Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling

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“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Reading Challenge: 4 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers. A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he's after Harry. Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius. But Harry can't imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair. Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts. A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry's success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights. A cute fourth-year student catches his eye. And he becomes close with the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father. Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem. Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series.

My Thoughts —

It feels very odd to be reviewing a Harry Potter book. I actually debated whether or not I was going to go ahead with this review at all. Technically, yes, I did read it this year and it will be counted towards my annual reading goal. But I’ve read it quite a few times and it just feels weird to be reviewing a book that I haven’t read for the first time in, what, 15 years?? Well, here we are. I’m doing it anyway!

For as long as I can remember, Prisoner of Azkaban has been my favourite book. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the full Harry Potter series since I was like 9 or 10 years old, so my opinions might have changed now (I’ll let you know once I re-read it all!). I still see why I loved it so much as a kid. Unlike the first couple books, which are obviously geared towards young children, Prisoner of Azkaban starts to delve into the older YA category, at least in my opinion. I think it’s not really until around Order of the Phoenix or Half-Blood Prince that the books go fully into mature themes, if memory serves me right. At this point, there is a serious plot line throughout the novel, but you still get a lot of that cozy, Hogwarts everyday magic that makes the books so warm and endearing for me.

A huge part I love - and have always loved - about this book is the introduction of the Marauders. I love that storyline so much. Much like pretty much everybody, I would have loved to read a spin-off series that focused on that Marauders in their Hogwarts years. Is there still hope for this to happen?! God I hope so, lol. I have a soft spot for Remus, always have, as I think he was a really important male figure for Harry throughout the series, especially after Order of the Phoenix (no spoilers just in case any of you have not read the series yet).

I just find it so interesting to go back and reread the series as an adult, as it’s such a different experience from when I was young but still, the magic of it is still alive in the words. I’ve been very slowly making my way through the series, but I hope to get through at least a few of them this year!

Is Prisoner of Azkaban your favourite? If not, which Harry Potter book is your favourite?

Felicia x

Review: My Lady Jane - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

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“She delighted in the smell of the ink, the rough feel of the paper between her fingers, the rustle of sweet pages, the shapes of letters before her eyes.”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Reading Challenge: 26 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

My Thoughts —

First and foremost, let me start by saying that I love the Tudor era and everything about it. Which is ultimately why I decided to pick up this novel. Except this is no ordinary historical fiction. It tells the story of Lady Jane Grey, otherwise known as the Nine Days’ Queen. But this time around, it’s far less tragic and a lot more mystical.

If you’re unfamiliar with the history, here’s how it goes. Jane Grey was a teenaged English noblewoman who was married to Lord Guildford Dudley. When King Edward VI fell terminally ill, he wrote into his will that succession would fall to Lady Jane and her male heirs. But when Lady Jane took the throne, support grew in favour of Mary Tudor - a Roman Catholic - and eventually, Jane was deposed and executed for high treason. Yikes. This version of the story is a little different in that it includes humans that can turn into animals. And poisoning. The usual stuff.

This book was wild from start to finish, and I actually loved it. I thought the addition of fantasy elements, including the E∂ians (aka the animal-morphing humans), was quite exciting and ridiculously creative. I’ve not been huge on fantasy novels since my early teens, but this has definitely made me reconsider the genre. My Lady Jane was an extremely amusing and cleverly-written story, with enough real details to make you forget sometimes that people in the 1500s weren’t actually part-animal.

There were lots of twists and turns to this novel so, keeping with the spoiler-free promise of this review, I won’t reveal too much about the plot. But I did think it was interesting how they played out the Jane Grey vs. Mary Tudor situation. In real-life, Mary deposed of Jane and that was that. Jane’s existence was a threat because she was a Protestant queen. But in the case of this novel, I found it interesting how the role of religion paralleled the storyline of E∂ians and the Verities (aka the people who remain permanently human). The E∂ians being the Protestants, and the Verities being the Roman Catholics. There was definitely an interesting similarity there, that I’d really encourage you to look out for if you’re reading the book!

Most of all, what drew me into this book was Lady Jane herself. I loved Jane. I thought she was an incredible and complex character, the perfect bookish female lead. Books with a strong female lead always capture my heart and My Lady Jane was no exception. Jane showed undoubtable strength and defiance from the very start of the novel, constantly questioning decisions that she didn’t agree with or proving her intelligence by her extensive knowledge of life through reading. I think her relationship with Gifford was extremely interesting also because it forced her to come out of her world of just books and court, and apply her strength to real-life situations (i.e. the villagers early on in the novel). I was really rooting for the two lead characters and never more have I wanted a happily ever after in a novel!

After reading this, I’m so eager to read the follow-up book, My Plain Jane, which is a retelling of the classic Bronte novel, Jane Eyre. I think that these three women are spectacular authors and I would probably read anything that they published as a team. This is definitely the sort of young adults novel that I’d recommend to not only teens, but also adults!

Have you read My Lady Jane? Lend me your thoughts in the comments!

Felicia x

YA Novels Every Teen Should Read

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Growing up, I was massively into reading. Ever since I was very very little, I've been most happy whenever I have a book in hand. So, being an avid reader, that meant that the majority of my life lessons came from novels. I learnt a lot from books, and so it's no surprise that there are many books that have over the years become hugely influential in my upbringing.

What's great about novels is that they give a look into the lives of people from many different walks of life; it gives you a real, up-close look into a world that you might not know - which makes you more empathetic and understanding - or show you that you aren't alone in how you're feeling.

These books are some of the major ones that not only got me through high school, but also kind of shaped me into the person I am today. They're, in my opinion, some of the best books for teens to read before leaving high school. So, I thought I'd give a bit of a run-through of what each book is all about, for you guys. Also, I included trigger warnings, where applicable.

PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER - STEPHEN CHBOSKY

Hands down, my favourite young adults novel. I read this when I was a young teenager, probably about 13 or 14 years old. Perks of Being a Wallflower is all about this kid called Charlie who's writing letters about his experiences in freshman year to an anonymously pen-pal. He goes into grade nine, dealing with the aftermath of a number of traumatic events, with no friends, feeling completely lost in the world. Enter two senior students, step-siblings Sam and Patrick, who take him under their wing. It really speaks to teens who feel like outcasts, without playing on that 'math nerd' stereotype that's found so often in YA novels/films. What I like most about this book is how it shows the bookends of high school - on one hand, you have the freshman, who's timid and trying to find their place in high school, and on the other hand, you have the senior, who's basically got their toes at the edge of their future. You can read this book either entering or leaving high school, and you'll still be able to relate to it in some way. It also depicts struggles with mental illness in a very serious way, too. Even if you've seen the film adaptation - especially if you've seen the film adaptation - you should still read this book.

Trigger Warnings: suicide, sexual assault, some violence

SPEAK - LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

Okay, so the content of this book is extremely harrowing and that's exactly why I've put it on this list. If you're 18 or older, you've probably already read this one before, as it was extremely popular throughout the 2000s. It's all about a teenage girl who busts a summer party just before her freshman year of high school after an unspeakable (literally) incident occurs. She then spends the majority of the year in silence, as she faces rejection and backlash from her peers. Obviously, I won't give away what the incident was, as that's a huge spoiler. But it's definitely not for the faint of heart. The content that Laurie Halse Anderson tackles in this novel is both shocking and real. Speak takes on a number of really difficult topics and is a huge eye-opener.

Trigger Warnings: sexual assault

UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES - LOUISE GORNALL

I only just read this book a couple months back and the first thing I thought of after finishing it was, "I so could've used a book like this when I was in high school." Unfortunately, this book was published long after I graduated - but that won't stop me from encouraging current high schoolers to read it!! Under Rose-Tainted Skies focuses first and foremost on mental health, which unfortunately hasn't been such a common main theme in YA novels in the past. It's also an #ownvoices book, which means that this story of mental illness comes from someone who, herself, suffers from mental illness. I think it's worth mentioning because it really makes the depiction of mental illness more raw and genuine. The main character in this book suffers from agoraphobia and OCD, which leaves her mostly unable to leave her house. She's faced with a bunch of challenges throughout the course of the novel, as she tries to find the path leading her to health. I think mental illness, although it's far more talked about now than even 5 or 6 years ago, is still plagued with stigma, and a lot of people who don't suffer from mental illness don't understand it well. Under Rose-Tainted Skies would be an amazing choice of book for students to read in high school classes (perhaps arguably better than some of the current choices...) as it would be a great conversation-starter.

Trigger Warnings: mental illness, self-harm

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA - BECKY ALBERTALLI

Betcha saw this one coming!! I'm sure most people know about Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, or at least it's film adaptation Love, Simon by now. It's pretty much taking the world by storm and I've gotta say, I'm very happy about that. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is all about a closeted gay teenage boy who is blackmailed by another student after he's discovered anonymously e-mailing another gay student. Obvs, the reason I've included this book on the list isn't because of it's cute, fluffy storyline (although, it is mentionable) but because it features an LGBT main character and the primary storyline is about sexuality and adolescence. There are so many books out there with LGBT characters which deserve wayyy more recognition, but I'm glad to see a story like Simon breaking the barrier and paving the way for more stories like this to come to centre stage so to speak. This book is great because it deals with the anxiety of coming out to your peers and your family which - though I can't speak from experience on - must be a huge fear for LGBT teens worldwide. It gives something for teens to relate to. And for others, it's important because it shows the struggles of LGBT teens from their perspective, which can be really eye-opening to some people. The fact that this has come out as a film is great, too, because it widens the audience to all teens, as opposed to only readers.

Trigger Warnings: bullying, slurs

ELEANOR AND PARK - RAINBOW ROWELL

This is a romance novel unlike most. Although it features the story of first loves and all that, it also touches on difficult, real-life topics. Eleanor and Park is about a "misfit" named Eleanor and an average sort of boy named Park. Eleanor's family lives in a very small house of her mother's partner, where the kids are forced to share a tiny room and the family is exposed to the stepfather's abusive tendencies towards the mother and kids. Although this book is set in the 1980s, it's still very applicable to modern times in terms of the struggles that teens suffer and the experiences they go through. Although I read this as an older teen, there were parts of this that were relatable to me, and I think that the story would resonate with a lot of teens with different backgrounds. Often, YA novels - especially romances - are pigeonholed as light and fluffy, but this is certainly a book to challenge that. Don't get me wrong though, the relationship between Eleanor and Park is very cute and heartwarming!! It just also deals with serious topics, which is really important for teens to be exposed to.

Trigger Warnings: alcohol addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse, bullying

What novels were really influential to you whilst you were growing up? 

Felicia x

5 Popular Books I Didn't Like

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I have always been a very ambitious reader. I will try mostly anything, especially books that have been well-received. And when I was younger, I was quick to jump on the bandwagon and read anything that had any hype surrounding it at the time - even if it didn't particularly strike my interest. Which has unsurprisingly lead to a lot of flops. However as a reader, and a writer as well, it's important to read books that you don't particularly love, because it helps you determine what books you want to read and what books you want to write, as well. Today, I'm going to share with you all a few of the books I've not really enjoyed reading over the years!

PAPER TOWNS by JOHN GREEN

I was so let down by this book. Before this, I'd read The Fault In Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, also by John Green, and although I didn't love either, I liked them both perfectly fine. But Paper Towns really didn't work for me. I thought the whole storyline was a little one-dimensional and pretty unrealistic. A boy is in love with a girl, does anything for said girl - including but not limited to taking revenge on her enemies - and then goes chasing her across the nation. And then the ending??? I also noticed that John Green was starting to have this trend in his novels of having a quirky but beautiful female lead with a ~unique~ name - which was, in this case, Margo Roth Spiegelman. The only thing I really liked about this book was the fact that it was set in Orlando, if I'm honest.

CITY OF BONES by CASSANDRA CLARE

So I made the somewhat fatal mistake of buying a four-book collection of The Moral Instruments several years ago, which were all the books available in the series at the time. I didn't even make it through the first book.... I just didn't enjoy it at all. I'm not usually one for fantasy novels anyway so I'm not sure what drew me towards this book except for maybe my friends were reading it at the time?? It was just kind of boring to me and didn't really grip me like other books do. It has since spawned a film adaptation and then later a television series, but after giving the film adaptation a try, I gave up the entire franchise cold turkey.

THE NOTEBOOK by NICHOLAS SPARKS

I so badly wanted to enjoy this book. I truly did. I tried reading it a couple of times, but I just couldn't force myself to like it. You probably already know from my previous book-related posts that I really hate saying that the film was better, but in this case... The film was so much better than the book. Sorry, Nicholas Sparks. I think what really irked me was the timeline of the book. If you've seen the film before, the book is like skipping the first half of the film right to the part where Allie goes to see Noah after he builds the house. They do flashbacks here and there to explain their teen romance, but that just didn't work for me. There was nothing that made me care about these two ex-lovers finding their way back to each other. There was no romantic build-up whatsoever. Nicholas Sparks just plops you down into the middle of a story without any direction.

TWILIGHT by STEPHANIE MEYER

Sigh. Twilight. There has been a decade-long debate on whether or not this series is any good. Back in the day, I'd fight to my last breath that this was the best book series EVER - but I was only 9 years old when I first read it. When I re-read the first book for the first time as a teenager, I was about 13 years old, and I couldn't believe that I'd ever enjoyed Twilight. For starters, Bella Swan is quite possibly the least animated character of all time (seriously, someone check for a pulse). The writing was simultaneously boring and over-the-top, with such lines as, "I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him". The purple prose was soo distracting. And the overall "romance" between Edward and Bella was so NOT something to idolize.

(NOTE: I've discovered a website that destructs the novel and analyzes it, and it is just wonderful. You can check that out here if you're interested.)

DIVERGENT by VERONICA ROTH

Another very popular YA series, and another let-down for me. When I started to read theDivergent series as part of my eighth grade curriculum, I was already over the whole "post-apocalyptic" trend. I'm sure you all remember those few years where every popular film or book was set in a futuristic dystopia. By grade eight, I'd already read the Hunger Games series and determined it wasn't really doing it for me, so Divergent and Insurgent - I didn't read the third book - didn't capture my interest at all. It wasn't so much a problem with the actually writing, it was more my own personal taste that made me dislike the series.

What books have you read that you didn't like or finish? 

Felicia x

Review: The Girls - Emma Cline

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“You wanted things and you couldn’t help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?”

My Rating: ★★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction

Reading Challenge: 1 out of 50

Goodreads Synopsis —

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

My Thoughts —

It’s my first official book review of the year y’all! Oooo exciting stuff, am I right? First and foremost, welcome to my Goodreads Reading Challenge. This year, I decided to challenge myself to reading 50 books in a year. I’ve also decided to hold myself to reviewing all the books I read during the challenge on my blog so that you all can join me in the journey!

The first book I’ve read so far is The Girls by Emma Cline. For me, this was the sort of book that I enjoyed reading the first time around, but probably wouldn’t want to read again. When I picked it up, I’d read a few chapters and get hooked, but after a couple more, I was ready to put it down. The book alternated between fast- and slow-paced writing, so I found that it couldn’t keep my attention for longer than a few chapters at a time.

There were definitely parts I really enjoyed, where I thought Emma Cline did an incredible job creating a plot and characters. There was definitely vivid imagery throughout the entire novel. You couldn’t go through any scene feeling like you were only getting half the story, which was obviously hugely important to the story. The storyline itself was intriguing. You felt like at any moment, a pin could drop and the entire course of the novel could be altered. I’m always down for a good suspenseful novel and this one fit the bill.

My major criticism of the novel as a whole was that I found it severely overwritten. I think Brad Pitt said it best in Ocean’s Eleven: “Don’t use seven words when four will do.” Yup, I just quoted Brad Pitt in a book review. Whatevs. The ending also felt like a bit of a cheat for me. I felt like that was the one part of the novel that made me feel like an outsider to the action, which was a bit of a frustrating way to end it off.

Overall, I thought The Girls was a really interesting take on teenage rebellion and the inner-workings of a cult. The characters were well-developed and the plot was nicely executed. It would be a good read for anyone interested in the Manson Family!

Have you read The Girls? What did you think?

Felicia x

Friday Thoughts: Harry Potter + Snow

Happy Friday to you all! Another Friday... jeez, before we all know it, it will be Christmas Eve. Who's excited for Christmas!? I know I am. Seeing all of the Blogmas posts from blogs I follow has only amplified my excitement. Maybe I'll have to partake in Blogmas next year....? We'll have to wait and see! But, for now, here's my weekly update for you.

  • I've started to re-read the Harry Potter series! I'm not really sure why, but I suddenly got into a very Harry Potter mood this week. I watched the first and then the final films last night, and today I've been lounging around in my Ron Weasley sweater, reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I'm already onto Chamber of Secrets lol
  • A few weeks back, on Black Friday weekend, I ordered two vinyl records from Urban Outfitters as there was a ridiculous sale on records (something like "buy one, get one 50% off"). SO I ordered the Moulin Rouge and the 500 Days of Summer soundtracks. Flash forward to this week, they still hadn't sent a shipping confirmation or anything so I started to panic. Then they said 500 Days of Summer was back-ordered. So Moulin Rouge unexpectedly arrived yesterday afternoon. And today, 500 Days of Summer arrived... along with another copy of Moulin Rouge hahaha, so I guess I have two copies now??
  • Exam season is upon us! I get lucky every time, being an English major who takes a lot of online classes and classes that prefer final papers over exams - I only get two or three exams per term. But my boyfriend isn't so blessed. He has two exams tomorrow, one mid-day and then the other at night. So tomorrow will be a sucky day for him :(
  • There is snow expected for tomorrow and I could not be any more excited. I love the first good snowfall of the season. I've been eagerly awaiting our first snowfall for weeks now, after a fifteen-min snow tease last month. My family thinks I'm nuts (they're not snow lovers). I don't even really like snow. I just like it in December, but once Christmas is over, I'm like bye. 
  • I'm getting very excited for my trip to Florida. We live Christmas day, as usual, and I can't wait to see all that Disney has in store for this magical Christmas season. I truly believe that Disney wins when it comes to holiday decor. I just love to see all their decorations - I promise to share it all with you guys!

Felicia x