Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3) by J. K. Rowling

 

This was definitely my favorite of the Harry Potter series so far. There was an emotional depth to this book I had been missing in the first two. It is the darkest of them so far, but not too dark. I was actually thoroughly captivated and engrossed the whole time I was reading.

The story follows Harry, Ron, and Hermione during their third year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After the crazy two first years filled with trouble from multiple angles, Harry is looking forward to an uneventful year. An escaped prisoner is known to be heading for Hogwarts and Harry in particular. The terrifying Azkaban prison guards, Dementors, are roaming the school grounds and have a few terrifying encounters with Harry. Hagrid and his animals get in trouble after he takes over as instructor for the Care of Magical Creatures class. Professor is harsher on the students than usual and there are mysterious happenings in the castle – sightings of the prisoners and strange behavior from the new professor. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally piece together the true story behind the escaped prisoner and the death of Harry’s parents, their world is turned upside down. With the help of Dumbledore, they break several wizarding rules in order to make things right.

You really get a view into the characters and their emotional growth in this book. You get a feeling of closeness with the three friends and particularly Harry since the book is told from his point of view. The growth of the characters is seen in their behavior and actions. You start seeing the kind of people they will be turning into later (not that I actually know what they will be like, I haven’t watch those movies or read those books). The history supplied in this book really helps with where the story line is going. You learn more about Harry’s parents and get an idea of the atmosphere of the time when they died. The are two new important characters introduced in this book and you definitely get to know them quite well. I’m not going to explain much of that because I don’t want to give anything away, but their characters are well developed, their integration into Harry’s life is seamless, and their own personal stories solid.

The structure of the story, the development of the storyline and plot for this book are impeccable. I loved the way the story unfolded. You were pulled in to story and held in its twisting, turning, and surprising grip. The pursuit of the truth is a solid theme of this book, along with friendship, loyalty, and bravery. There are also some more elements of sneakiness and mischief as the boys grow into teenagers. Also, you see Hermione start to feel the hormones as she tries to be true to herself and grow in her friendships. She struggles a lot which is good to see in a way as it gives a good image of what it is really like for a girl growing up and trying to be herself. I think it is a great book for tweens and teens to read. There is a lot of action, but the hidden themes I mention are strong and good for children to learn. I thoroughly enjoyed it and there wasn’t anything in there I wouldn’t let a child of mine read. Well done!

My rating:

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Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? by Alan Parks

 

I found this book for free through the Kindle store one day and it sounded amusing. I am really glad I picked it up. It is a refreshing story of a couple in their mid-years, maybe 40s or 50s, I’m not really sure, giving up their current life and relocating somewhere else to pursue a dream.

Alan and Lorna Park lived in England, but when Lorna began to experience health issues and could not continue work as a dance teacher, Alan suggested they pack up, move to Spain, and raise alpacas. They had fallen in love with the alpacas at the local park and felt they would be happy living in the country raising and breeding the animals, and there was a good bit of money to be had in the business as well. They went for it – and here is there story. It is full of hilarious humor and terrible heartache as you listen to Alan describe the first five years in their endeavor. The animals make guest appearances with little written notes at the end of a few chapters. You meet the interesting individuals they meet as they search for a home, learn about alpacas from another breeder, and meet their new neighbors. The antics and events are completely real and believable. It doesn’t feel forced or exaggerated. You feel for Lorna and Alan and the animals at their farm. You can sympathize and laugh at their predicaments, celebrations, and random happenings. I was very much amused by the animal count at the beginning of the different chapters. Through Alan you could feel their passion and love for all the animals and why they chose to do what they did. You learn a lot about country living, solar power, Spanish farmers, Spain, and particularly alpacas. The writing is smooth and it is an easy read. Since the couple is British, the references to distances, heights, and weights use the metric system, which is a little difficult for American readers. Some of their lingo is a little different too, but it’s fairly easy to understand.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a great story about taking that leap of faith and pursuing a dream. It will definitely not go as planned. It will not be pretty or easy. There will be things you hadn’t even thought of which will make you rethink your decision. But at the end of the day, you stay. Why? Because you are finally happy.

My rating:

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Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros

It is not often that I give one cheese reviews, but I did not like this book. I have nothing against the author or anything like that, I simply did not like it. I think it was more that I was not able to understand it as it was meant to be. I couldn’t relate to the characters. I couldn’t get in to the mindset of the characters even though I was reading their thoughts. I couldn’t emphasize with the characters through similar experiences because I haven’t really experienced anything like the women in the book did. I also didn’t like the way it was written. I should preface that by saying I don’t get poetry because I felt the book was almost written prose and poetry – a lot of short sentences, sentence fragments, lists and descriptions abound throughout the book. Granted, this is how we often think, especially as women, but it is difficult to read. It is just not a style I like. Furthermore, the jump from story to story threw me off because there wasn’t really a common link in them. Some of the stories link together, but not all. They also don’t really flow in any particular manner.

All that being said, I would like to highlight what I thought was good about the book. There is a wide variety of themes – love, loss, magic, cheating, domestic abuse, beauty, the Mexican revolution, living on both sides of the border, religion, sex, and life. It is a female dominated book, so it will appeal primarily to female readers. Furthermore, it empowers women, doesn’t make them subjects to a fate out of their hands. It provides interesting windows into the lives of Mexican women and Mexican-American women. It is realistic and believable  (at least the stories that don’t involve magic). My favorite story was Little Miracles, Promises Kept.

I would recommend it to Mexican-American women particularly and any woman in general. It is an empowering book for women if you like it. Anyone studying the Mexican-American culture should read this as well. There are some interesting insights into that culture and the lives of the people in it. I can see the value of the book, I personally just didn’t like it.

My  rating:

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2) by J. K. Rowling

I liked the smooth continuation of the story in the beginning of the book. You could read these two books back to back (like I did) seamlessly, it only feels like a new chapter or section of the same book. You were drawn right back into the Harry Potter universe without a glitch. Like I talked about before, the characters are completely realistic and likeable/hateable except for their lack of depth. You did get to know the Weasleys and Hermione better which was nice. You also became more familiar with the legend of Voldemort and that particular back story which turned out to be rather interesting.

The story begins with Harry and the Weasleys, including young Ginny, finishing the summer and beginning school again. There are your normal teenage antics, including flying cars and students crushing on a teacher, which add spice to the regular story line. The new professor is a famous adventurer who comes to Hogwarts to teach defense against the dark arts. He is everything the girls dream of, but not a lot of students like the way he teaches. You have the rivalry and hatred between Harry and Draco Malfoy intensifying as well. Discrimination/Classism begins to rear its ugly head in the arise of the “mudblood” tension at the school, those who think they should be allowed entrance and those who think they shouldn’t. You meet new characters as well, such as Dobey the House Elf, who give you a deeper view into the Harry Potter world.

The overarching story for this book is the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, a hidden chamber in the school rumored to house a deadly monster. Students begin getting turned in to stone. Rumors abide around the school, many of which point to Harry being responsible. As most of the students are mudbloods, this intensifies the hatred already becoming prevalent throughout the school. The Ministry of Magic and the Hogwarts Board of Directors gets involved, arresting, accusing, and attempting to dismiss different teachers.

Overall it is a great read with a strong, unique, well developed story line. I would like to get to know the characters more deeply, like I mentioned, but its slowly building up the characters. Lots of action, emotion, and surprises fill this book, especially for the young readers. Common themes such as loyalty, trust, hope, faith, and friendship reign strongly in this story. Again, this would be a book I would let my children read.

My rating:

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The Cat Who Said Cheese (Cat Who…#18) by Lilian Jackson Braun

I used to read this series when I was in high school. It is actually a quite wholesome and non-violent mystery series. I mean, there are violent crimes, but you never get the gruesome details, only the emotional fall out. The stories are based around Jim Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats Koko and Yum Yum. Qwill is a retired crime reported from the city who moved to the small town of Pickaxe in rural Moose County after inheriting a large fortune. Most of the fortune he put into a fund that is administrated by a board of directors who see to its use in helping Moose County and its residents. Now Qwill tends to get mixed up in solving the local crimes with the help of Koko, the uncommonly intelligent cat. The two of them unofficially help solve most of the more important cases in the county. Thus, the series unfolds in a description of the multiple cases they help work on and the unusual antics the town residents and the cats get up to.

In this particular story, there is a mystery woman called Anoosh whose hotel room gets blown up, luckily without her in it. Following this are two other deaths that no one can seem to figure out, one a murder and the other a death resulting from multiple bee stings. Qwill investigates all of them, quietly of course, and meets a host of interesting characters. You follow him as he untangles the crisscrossing of information from witnesses, friends, and Koko. In the background are the interactions and normal happenings of the small county and town. Qwill gets suckered into being a judge in a contest and a bachelor for auction at a fundraiser. You get to visit with the cast of colorful characters that make up the town and invade each book, such as Qwill’s lady friend Polly, the local sheriff, the manager of the local newspaper, and Qwill’s unofficial sidekick and helper, a nice elderly lady with a hilarious personality.

I love these stories as there is little swearing, violence, or smut. Like I said before, it is a wholesome read, appropriate for nearly every age. The story line is full of twists and turns and makes for good reading. The antics of the residents as spice to the small town life and interest to the story. There are a couple story lines that follow through several books which keeps you reading as well. Even though a story about a retired writer might seem boring, these are anything but. I started with this particular book way back in middle school and read the rest of the series from there. I am glad I again started with this book. It is a good example of the writing and characters that Mrs. Braun uses in her writing. I encourage everyone to try at least one of her books.

My rating:

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The Wilde Sisters Trilogy by Sandra Marton

I don’t know why it took me so long to write my review of this trilogy, but here it goes. This trilogy just happened to fall in my lap on sale in the Kindle store and since I needed a trilogy for my reading challenge I figured I’d read it. It was an easy read and rather short if I remember correctly. The collection follows the love stories of three sisters.

Sex and Sensibility

This story follows Emily and Marco. Emily is picked up by Marco in the middle of the night walking in the rain. On the drive to her house, she answers his questions, admitting she is out of work and can play piano. Marco finds her a temporary job playing piano at an opening of one of his new buildings, but the human resources department hires her as his personal assistant instead based on her resume. The attraction between them grow and they eventually give in, with multiple discussions about how to behave in the workplace. They have some trouble and arguments, but it ends happily.

Fire and Ice

This story follows Jaimie and Zach. Jaimie is starting out in real estate and happens to end up at Zach’s apartment thinking she has an appointment to talk to him about selling his apartment. He knows nothing about this and the confusing meeting ends up as a steamy night due to a power outage. Unfortunately, Jaimie has a stalker and her brother hires Zach (unknowingly thinking they have never met) to protect Jaimie. One thing leads to another and Zach ends up showing himself but not explaining why he was really near by. The story builds from there as they figure out who is stalking her, deal with their growing romance, and she discovers the truth of his visit.

Sugar and Spice

This story follows Lissa and Nick. Lissa is a trained chef who gets stabbed in the back by her boss/partner and ends up looking for work outside Hollywood. Her agent sets her up as the chef at a ranch in Montana. Unbeknownst to her, the ranch is not a fancy dude ranch and the owner is a retired actor. The two clash heads most of the time despite their attraction to each other. Eventually they give in and Lissa tries to help Nick to heal from his troubled past.

Overall

I didn’t have an issue with the books too much as romance reads. There is a lot of erotica in them, but for the most part they are quick, steamy reads. However, since I am slowly drawing away from romance, these are books that are why. There is no way a lot of these scenarios would actually happen. The last book, Sugar and Spice, I liked the best because it was actually believable (not all of it, but most of it). People don’t just fall in love with a one night stand or during a stalking incident. Furthermore, the love interests of three sisters in different parts of the country don’t miraculously know each other already. However, the story lines were decent, they moved really well, and I had not trouble with the language or grammar. The characters are relatable and well-developed. If you are looking for a good summer, weekend, or steamy read these are the books for you.

My rating:

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Attention All Readers: World Education’s Pages 4 Progress Charity

Attention All Readers: World Education’s Pages 4 Progress Charity. – by Ajoobacats

I have recently become aware of a very worthy charity and cause called World Education’s Pages 4 Progress, who believe literacy is the gateway out of poverty.

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This inspiring charity is trying to raise three million pages read and registered around the globe by World Literacy Day, September 8th 2015, to raise awareness and money for literacy programmes. I think this is a fantastic way to make your summer reading count towards something very worthwhile.

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So if you enjoy reading pop over to Pages4Progress and share what you’ve read by registering your pages and join in this summer to do something positive from your favourite reading nook simply from logging the pages of a book, newspaper, magazine or webpage. It all counts!

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Reading is important on a basic level in order to learn and assimilate information and to pass it on. Recreational reading fuels the imagination and creativity. Reading is necessary in most careers and is an infinite pathway to getting new experiences.

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This is a hard one, I learnt about how attention to detail is important in conveying messages to an audience from films in the book I am currently reading and that my friend did not like the red velvet cake she tried for the first time today.

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I have so many books I have read and loved but so far this year Mark Edwards’ Follow You Home gave me the most chills so far. It was scary and full of suspense to satisfy a thriller junkie like me.

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Taking part in the Pages4Progress reading challenge and promoting it here on my book blog so that fellow bloggers join in to raise awareness is a good start. I would like to pledge as many pages as I can and also donate money to this worthy cause, continue to support Pages4Progress and follow the progress they make.

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There are so many factors that affect education from some States not having the funds to implement primary school education, to cultural differences in the way girls and boys are educated, shortage of teachers to health issues among children who are among the poorest in the world. Marginalization is a term often thrown around to describe children who find themselves in the margins of society, both in developed and developing countries, and do not benefit from learning that would help them develop intellectually and socially. Children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are stuck in a cycle of illiteracy.

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For every page read and logged there are match donors contributing to the Pages 4Progress fund, which will be used to make access to literacy easier.

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I have many favourite memories of being totally lost in books and welcome the wonder and escape books provide me.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

After reading Charlotte and Emily Brontës’ works, I was impressed by their writing and story lines. I was wondering about Anne Brontë because you never hear much about her, so I decided to read (listen to) one of her works. Most of the websites recommended Agnes Grey, but I gravitated more toward The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  I am so glad that I did. It was an absolutely a phenomenal book. She is definitely able to match her sisters for story line and writing strength. I actually think hers was my favorite of the Brontë sisters’ works as it was easy to follow and read.

The story opens following Gilbert Markham, a young farmer. He becomes fascinated by the young widow who takes up residence in the local Wildfell Hall not far from his farm. They have a growing friendship and intimacy that unfortunately ends with her refusing to marry him. The local gossip mongers start spreading rumors about how her son looks very like his best friend Frederick Lawrence and how he visits her at unseemly hours. This comes to a head in an unfortunate set of circumstances. However, the result is she presents him with her diary, which she explains will clear up the whole matter. You then get to read her diary which details the building up of an abusive marriage and her escape.

The story is quite brilliant, with multiple twists and turns. I explained it to someone as an interesting cross between Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice. You feel for Gilbert and cheer him on. You relate easily with Helen (the widow) and find yourself hating her husband. It really pulls you in and makes you want to know more. I enjoyed how you got to learn about the main characters in great depth. You also learn how an abusive relationship starts and grows and how difficult it was for women of the time to escape it, even why they would stay in the relationship. It’s an exact account of the relationship and what many women experience even today.

I highly recommend this book. It was a fantastic read and a read view into the world of women and marriage. Definitely an eye opener and emotionally stimulating read. Anyone who enjoys the classics, especially the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen will enjoy it.

My rating:

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J. K. Rowling

Even though I was the prime age when Harry Potter was first released, I had never actually read the books. I’ve even see the first four movies, but I never read them. So for my banned book challenge, I decided I would actually read one (and I got it for 50 cents at Goodwill…). I was actually quite surprised by it. It was boring, it kept moving, and since I had seen the movie, I could picture the characters easily. The movie is actually quite close to being spot on. There wasn’t much deviation from the book to the movie.

The story follows Harry Potter, a young lad who doesn’t know he is a wizard. His parents are killed trying to defeat the evil lord Voldomort when he was a baby. Harry was Voldomort’s only victim to live, leaving him with a scar on his head and no parents. He is taken to live with his aunt and uncle, who are Muggles, or non-magical people and hidden away from the magical world. On his eleventh birthday he receives an invitation to attend the private Hogswarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He makes friends and learns about his magical lineage. He has numerous adventures with his new friends, often getting them into trouble, especially when they are fighting with their nemesis Draco Malfoy. However, they learn of a hidden article that Lord Voldomort is after in the school and attempt to stop him. The book covers all these events as they occur through the first school year.

The story line was solid, there weren’t any gaping holes or anything. Some of the occurrences you would think “No, he wouldn’t actually be that lucky” but you let that go and continue with the story. It keeps you engaged and it moves along well, not going too fast or too slow. I would have liked to have seen more depth to the characters and get to know them better, but it is a young adult book and as it is a series I’m sure that will come in time. I identified most with Hermione and Professor McGonagle. I don’t actually have a whole lot to say bad about the book. I would like my children to read it when they are old enough. There is a lot of good lessons on loyalty, trust, friendship, and doing the right thing. There are also lessons on meanness and revenge. I have a feeling the more the series continues the more the characters and life lessons will develop. I do not think I will read them all, however. They seem to get very dark and depressing from what I hear. I guess we shall have to see.

My rating:

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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

I was disappointed by this book. That’s not to say it was bad or had a bad story line and plot. No, my issues were with how the information and story were presented. The book is the story of a group of women that volunteer for a government program called the Brides for Indians. The goal is to meet a trade suggested by the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf that the Indians would get one thousand white brides for their warriors to help assimilate the Indians into white society in exchange for one thousand horses. The trade was agreed to in secret to avoid the public outrage and volunteers for the program were taken as regular volunteers and recruits from the lunatic asylums and prisons. May Dodd had been placed in a lunatic asylum for promiscuity by her family (i.e. she was living with a man as an unwed woman – the man was below her social class as well). When the offer came she took it and the story follows her and the other twelve or so women that were the first recruits.

It is an interesting book idea and the story unfolds in a good and interesting way. However, the story is supposed to be a series of journal entries and letters written by May Dodd. The whole time I was reading it, it did not feel like a woman writing it – it read like a man trying to write as a woman. The information presented was not what a woman would have focused on, it’s too logical and clear cut compared to how a woman would think, consider, decide, and write. You hear almost nothing about her pregnancy other than she is pregnant where a woman would have focused on this as well. Additionally, I was hoping to learn about how the Cheyenne lived, how they did things, etc. Unfortunately in the book, you get an overview. You know she learns to skin animals, butcher, cook with local vegetation, tan hides, and learn the language because she says she does. You don’t get any disgust, uneasiness, wonder, or any other emotion a woman would talk about in a diary, let alone any of the details. Also, you never feel like she has assimilated to the native culture even though the journal entries say she does. It is all just rather jarring.

I do give the author credit for a great story idea and a good plot. The story does have its interesting areas and when just looking at how the story unfolded, it is rather good. If you are looking for an interesting social read, this isn’t bad. There is an interesting band of women you come to love in the book. I did like the women that were described because they were so realistic. There are areas of graphic violence, so be prepared for that as well. However, if you have ever read anything about Indian life, it should not shock you.

My rating:

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