Harry Potter Challenge: Epic Fail (for me)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling 
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: June 2003
ISBN: 9780439358071

Source: Library audiobook

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling 
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: July 2006
ISBN: 9780439785969

Source: Library audiobook

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: July 2007
ISBN: 9780545139700

Source: Library audiobook

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)

Well, as you might have guessed, I did not finish the Harry Potter challenge.  In fact, I'm in the middle of listening to #5 and #6, but haven't even gotten to #7.  However, my husband managed to finish just in time (ok, it was about 40 minutes after midnight, but I figure that's close enough).  The last three books he'll discuss all in one post.  Here's what he has to say:

Likes: Despite the fact that the students are given a terrible defense against the dark arts teacher, they become more independent and essentially take matters into their own hands, teaching themselves defense.  I also like how we start to glimpse the connection between Harry and Voldemort - how Harry can see and feel what Voldemort does, feeling things through his scar.  It's a good foreshadowing for future book contents.  A favorite quote:
You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts...but you cannot deny he's got style... p 623
Dislikes: I hate that Harry was way too angry all the time - seeming to lose his temper all the time.  Basically, he was a brat.

Likes: This is the book where things begin to come together, finally.  How Voldemort was able to return to a body and how he started making horcruxes.  She explains how it is that the killing curse kills other people, but didn't finish Voldemort off at once.

Dislikes: I thought it was stupid when Harry used the spell from the half-blood Prince that he honestly had no idea what it would do [Sectumsempra].  Talk about stupid. 

Likes: I enjoyed the action-packed plot - it is interesting and intriguing all the time.  Everything is finally tied up and we feel that things come to a completion, a quite satisfying ending.  I especially liked how Rowling kept Harry from stooping to the use of the killing curse, despite how convenient it might have been.

Dislikes: I felt sad about all of the deaths, especially characters we came to know and love, but I suppose it was a part of the story.

Overall ratings: ***** (for all three)

What's your favorite thing about rereading the Harry Potter series?

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Got Fear?

A Bit of Me(Me) is hosted by Danielle of There's a Book.

This week's topic is about our greatest fears.  I'm not entirely sure what is my greatest fear.  I admit I have a fear of being attacked (really, who doesn't), but I don't often think about that, unless I'm walking home alone in the dark.  I've also got a rather healthy fear of spiders.  So much so that I couldn't bring myself to post a photo of one to illustrate.  But, I decided to focus on one that I've been dealing with particularly these last few months.

The fear is public speaking. At the thought of getting up in front of people, I get chills and my hands start shaking.  My mouth will usually go quite dry as well.  The irony of this, I think, is that I've spoken before audiences quite a few times.  At my high school graduation, I spoke.  In my church, I've given a number of talks.  And most of all, I've been teaching this summer.  Every Monday and Wednesday, I get up in front of about sixty students and lecture for an hour and a half.  And every single time I get the shakes and my brain seems to forget a third of its vocabulary.  It is definitely different than giving a speech or a talk, since you can't really read from a script.  It's rather humorous, I think, that despite having taught this class last summer and almost eight weeks this semester already, that I still manage to get nervous every single time.  Isn't facing your fear supposed to be a good way to overcome it?  

What's one of your fears?

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I really ought to be posting a book review right now (hey, I'm currently only two months behind, but wait a few days and It'll be closer to three).  Instead, I'm directing you to check out my guest post up at Callista's Ramblings.  She was gracious enough to let me ramble about my camping experiences.  Made me wish I was camping again (even though I went last weekend).  Enjoy!

Book Review: The Agency 1: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

The Agency 1: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
Publisher: Candlewick
Publication date: March 2010
ISBN: 9780763640675

Source: Library

The Agency 1: A Spy in the House 

Mary, a reformed thief who was saved from the gallows at age 12, has been brought up in a ladies' school.  Little does she know the school also stands as a front for a detective agency, banking on the fact that women are in general ignored and unnoticed.  Mary's first assignment leads her to the house of a suspected smuggler, where she is to safely gather information.  But, she's anxious to do more, and decides to take more risks.  When she is plunged into a deadly web of mystery and danger, she isn't sure who she should trust, even if her heart tells her otherwise.

Things I Liked:

I love a good mystery with a Victorian feel.  The setting and the time period in this book simply glowed!  Not to mention, I really like Mary, a tough heroine who made the transition from street thief to educated woman beautifully.  While the mystery itself is not as amazing as I could have desired, I found myself entranced with Mary, her romantic interest (who may or may not be trustworthy), and the lovely details and unfolding of the story.  Definitely looking forward to more in the series.  Some delights from the book:
The house itself was a tall slice of Georgian wedding cake.  Being so close to the Thames - it was right across the street from the embankment - its whitewashed facade was an uneven gray, frescoed with lumps of bird guano and soot. p 30
Sunlight glowed round the edges of the curtains.  Mary lifted one eyelid. Why did she feel so...?  Even before she could frame the question, the events of yesterday came back. They didn't rush or ebb so much as cudgel her brain." p 241
Things I Didn't Like:
As I noted above, the mystery was not that amazing.  But, I really loved pretty much everything else, so it didn't bother me much.

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

s-factor: !
a few here and there

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
some minor incidents

Overall rating: ****

So, I'm fairly new to the mystery-historical fiction combo, but I'd love more suggestions!

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Moot Loot

(hosted by Marg of Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Claire of The Captive Reader)

I've pretty much decided that the library is banned for me right now.  I'm so far behind in review books and books I own that I've really got to hold off for a while.  Fortunately, I've still got a few books that I want enough that I will check them out anyway! :)  Only two this week, though.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (reread for me - checked out the book club set for our August meeting)

I also managed to acquire some delights for review:
The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (for Traveling ARC Tours)
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex
The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (won in a contest from Penguin)!

Anything good for you this week?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Book Review: Whistle Bright Magic by Barb Bentler Ullman

Whistle Bright Magic: A Nutfolk Tale by Barb Bentler Ullman
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Publication date: February 2010
ISBN: 978-0061882869

Source: Review copy provided by author

Whistle Bright Magic: A Nutfolk Tale

Willa and her daughter are returning to Plunkit after being gone twenty years.  While Willa can't see or even remember the fairies, Zelly is just discovering their presence; in particular, the last young fairy Whistle Bright.  The fairies have been leaving Plunkit, ever since the city began to expand, cutting down more trees, but Whistle is determined to stay where he is.  Zelly makes a few friends, and decides she wants to remain in Plunkit, especially when she realizes she just might learn more about her father who disappeared when she was three.  But, Willa is in a hurry to return to her life in the city.  Can Zelly and Whistle Bright both get what they want if they help one another?

Things I Liked:
I liked the sweet, yet serious feel of the book.  The story of Zelly managed to be both light and serious at the same time.  Instead of being silly or fluffy, since it's about fairies, it managed to have a depth that I hadn't expected.  I liked Zelly as well.  She would sometimes initially have opinions of people or things that she didn't particularly like, but she didn't have a problem changing them when she learned she was wrong.

Sometimes I wondered which would be better: peace and quiet but no father in my life or a dad who wanted me but brought lots of stress.  I wished I could have had something in between. p 15
Through layers of green branches, the sun speckled the pretty scene, and the air was filled with something sweet like tree sap or old blackberries, warm and dripping in the brambles.  The beauty of this place floated in the atmosphere like humidity.  Closing my eyes, I recorded the feeling and wondered how my mother had ever left. p 40
"I put all my worry and hope in a box, and I closed the lid."
Funny.  She put her feelings in boxes, and I organized mine in drawers. p 133
Things I Didn't Like:
While I enjoyed the depth and sweetness of the story, I wish there had been more about the fairies, since it didn't seem like they had much to do with the plot.  It was more about what Zelly was experiencing, trying to come to terms with her unknown father and making new friends.  I would like to read the first book about Zelly's mother to read more about the fairies.  A good choice for tweens who like fairy stories.

Probably should read The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood, though it isn't necessary in order to follow this one

Fairy books by Gail Carson Levine

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ***

What kind of fairy books did you like when you were younger?

Posted as part of Tween Tuesday, hosted by GreenBeanTeenQueen.

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Listless Monday, Water Edition

Listless Monday was inspired by both Amanda at A Bookshelf Monstrosity's feature Books by Theme and Court at Once Upon a Bookshelf's Listed feature.  Be sure to check out their lists!

A Blue So Dark Hannah (Daughters Of The Sea) Forbidden Sea
Sea Change Sea Glass (Glass, Book 2) The Mermaid's Mirror

Since there hasn't been much relief from the heat here, I thought I'd do a list of books that are about water, as an attempt to help us cool off.  And, since I'm going to a nearby lake in a few weeks, it will help me get in the mood too!

Water Edition

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler 
The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip (suggested by Andie)
Dark Life by Kat Falls (suggested by NotNessie and Susan)
The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
Everlasting by Angie Frazier
Farworld, Book 1: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage
Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson
Hannah by Kathryn Lasky
Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester (suggested by Andie)
The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (suggested by Andie)
The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan 
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (suggested by Andie)
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Sea Change by Aimee Friedman
Sea Glass by Maria Snyder
The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
Siren by Tricia Rayburn (suggested by Alison)
Swim the Fly by Don Calame (suggested by Kelly J.)
They Came From Below by Blake Nelson (suggested by Kelly J.)
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (suggested by Andie)
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
Would You by Marthe Jocelyn (suggested by Kelly J.)

As always, any suggestions?

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Got Books? Winner!


Wow!  The Got Books? event was a lot of fun and I got to visit plenty of new-to-me blogs (despite coming at it a day late)!  I also had a lot of people sign up for my contest which was pretty exciting.  And, since I know you are all so anxious to know who won, I'll not delay any longer:

Jennifer, whose newest favorite book is Linger (and I'm super jealous, cause I haven't had a chance to read this one yet!)  Congrats, Jennifer!  I've sent you an email and you can choose two books from the photo on my contest post.  

Thanks everyone for visiting and a special thanks to the bloggers from There's a Book and Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers for hosting this event!

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Got Books?

Little did I realize, when I signed up for the Got Books? event, that I would be on a camping trip and thus quite unable to have an internet connection.  But, fortunately for you, I did manage to think ahead enough that I can post this and schedule it for tomorrow!  So, if anyone is so inclined to be kind and put a link to my contest on The Event page at the Got Books? site, I'd be obliged forever!  So, for your reading delights, I have a photo of the books I'm offering up for grabs.  And, since we are a bit tight on budget, I'm only able to have one winner at this time, but the winner will get to choose two books from the photo.  Most of them are ARCs, but a few are finished copies.  Here are the choices:


Just leave a comment with a way to contact you and tell me what your newest favorite book is, and I'll choose a winner probably on Sunday, July 25th.  Best of luck!

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Looting a Bit Later

I almost decided to skip library loot again this week, because my loot has been so slim.  But, I decided I just couldn't leave you guys hanging another week :)  
The best part is, they are all reloot - books I had to return unread and check back out again.  Here's hoping I get to them the second time!

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

And a few came for review and from contests:
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick (for review)
Fallout by Ellen Hopkins (for review)
Mistwood bookmark from Emily of Emily's Reading Room

What does your pile look like this week?

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Author Interview with Jon and Pamela Voelkel

The Jaguar Stones, Book One: MiddleworldWhile I'm trying new things, here's my very first author interview!  The Voelkel's first book The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld published this year and is an exciting middle grade adventure novel about ancient and modern Mayan culture.  Check out my review of the book here.  Also, take a peak at the guest post the Voelkels did on my blog last Thursday.  Without further ado, here is the interview:

ME: What's the most exciting or hair-raising experience you had while traveling to research your book?

J&P: It was a beautiful sunny day in Campeche, Mexico and we decided, on impulse, to try and find a remote site called Hormiguero. We soon discovered that the jungle had reclaimed the road, the remaining narrow track was bounded by trees on both sides and there was no way to turn around. It got very muddy, full of potholes and deep puddles, and we didn’t dare stop in case we got stuck. Then the sky began to darken and we knew that if the rains came, we’d be in serious trouble - no 4-wheel drive, no GPS, no cell phone signal and no one knew we were there. We learned a lot that day. The hard way. (But we made it to Hormiguero and it was spellbinding.)

ME: Sounds fun (and scary)!  Why do you think ancient cultures such as the Mayan culture are so intriguing to us today?

J&P: We tend to think of progress as always moving forward, but it’s obvious that the human race has had a few relapses. So much knowledge was lost when Diego de Landa burned  all the Maya books in 1549. It’s mind-boggling what the Maya achieved with no metal tools or wheels or telescopes – we all want to know how they did it. And who isn’t thrilled by tales of magnificent pyramids rising out of the untamed jungle? Throw in some secret passageways to explore and mysterious writings to decode, and what’s not to love?

ME: I know, makes me want to take a vacation right now! Are the Jaguar Stones based off of something that actually existed in ancient Mayan
culture or did you create them?

J&P: The Jaguar Stones are fictional; we invented them to embody some of the qualities that have sustained the Maya through the last three thousand years, such as agriculture, astronomy, creativity, military prowess, and kingship. The appearance of the Jaguar Stones was inspired by a poster we bought at Altun Ha in Belize, showing an amazing carved jade head of the Sun God. The actual artifact has always been kept under lock and key in its native land, so we saw it for the first time this year at ‘The Maya and the Mythic Sea’ exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

ME: If you could ask an ancient Mayan king or queen one question, what would it be?

J&P: We’d ask them “What was in all those books that Diego de Landa took from you and burned?”

ME: Ooh, the librarian in me craves the answer to that!  What do you hope kids will learn or enjoy the most from reading your book?

J&P: Mostly, we want them to have fun reading it, and we hope they won’t be able to put it down. It’s a real page-turner with lots of twists and turns, but it has plenty of funny moments too. Along the way, maybe they’ll learn that there’s a lot more to the ancient Maya than just human sacrifice, that there are still six million Maya living in Central America today, and that we all need to look after the rainforest before it’s too late.

ME: I'm sure kids will be sucked right into the adventures in this book!  Thanks Jon and Pamela for visiting my blog and answering my questions!

Doesn't it just make you want to travel more?

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Book Review: Middleworld by J & P Voelkel

The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld by J&P Voelkel
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Publication date: April 2010
ISBN: 9781606840719

Source: Review copy from publicist
(Guest post and author interview with J&P Voelkel)

The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld

All Max Murphy wants is a fabulous vacation to Italy, where he can devour pizza and relax.  But, when his archeologist parents cancel the trip in order to go on a dig in Central America, his dreams are shattered.  They aren't even planning on bringing him there, but he gets sent down there shortly after.  Once there, he becomes embroiled in a battle for power centered around the mysterious Jaguar Stones.  Now he's in a race to save his parents, and his own life.  Not a very relaxing summer vacation.

Things I Liked:
This was an exciting and action-packed adventure that also managed to teach me about Mayan culture.  I love a good archeological tale - I used to adore Indiana Jones movies (and this felt like a middle grade friendly version of them).  At one point I even thought it would be awesome to be an archeological astronomer and study ancient cultures' astronomical beliefs.  So this had a definite appeal to me.  However, I think it will be perfect for kids who love action, adventure, and humor all wrapped up into a neat package.  The story is interesting and scary, exciting, or humorous things seem to happen on every page.  Some favorite quotes:

Among the tangle of mosquito netting and old socks, his fingers closed on something unnaturally hard and dense. 
The granola bars.
It had come to this.
Miserably, he unwrapped a bar.  He brought the compacted brown mass to his lips.  With a heavy heart, he opened his mouth and prepared his tongue to receive the foul-tasting grunge.
Then, in the nick of time, he recovered his fighting spirit.
Things were bad, but not that bad.
He still wasn't desperate enough to eat a granola bar. p 112
Once there was the terrible sound of rock scraping on rubber as they wedged under a particularly low overhang.  Then they had to try not to scream and calmly maneuver themselves to the left or the right, to find a place where the raft could squeeze through.  (By unspoken agreement, Max did the trying not to scream, while Lola did the calm maneuvering.) p 136
"It's just that some crazy girl made me shoot the rapids in an underground river and then she got me trapped like a hair ball in an underground sink.  Oh yes, and some cape-twirling psycho is trying to kill me."
"Don't take it too personally," said Lola.  "He's trying to kill me, too." p 144
Things I Didn't Like:
I think as an adult, I struggled to find the story at all plausible.  Some of it was rather impossible in my head, but didn't really stop me from enjoying the ride.  Some of the humor didn't quite tickle me either, but I assume that's also the adult in me.

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The 39 Clues series by various authors

s-factor: !
a very few

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->->
some scary parts and some fighting, not gory though

Overall rating: ****

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Posted as part of Tween Tuesday, hosted by GreenBeanTeenQueen.

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Listless Monday, Red Hot Edition

Listless Monday was inspired by both Amanda at A Bookshelf Monstrosity's feature Books by Theme and Court at Once Upon a Bookshelf's Listed feature.  Be sure to check out their lists!

Enna Burning (Books of Bayern) by Suzanne Collins Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) 1 edition by Kristin Cashore Fire (Graceling) First Edition edition Fire Study (Study, Book 3) Fire in the Hills The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage)

I don't know about where you live, but around here, it's been HOT!  In keeping with that, I've created a hodge podge kind of list that includes books with hot settings, books that talk about heat or fire or some such, and simply books with the right kind of title to fit this.  Enjoy - and keep cool!

Red Hot Edition

Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Chalice by Robin McKinley
Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fire by Kristen Cashore
Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Fire in the Bones by S. Michael Wilcox
Fire in the Hills by Donna Jo Napoli
Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
The Fire Within by Chris D'Lacey
Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
Heat by mike lupica
Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Hot Lunch by Alex Bradley
Hot Six by Janet Evanovich
Too Darn Hot by Sandra Scoppettone
Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
White Heat by Marco Pierre White

Any suggestions? 
(that aren't too risque - doing an Amazon search for the word "hot" can get a lot of interesting results)
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Summer Scents

 A Bit of Me(Me) is hosted by Danielle of There's a Book.

This week's question asks, what is your favorite smell.  Why does it always seem like the questions are too hard for me to answer?  As always, I have a hard time picking just one thing to call my favorite.  There are so many things that come to mind when I think of smells I love.  I think I'll only go for two this time, though.

First smell: pine


I love to be outdoors.  And, since summer always makes me feel like camping, I thought of the delightful smells that awaken you in the early morning when camping.  I love how natural and clean it smells.  From having been camping nearly every year since I was six, it always comes with loads of memories of those previous trips.  [I've written a guest post for Callista of SMS Book Reviews' Great Camping Event, so if you want to know more than you ever did about my camping life, be sure to check out her site July 26-August 6.] Pine scent evokes great family memories and peaceful feelings.  Hm, perhaps I ought to bring something pine scented to work with me! :)

Second smell: apricots

Another summer smell for me.  Growing up, we had four or five huge apricot trees in our yard.  Every year there were hundreds of apricots that would get ripe all at once.  We'd spent cool mornings and hot afternoons picking bucket after bucket.  Then, when we couldn't manage to give away enough of them, my mother would make fruit leather (rather like fruit roll-ups).  The smell of apricots would fill the house and it was such a trial to not poke our fingers in the soft goo left to dry in the sun.  Despite hating having to pick them, my mouth still waters at that smell.

What's your favorite scent?

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