complicated as part of the misdirection, but I should have known better. Christie didn’t need to use cheap tricks to fool you–she just leads you through a maze of clues and red herrings, teasingly coy the entire time.

Hercule Poirot, her fastidious little Belgian detective, enters as an older man, his past exploits preceding him via his friend Hastings, our narrator. Hastings is visiting his friend John in the country, and the small group of family and staff is a bit tense from the remarriage of John’s mother to a much younger man. Everyone suspects he’s a gold-digger–so when Emily Inglethorp is murdered one night, it’s an open-and-shut case. But Hastings mentions it to Poirot, and Poirot reveals nothing is as it seems.

It’s a traditional format–the introduction to the people staying at the house, the crime, the investigation, the suspicions, the reveal–and it’s a fun read for the most part. Bits of it get repetitive, but that might have been Christie attempting to play fair with her readers. Even knowing her reputation–even on my guard against the false trails–I failed to guess the murderer (though I did figure out some side twists). I recommend this for anyone wanting a brain teaser or a dip into a wide variety of murder mysteries!

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

Similar reads:

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – One of his longer stories featuring the world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson. They investigate a family in the English countryside convinced they are cursed and haunted by a giant ghostly dog.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The start of a sharp, funny, dark series featuring the curmudgeon detective Cormoran Strike and his charming (if a bit naive) assistant Robin. They investigate a high-profile celebrity murder together. An excellent throwback to noir detective TV.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – The thriller that took the country by storm a few years ago. Nick’s wife Amy disappears under highly suspicious circumstances. Soon, Nick is charged with her murder, despite his certainty that she isn’t dead.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – If what you really want is another Christie mystery, this is widely regarded as one of her best. Put ten people with dark secrets on an island and watch them start dying off. Who is the killer?


Pride and Prejudice

PPby Jane Austen
4 of 5 stars

It’s February, the season of rom-coms, so I thought I’d review a standard contribution to this genre. The most popular Austen novel of interpersonal drama and romance set in the microcosm of the English countryside features the love-hate relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Austen wrote this romantic comedy over 200 years ago when she was just 21 years old! You can see her sharp opinions on society, particularly regarding the social restrictions on women, throughout. I’d forgotten how funny and easy to read this is despite its age.

Quick-witted and clever Elizabeth is the second of five sisters who must all marry well since they have no fortune. She and her older sister Jane strike up an acquaintance with the rich and well-connected Mr. Bingley when he comes to town for the season–unfortunately the Bennet family does not make a good impression on Bingley’s sisters or his close friend, the proud and even richer Mr. Darcy. Insults (accidental and intentional) fly for hundreds of pages as these characters (okay, well mainly Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy) struggle with their feelings for each other. Of course, the theme of the day is the danger of forming an impression of someone you don’t know well, and how actions can easily be misrepresented.

In addition to the romance and social commentary, Austen provides a detailed glimpse into the lives of English gentry during the early 19th century. This is an enjoyable and enduring love story that set the framework for many modern stories today.

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

Similar reads:

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Set around the same time, this is the story of Cathy and Heathcliff’s epic, doomed romance on the Yorkshire moors. A bit harder to read thanks to the preservation of the Yorkshire dialect, but full of beautiful lines.
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – The Parisian, star-crossed romance between a reclusive musical prodigy and the prima donna of the opera house. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s a short book with beloved characters.
  • P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han – Another romance story featuring a push-pull relationship. Lara Jean never meant to fall for her fake boyfriend but now she has and doesn’t know what to do. See my review here.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – From different backgrounds and cultures, Eleanor and Park find themselves falling for each other despite everything that stands in their way. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – The adventurous Sophia Bellamy is betrothed to Rene Hassard but they both have secrets that threaten their relationship. Sharp conversations about this occur while they are on the run. See my review here.

Peter Pan

peter panby J.M. Barrie
Children’s Fiction / Classics
5 of 5 stars

This has been one of my favorite classic children’s stories for years, and I received this gorgeous edition for Christmas! This embossed hardcover comes fully illustrated with 3-D interactive pop-up elements throughout. Eep! (My previous version was a strange Borders edition with some goth girl in a “Tink” t-shirt on the front. It obviously had to go). My only critique is that “big words” and certain British usages are defined in brackets for younger readers. Learn from context, your parents, or Google, children. It’s good for you!

All that aside, the story itself is fantastic if you haven’t read it. This was a no-brainer to choose for my first classic novel of the year. Yes, it’s a kid adventure story about a flying boy that never grows up, but there are poignant and interesting pearls of wisdom hidden here, too.

Barrie’s descriptions are stirring and memorable, and the episodic adventures are a perfect representation of childhood fun. I haven’t come across this sort of narrative style in quite the same way, so just add this to your list. If you’ve seen a film or stage version, you officially have no idea what the story is really like (although the 2003 adaptation with Jeremy Sumpter comes closest in terms of dialogue and symbolism). Read this and let your heart laugh and twist with wistful feelings.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, this edition of Peter Pan is available on Goodreads and on Boulder Book Store’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – A brave little mouse sets out to become a knight in a kingdom’s castle to save the beautiful Princess Pea. Charming and full of excellent symbolism.
  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – A “traditional” fairy tale that examines what it is to be human as the last unicorn searches for the rest of her kind with the help of a cynical woman and a magician that can’t do magic.
  • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket – The first in A Series of Unfortunate Events which follows the three orphaned siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny as they get passed from guardian to guardian trying to avoid their nefarious uncle, Count Olaf, and uncover mysteries relating to their parents’ deaths. Darkly humorous and almost too vague at times, but enjoyable.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – A philosophical and sharp look at modern society through the eyes of a visiting child-prince. See my review here.
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell – An illustrated and hilarious look at one boy’s quest to prove dragons aren’t all evil monsters. Just as good as the movie!

The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales

101 Grimm Fairy Talesby Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm
Translation by Margaret Hunt
4 of 5 stars

It’s always hard to rate an anthology of stories rather than just one since it requires so much generalizing. This is a good collection with a mix of well-known fairy tales (Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Little Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella) as well as dozens you’ve probably never heard of (The Twelve Hunters, The Wolf and the Fox, Thousandfurs). These are the traditional European stories revolving around brownies, fairies, gnomes, and witches that roam the world either tricking or treating the commoners and kings. For the most part, the magic and motivations aren’t explained at all, but the black-and-white quality of the stories is refreshing. In this edition, some of the similar tales are grouped together so you can easily compare versions, and the more famous stories are spread throughout, which I liked.

Being the Grimm collection, many of these are more violent and disturbing that you might be used to if you think Disney movies are accurate representations. Dismemberment, cutting someone out of a villain’s stomach, abandoned/neglected/abused children, and sadistic punishments are quite common. Sometimes there is a moral to the story (a good number of them mention God/the Devil/Death and heaven/hell as characters or consequences) but the creepiest ones present a horrific story with no clear purpose other than to chill. But just when you start to think all these dark stories can’t surprise you, some of them include truly beautiful lines! There’s a bit of everything in a collection this large, and I enjoyed spending several months going through it all. This is the perfect book for when you only have 10-15 minutes to read at any time, since most of the stories are 2-10 pages. (The complete collection is two volumes, 211 fairy tales). I’ll be starting the second volume soon!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Rags & Bones: Timeless Twists on Classic Tales by Melissa Marr – Take these fairy tales and give them a modern spin from a host of talented authors! These are creepy and compelling. See my review here.
  • The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman – Also included with the Rags & Bones collection, there is a fully illustrated hardcover version of this Sleeping Beauty retelling, and the modifications are quite interesting.
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – Classic fairy tales in a modern, sci-fi setting where magic is based in science and the princesses aren’t waiting around for men to save them. The first book is Cinder – see my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – This book consumed me! This is a “traditional” fairy tale with incredible characters and world-building. So dark, so good. See my review here.
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley – A retelling of Donkeyskin/Thousandfurs, this dark fantasy relates the story of Lisla Lissar, the beautiful daughter of the king. She’s so beautiful that when her mother dies, her father declares that Lissar must be his bride. Lissar must escape and make her way in the world, but the past has a way of catching up to her. *Please note this story is graphic and could have triggers.*
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – These traditional fairy tale spirits are given their own story set in 1899 New York. See my review here.

The Little Prince

157993by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

I am one of the few (it would seem) who didn’t grow up reading this book. The funny thing is, I remember seeing it at many of my friends’ houses, not with their books, but always in a “coffee table book” context with other large books my 8-year-old self dubbed “boring.” The cartoon cover confused me, but I decided it was a ploy to lure grownups into reading a Boring Book and resolved to ignore it. Yes–I probably spent more time thinking about this book than the average person who read it. And yes, it strikes me now that this kind of thinking sort of allies with the tone of the story.

All that aside, I finally borrowed it from the library, read it in one night, and of course, I loved it! How could you not? A pilot crashes his plane in the desert, and spends his days discussing surprisingly poignant truths with a little prince from another planet. The language was perfect, the tone was perfect, and best of all, everything the little prince learned about Earth was perfect. The satire is completely on point, and since I read the translated English version (alas, I don’t know French), this was especially pleasing. That’s part of how you know it’s telling the truth–these observations haven’t changed for nearly a hundred years. Anyway, it’s a short book, well worth reading, and I’m probably going to buy it so I can revisit it at least once a year.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Little Prince is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie – The quintessential story about not growing up, this makes a fine companion read to The Little Prince with a similar narrative style and equally moving truths about life. It’s so much more than a Disney cartoon. See my review here.
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – Another story pitting a child’s intellect against grownups, featuring a little girl with a terrible home life who finds solace in books and her elementary school teacher Miss Honey. Also a social commentary on education and parenting, if you don’t get too distracted by the crazy school pranks.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – A rambling adventure of wordplay and smart remarks. I didn’t read this until I was older but I remember absolutely loving it.
  • The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss – This just happens to be my favorite Dr. Seuss book. Each story involves learning about racism, envy, materialism, capitalism, stubbornness, and fear, and it’s all worth remembering later in life as well. If you only vaguely remember it as a kid, or never read it, check it out.
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – Again, a children’s story I didn’t come across until much later, but so cute and so good! The story of a brave mouse fighting evil and injustice for the sake of the Princess Pea is humorous and touching, and has cute pictures to boot, so now you have no excuse not to grab it.

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