children’s books

chamber-of-secrets

2017 Reading List #4: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

It’s probably silly of me to try to objectively review this book knowing my feelings about Harry Potter, but I’ll give it a fair shot.

I received the illustrated edition of Chamber of Secrets for Christmas, and, like last year, my mom and I reread it together, just as we did when first reading the books many years ago.

Again, it was perfect, and the added bonus of Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrations only makes the reading experience more enjoyable. I’m particularly fond of his detailed illustrations of  the Mandrakes and the Phoenix.

These illustrated editions of the series are the perfect way to enjoy some quality time revisiting the series that has forever changed me. Though I am starting to think I need an entire bookcase dedicated to Harry Potter books and their related texts. I guess I’ll have to continue my dreams for a home with a library…

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Book #66: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

I first encountered The Boy in the Striped Pajamas via the book’s film adaptation, though I’d known of the book’s existence for some time. Since I knew the story already, I guess I only have myself to blame for the emotional turmoil I’ve inflicted upon myself.

As the back cover of my copy of the book says, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story about a nine-year-old boy named Bruno, but this is not a book for nine-year-olds.

Bruno is a young boy living in Berlin in the early 1940s, a clear indicator of what larger conflict will put the book’s action into motion. Through Bruno’s naive sensibilities, we learn that he’s the son of an important Nazi soldier sent to command Auschwitz (which Bruno mistakenly calls “Out-With”).

Bruno, a lover of adventure and stories from the Middle Ages, is an explorer at heart, and after feeling lonely in his new home, is delighted to meet a boy his age who lived on the other side of a fence.

The fact that the story is so innocently told from Bruno’s perspective adds something fresh to a familiarly desolate Holocaust narrative. Bruno doesn’t understand what happens at Auschwitz or what it means to be Jewish, and this ignorance is what makes the story ultimately all the more tragic.

And because I’m apparently in a particularly cruel mood today, I also spent the better part of this afternoon watching Schindler’s List for the first time (not exactly a holiday favorite, but a great movie none-the-less). It was interesting to note the parallels between the two narratives, especially because of the starkly different perspectives. Both a tragedies worth experiencing if for no other reason than to see a horror that we can only hope will never be repeated.

So now that I’ve finished my unofficial Holocaust entertainment unit, I’m moving on to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first nobel, This Side of Paradise, which could be my last read of 2015.

Look for my post on my favorite reading projects of the year in the coming days!

The Westing Game

Book #20: The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

Book #20: The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

I recently found myself reminiscing over how much I loved The Westing Game when I read it in middle school, so my friend Ryan graciously lent it to me so I could rediscover my enjoyment of it. I think it’s been ten years since I last read it, but I can honestly say that The Westing Game is enjoyable for readers of all ages.

The book functions as a murder-mystery; sixteen heirs are gathered for the reading of millionaire Sam Westing’s will, a document stating that Westing’s heirs will only receive their inheritance after solving the mystery of his own death. Basically, if you like the game Clue, you’ll like this book.

One thing I didn’t really remember about the book is its odd assortment of characters. There are themes and characteristics that I think read much different for adults than for the book’s young target audience. I think there are a few characterizations that I think are a bit dated and border on stereotypes (the book was originally published in 1978, so it’s understandable), but it’s overall story isn’t really affected by these issues.

So, now that I’ve finished this, I’m moving on to what I expect will be a crappy teen romance novel, but I got it as a free download, so whatever. Besides, I’m in my last semester of college, so a little light, trashy reading might just be exactly what I need.

Book Update #8: 36-40

The End

36. The End, Lemony Snicket

I’m happy to say that after many years, I’ve finally read A Series of Unfortunate Events in its entirety. I was a bit disappointed with this finale, but I’m still happy to have finished the series, and I’d definitely recommend it to young readers. There were still many questions left unanswered, which I found a bit frustrating, but I know that this air of mystery works with the context of the books, so I guess I’ll just have to accept that I’m left with questions. On a side note: I really enjoyed all the literary allusions in this final chapter in the series. There’s definitely something to be said for reading these books at an older age, because many of the references have a bigger significance for older readers. Overall, The End was a fitting conclusion to a great series.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

37. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

For the past year, I feel like I’ve seen this book everywhere — bookstores, magazine, etc. — so I finally decided it was time to buy it and see what all the fuss was about. Where’d You Go, Bernadette has been recognized as one of the top books of 2012, but I must say, I don’t think it measured up in any way to Gone Girl, another top-seller and critically-acclaimed novel of 2012. Bernadette is the story of a semi-dysfunctional, elite Seattle family comprised of wacky genius mother Bernadette, Microsoft superstar father Elgin, and their over-achieving daughter Bee. As the title implies, Bernadette disappears into thin air, leaving her husband and daughter to cope alone (though this story shouldn’t really be considered a mystery). I really enjoyed the storytelling, as the majority of the story is told through emails, notes, memos, etc. from a variety of people in the characters’ lives. However, I would’ve preferred more of Bee’s voice throughout (she narrates the penultimate section of the book, but is only rarely heard from otherwise). Personally, the most frustrating aspect of the novel is what to me seemed a fairly unbelievable time frame. Without spoiling anything, the action that occurs after Bernadette’s disappearance is a bit ridiculous, especially in the case of a missing person, and the aftermath of this “action” is really unresolved by the conclusion of the book. Overall, I’d say this is a good enough read if you don’t put too much thought into the details. (And on a side note: if you have any interest in Antarctica, it’s a must read. I, however, don’t really fall into this category, but I’ve developed a new arsenal of fun facts about our southern-most continent.) As a student of pop culture, I’m glad to have read it, but this won’t be a book I’ll return to time and again.

My Antonia

38. My Ántonia, Willa Cather

This was my first experience reading anything by Willa Cather, and I must say, it was well worth the effort. My Ántonia is a beautiful story of several inter-connected characters growing up on the prairies of Nebraska in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The story is written episodically, so there isn’t much plot to speak of, exactly, but you are certainly put into the moment as a reader. The setting is a major character in and of itself, and, as a woman who spent every summer in Nebraska as a child, I loved the connection I felt to the story. Reading this book was relaxing, but never boring, especially if you come to love some of these characters as much as I did. Though the story itself isn’t often heralded as one of the greats among American literature, Cather writes in a ground-breaking fashion, especially with concern to gender roles. I did a bit of research, and it seems that Cather put a bit of herself into the two biggest characters, Ántonia and Jim, neither of whom fit into typical gender stereotypes. After finishing this book, I’m happy to have finally read one of Cather’s works, and I definitely look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Carrie

39. Carrie, Stephen King

In preparation for the film remake of Carrie being released this fall, I decided to read the novel, which was definitely a worthwhile experience. In comparison with the original film, I would say the book is more violent, taking you into the mind of Carrie and her victims on Prom Night. I would also say that the book has an equally unsettling ending, though the concluding moments are different. I’m still a bit wary of the choice of Chloe Grace Moretz as the title character in the film remake, but I’m interested to see if this version does anything different with the story than the original film. One thing I would say that makes the book worth reading: the style of storytelling incorporates bits of newspaper articles, interviews, testimonies, etc. that fall after the incident on Prom Night, so readers get a future perspective on the whole situation. Personally, this is something that I think makes the book superior to the original film, so I’m interested to see if they attempt to include these sections in the new version. Overall, Carrie is a fun, quick read perfect for fall, especially if you’re looking forward to the new film.

Tuck Everlasting

 

40. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt

I read this book while I was in elementary school, but a friend gave me a copy recently, so I decided it would be fun to reread this one. This is a sweet story about a 10-year-old girl who meets the Tucks, a family who became immortal long ago thanks to drinking from a fresh water spring. The story was shorter than I remember, though that may be in part because I also remember the film adaptation. I think overall the story is a bit abrupt, and the movie did a better job of developing the connection between Winnie and the Tucks, but the story is still a good read for young audiences.

With this list, I’ve officially completed my 2013 New Year’s Resolution of reading 40 books this year! I must say, I really didn’t expect to finish so early in the year, and I’m excited to see how far I can get before year’s end. Next up: Bridget Jones’s Diary.