Review: Harry Potter: A Journey through the History of Hogwarts

Oh, how I love all things Harry Potter!  They make me super happy.  I was given a gift card for Christmas to Barnes and Noble, and after three trips, and a lot of staring at many things, I decided to get this (I have money left, so more trips are in my future…).

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“As the British Library unveils a very special new exhibition in the UK, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, readers everywhere are invited on an enchanting journey through the Hogwarts curriculum, from Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology to Defense Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, and more in this book uncovering thousands of years of magical history.  Prepare to be amazed by artifacts released from the archives of the British Library, unseen sketches and manuscript pages from J.K. Rowling, and incredible illustrations from artist Jim Kay.  Discover the truth behind the origins of the Philosopher’s Stone, monstrous dragons, and troublesome trolls; examine real-life wands and find out what actually makes a mandrake scream; pore over remarkable pages from da Vinci’s notebook; and discover the oldest atlas of the night sky.  Carefully curated by the British Library and full of extraordinary treasures from all over the world, this is an unforgettable journey exploring the history of the magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories.”

It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I liked it. It had some excellent art from the illustrated editions.  There are also great pieces features from the British Library’s actual exhibit, which I wish I could actually see.  I have to say, kids who love Harry Potter would probably love this much more, because they would be learning new fun things about history. Being obsessed with Witchcraft/Wiccans/Herbology/History, I knew most of this but did learn a few new things.

All in all, a must have for any Harry Potter Fan!

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Review: Iron Gold

gold“They call him father, liberator, warlord, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the pale blue planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-second of his life. A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself? And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever: A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined. An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life. And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes. Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one.”

I am … unhappy… and conflicted.  Conflicted would certainly be the word I have to use the most.  I was so ecstatic when I found out that Pierce Brown was writing another novel, but I thought it would be around different characters. The truth is, it is and it isn’t.  Some of our favorite characters have returned, including Darrow, his howlers, and characters we know and love, and some new characters have surfaced.  The story is now told from four points of view, including from one character we met briefly, and two new ones.

Darrow is no longer the boy we knew. A decade of war has changed him, and rightfully so.  However, this novel dashes any hopes and dreams I had for him at the end of Morning Glory, and there were many times when I wished we could have just left him there and never returned to his story. Also, many times I just wanted to slap some dadgum sense into his brain, and make him realize that he did not always have to be rash. I mean, like I was seriously so angry reading this novel that I almost threw the blasted thing (except, it is rather large and heavy at over 600 pages). Unfortunately, I could not do that. Pierce Brown is also such a compelling writing that I could not put the story down. I kept reading. So, I am left conflicted.

What I liked most about this story is the young girl we meet on Mars. It was the main thing that kept me reading the story, and I at one point (I’m ashamed to admit) flipped ahead and just read her pieces of the story to make sure nothing happened to her. I’ll leave you wondering whether it did or not… Lyria is my favorite new character. She is brave, and scared, and conflicted.  She is fighting for herself and for others.  Her character knows the cost of war, what it means to be made promises and then left behind, and the dark side of revolution.  A quick study, she works hard to be a better person, and make a better life, but like so many of us, we long for others to understand us, and we become lost.  Her story was certainly my favorite, and the way that Brown connects it to the other three (for they all become connected in some way), is an amazing thing. Actually, the way Brown connects these four characters was truly fascinating. I imagine in my head that he has a whole room dedicated to the story of these novels, with a very long and complicated timeline along all four walls…

As with any book on war, we are met with death and tragedy. I have complimented Pierce Brown before on his ability to write war in such a way as to make it real to those of us who have never experienced it (albeit, in space, and with much fancier weapons than we have on Earth) – he faces down the tragedy, and the horror, and the senselessness of it in his stories, with unashamed transparency to the utter awfulness tha war is. Breaking my heart again, over and over and over. When I sit and think about it, Iron Gold is truly an honest continuation to Morning Glory, because while many authors would wrap the revolution up with a pretty bow, create a new government and move the story along, Brown is showing us the true cost of any war, the way the real-world works, and the cost of one person’s dream.  Even if we did not want to see it. To be clear, I’ve pretty much decided, I did not want to see it. The ending in my head was so very much happier.

Though we may have had many favorite characters from the original trilogy, be warned that though they are still there (if they were alive at the end of Morning Glory), their parts to play in the new novels are not as large.  We see a few of the original howlers here and there, but they are no longer the central characters to the plot.  A piece of me misses them, but another part of me is glad for the change, and loving the new people we meet. A couple of the howlers are still with Darrow during the story, and seeing how they have grown and changed was a wonderful part of coming back to this world (Sevro, I’m looking at you).

Brown races back into the world we had to come know, and reintroduces us to a world torn apart by war but slowly trying to come back together.  He writes in multiple points of view, flowing from the one to the next without a hitch and still giving each of the four characters their own voice (Darrow’s is much the same, but more depressing).  It would seem as if he writes as naturally as some of us breathe air, and indeed the second (if you view this as a new trilogy, which I originally thought it was)/fifth Red Rising novel (Dark Age) will come out in September this year – only nine months after Iron Gold is released; that is something to be thankful for, though it does not have a promising title.

Our other two new narrators, Lysander au Lune (though someone we briefly met before), and Ephraim, are interesting and add their own flavor to the story. Ephraim is a bitter thief, who understands the cost of war but is lost in his own tragedy.  Lysander is dealing with coming to terms with his own history, and how to become the man he thinks he should be. Ephraim is probably my least favorite of our new narrators, with Lysander coming in second behind Lyria.

This book is as fast paced as the others, leaving us on a major cliffhanger.  I am still playing a guessing game as to who some of the leading bad buys really are, and praying that Darrow eventually comes to his senses, or maybe is making the right choices. I mean, I have never been so conflicted over whether or not I like a book before. I loved so much about this, and then hated so very much at the same time.

As always… I’m looking forward to the next one…

Pierce Brown lives in Los Angeles, where he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls, and most things old or bizarre.  You can connect with Pierce on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also visit his website at http://piercebrownbooks.com/

Review: Perennials

perennials.jpgPerennials by Julie Cantrell is a great read.  I started reading it at about 11 am on one of my days off during winter break, and kept reading it… until I finished it about 8 pm that night.  There were a few interruptions of course, as I have a three year old.

When two estranged sisters reunite for their parents’ 50th anniversary, a family tragedy brings unexpected lessons of hope and healing amid the flowers of their mother’s perennial garden.

Eva Sutherland—known to all as Lovey—grew up safe and secure in Oxford, Mississippi, surrounded by a rich literary history and her mother’s stunning flower gardens. But a shed fire, and the injuries it caused, changed everything. Her older sister, Bitsy, blamed Lovey for the irreparable damage. Bitsy became the homecoming queen and the perfect Southern belle who could do no wrong. All the while, Lovey served as the family scapegoat, always bearing the brunt when Bitsy threw blame her way.  At eighteen, suffocating in her sister’s shadow, Lovey turned down a marriage proposal and fled to Arizona. Free from Bitsy’s vicious lies, she became a successful advertising executive and a weekend yoga instructor, carving a satisfying life for herself. But at forty-five, Lovey is feeling more alone than ever and questioning the choices that led her here.

When her father calls insisting she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th anniversary, Lovey is at her wits’ end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, and there’s a lot on the line. But despite the risks, her father’s words, “Family First,” draw her back to the red-dirt roads of Mississippi.  Lovey is drawn in to a secret project—a memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise. As she helps create this sacred space, Lovey begins to rediscover her roots, learning how to live perennially in spite of life’s many trials and tragedies.  Years ago, Lovey chose to leave her family and the South far behind. But now that she’s returned, she’s realizing things at home were not always what they seemed.”

The back of this intrigued me enough, though I was kinda shaky on whether I thought it sounded good or not.  I’m glad I started to read it.

SPOILER WARNING – Highlight to read: As a warning, this book does deal with cancer.  This is a hard thing for me to read about as my mother in law passed away after a battle with cancer, and so did my husband’s grandmother.  Cancer is such a tough subject to deal with, and when it came up in this novel, (which I suspected long before I knew for sure) I was unsure if I wanted to keep going. However, I liked the characters enough and was wanting to know more backstory, so I did keep going. And I’m glad. Though I cried. A lot. END SPOILERS.

The beginning is slow, but eventually starts to pick up.  I’m so used to reading young adult fiction, I was surprised when I realized the main character was 45 years old. It honestly was quite a refreshing change.  Because even though she of course did not have her life figured out, she had a career, a house, and a whole slew of different worries.  I need to remember to read books like this more often.

I spent most of the book just wanting to royally slap Lovey’s sister, Bitsy. And honestly, still mostly wanted to slap the sister even later. However, the sibling rivalry, the parents, and how the past all factored in, was written very well. It was also spread out nicely and paced through the story.

Though religion is used in the text, it never becomes preachy, and remains powerful. Interestingly enough, it also mixes in some new age/Yoga/Native American traditions as well.  I loved the family dynamic, because it was so well written. It also reminds us that parents can make mistakes as well.  It deals with adultery, lying, grief, and hurt. It deals with coming to terms with our past, and deciding when to forgive.

There is also a beautiful mix of literature history of Oxford woven into this story, which I greatly enjoyed. The gardens and flower talk (though not my forte) was also enjoyable.  Metaphors and layers are used throughout in ways that worked well.

Secrets of the past and present are reveled, Kleenex is needed, and overall it is a story of warmth, emotion and healing.

Review: The School for Good and Evil

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The School for Good and Evil is quite a fairy tale.  I have mixed feelings on this one, and rated it a 3/5. That said, I also immediately started reading the second one… or well listening to it.  The person who reads it for the audio book is quite good, by the way.

“The New York Times bestselling School for Good and Evil series is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one. With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.  The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.  But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?”

This book starts off slow, starts getting really good, and then eventually feels like its dragging on forever and could have ended four or five different times (if you read quite fast, this might be cured by actually reading the book versus listening to it).  With that said, I still rather enjoyed the story and the characters.  Sophie is… annoying. Pretty much always annoying. Agatha I rather quite enjoy, and there were a few good surprises with her characters. There are others you come to love (oddly, I like the evil characters better than the good characters), and some you just constantly want to smack upside the head (Teddy, I’m looking at you).

Perhaps one of the best pieces of this novel is the quirks, twists and add-ons to the fairy tale world.  It has a nice mix of the things we have always know about fairy tales, and new things that pop up when not expected.  I loved the guards, the teachers, the traditions and the castles.  There were so many little funny things to shake your head over, and others that could baffle you for a minute, but generally you like.

I do have to say that they talk about how evil cannot love, or like others… but all the kids at the school are children of evil characters… so you know… things had to happen… to have the children… so that part kind of bothers me. Just saying.

This was a book club pick, and we were generally torn on our overall opinion.  I think only me and one other person out of the seven decided to read the second.  It has an average rating of 4.2 on Amazon, so enough people seem to like it.  Also noted, it is a middle grades targeted book, and … we are very much not that.  I would probably have liked it more in middle school. Then again, … probably not. The same things would have still bothered me.

Notes from my fellow book club members: good laughs, darker than imagined (in a good way), and Aggravation with Sophie/Agatha.

Agatha, though her stupid devotion to Sophie is incredibly frustrating, is my favorite and her inner dialogue had me laughing out loud a couple of times.  She was just fantastic and I appreciate her love of candy.  I believe part of her message really gets lost at the end of the story, and that saddened me. I’m hoping it is picked back up in the second. Honorable mention is Hort and Hester. I rather liked them.

Overall, worth a quick read if you like quirky fairy tales.

YA Bookcon

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*Update – I started reading Reclaiming Shilo Snow last night and have devoured half of it. Plan to finish it tonight and review it! (Silly work!)

So, Bowling Green hosted the YA Bookcon, which was truly amazing, and tons of fun.  I got extremely lucky, and was able to moderate the panel with Mary Weber on it, and finally meet her in person. They asked people to dress up for the event, …. soooo of course I did!  Next year I plan to do an even more amazing job, but this was short notice!

If you cannot tell, I was the TARDIS… and I took all my books for Mary to sign, which means I also got to win swag!  Always fun. There were tons of high school students from surrounding areas, some I knew from my drama class when I was an American College Coach at ECHS in 2016, so that was fun too!

I moderated a great panel, entitled:  Like a Boss: Writing Your Way Through An Identity Crisis — “Figuring out who you are is tough in high school. Luckily, it’s tough for everyone, as these authors point out – whether you’re in the real world or one that’s made up!”

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The authors on the panel were:
1. Isabel Quintero, Gabi, A Girl In Pieces
2. Mary Weber, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow
3. Cinda Williams Chima, Shadowcaster
4. Courtney C. Stevens, Dress Codes for Small Towns

They did a great job. Courtney Stevens was on the very first panel I moderated for our SOKY Bookfest, and I always think she does a dynamic job of engaging people. Sadly, after my panel I had to head back to work.  Lucky for me it was a two day event, so the next day I got to back, and attend a game of trivia about Harry Potter (which I sorely disappointed myself on, and must reread all of those at once – oh and the Hufflepuffs won!).

CJ Redwine hosted the Trivia Game (She is awesome as well).  She was on my panel this year for SOKY.  She brought a giant suitcase of books to give out as prizes, and then told us to take as many as we wanted, because she was not taking them back home!  Loved it.

Also, posted above in the middle, is Mary Weber’s daughter (Avalon), who was super nice. We got to talk about studying abroad, Harlaxton and college in general (you can’t tell what I do for a living, can you?).

All in all, it was an awesome couple of days, in which I spent too much money (though some of those books I got for moderating).  They also gave away free pins, which was way too much fun.

I cannot wait for our next SOKY Bookfest!

Carving My Mark

A person who is very important to me thanked me for being such a great friend today, and also told me to look toward the future, look into getting my Phd, and that I will do great things – not to let now get in the way of the future.

And as I was sitting coloring my sun visor for my car (it’s finished and beautiful), I was thinking over this.  I remember my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Prunty, writing in my yearbook that I was going to accomplish great things, and he would keep an eye out for my name in the future.  While he may have wrote this for countless kids – several other teachers told me the same throughout my school career.  And I have always wanted to change the world.

The issue is, how?  One of my greatest passions is education. I have dreams of the educational world I want my son to grow up in.  However, it often seems any way of changing our current education system lies in politics – A world I never had much desire to enter.

I admitted to myself this evening, that I also become frightened of stepping out of my box, and doing something new. I’m used to the things I’m good at and I know what those are (especially school).  So thinking about politics, or higher up roles in education tends to scare me. Hence one of the reasons I went back for a second masters in Leadership – it is not just that I could not decide what to get a Phd or EdD in, it is also that I know I need to improve those skills.

So over the next year, I hope to challenge myself. I want to step outside my box, work on my leading skills, and also do new things.  I want to challenge the status quo.

I also want to write. Two of my awesome friends have been bugging me about this later. So often I say that I just don’t have the time. And it’s really not true. I just do not make the time.  I think it because I am scared to death that I will actually finish something and face rejection at every angle – because I have before.  Plus, I’m just lazy when I get home from work.

Here is to a year of challenges and goals.  Wish me luck. And keep me accountable. 🙂

Back to the basics.

I know the author of this new blog, and he is a great guy who truly cares about students – I interned for him for a semester in graduate school and learned a lot. This post is amazing.1

Higher Ed Introspection

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I was in an Apple store not too long ago in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife. We were purchasing an Apple Watch for myself; this was my anniversary/Father’s Day gift – my wife is really kind as she knows how I “geek out” about technology.

While we awaited my iPhone to update software so that I could sync the Apple Watch to the iPhone, we struck up a conversation with a younger guy who worked at the Apple Store as a “Genius.” This update took forever, so we were able to have a long conversation with this individual.

This “Genius” had recently graduated from a college in Boston where he studied music business – he also was a musician. He moved to Nashville seeking to put his skills and education to use by entering into the music industry. Specifically, he wanted to pursue a career in the business side of…

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Life Updates & My Reading List

Hello, hello,

I hope you are having an awesome day!  I thought I would give you a few updates (since it has been so long since I’ve posted regularly). I am still working as an academic advisor at WKU, still tutoring, and I’m proud to announce I will be teaching a University Experience class in the fall for Freshmen!

I have also started my 2nd Masters in Organizational Leadership.  The weird thing is that I’m working ahead of schedule… both lessons that due this Sunday at midnight, I had finished by five today, AND I already have books checked out for paper due in two weeks. I don’t want happened to the old procrastinating me!

My son is THREE and lord, potty training is driving me crazy! We now barter – if he wants something, he does what I want – go sit on the potty. It’s pretty much the only way he agrees, and we just started that yesterday (I discovered it by luck). I’m going to have four and a half days off this weekend, so that is my grand plan! I also have a star chart he uses, and he gets a mickey mouse sticker.

My To Read List:

Dark Diary and Fates Aflame (ARC) by P. Anastasia

The Shadow Queen and The Wish Granter by CJ Redwine

Glitter by Aprilynne Pike

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell

Dark Highway (can’t see authors name on book – too far away), and a few others.

Yeeeeeep. I’m current reading Have I Got A Story For You which is a collection of short stories (check out my Goodreads).  I’m doing really well on my reading goal I set for myself!

One last Mention: My sister has started a blog called More Than Muscle.  It’s about the world of Strongmen (and Strongwomen), as she has become involved in the shows, and helps her boyfriend promote his own show Iron Warrior SoKY (http://www.ironwarriorsoky.com/). She shows the side most people don’t see of the people competing – that they are normal folks like us too (and not dumb/jocks/etc.)! Check our her blog HERE!  I help edit her blog (not that it needs much), and I also am in charge of the Iron Warrior website (I don’t know much about web design so forgive me!).

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: Book Review

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson

“You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.

The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?”

I love this book.  For one, I love all things English.  Also, I love when cultures clash, and we see how people deal with it.  I thought this was an excellent book, with major characters who were older, and wiser but who still made mistakes. Both were dealing with grief – Major Pettigrew had lost his wife years before, and was also dealing with the very recent death of his brother. Mrs. Ali had lost her husband.

The romance here was everything I wanted.  There are mistakes along the way, issues as they try to figure out how to navigate tough waters, especially considering the fact neither has dated for a very long time. The characters are complex and well developed.

And then add in the children and family. The fact that the author deals with these issues was probably made the book for me. Romance is often shown as a whirlwind story between two people. This book shows how others opinions affect us, and also how our relationships affect them. I honestly wanted to flat out slap his son so many, many times.

The prose and dialogue are both well done.  There are outside issues affecting things as well (the town is facing development), and it even includes a Lord of the town, who is facing hard challenges on his land (something that is quite true for many English Lords).  I loved the cultures, the questions it raises for discussion and the happy ending.

The time line goes well. I never felt frustrated or annoyed, and it seemed well paced. Though I will say that the son’s story made me frustrated just by his selfishness (though the story does address that).  An interesting hint for parents at well.

Go read!

Waiting for Autumn: Book Review

Waiting for Autumn” by Scott Blum

In the tradition of The Alchemist, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and The Celestine Prophecy, this enchanting semiautobiographical parable follows the inquisitive Scott as he finds himself in a parking lot where he meets a cardboard-sign-toting homeless man named Robert with a penchant for changing lives. With Robert and the sleepy black lab Puppy Don at his side, Scott embarks on a spiritual awakening and attempts to heal his past while confronting the spirit of his dead fiancée, learning the power of nature, exploring the spirit plane, and discovering the true nature of the universe. On this unique journey of self-discovery, various healing and spiritual modalities are revealed, including shamanic soul retrieval, ancestral healing, harnessing of lunar energy, conscious cooking, kirtan, manifesting, and lightworking. This easy-to-read book is a charming and affecting story of one humble soul’s profound awakening on the path to facing an extraordinary dilemma between his spiritual calling and earthly life purpose.” via Amazon

This book was given to me by someone, and we often do not seem to like the same things (He did not like To Kill A Mockingbird. He is also 67 and I am 27).  However, I was fully willing to read it… I did not know at all what it was about. It is certainly… interesting.

This is not the kind of thing I would ever normally read.  I was also not really looking to be enlightened.  For this kind of book for self-discovery, it was very unique, interesting, and had some good moments. The human interaction is quite good and I loved Puppy Dan.

There are apparently others, “Summer’s Path” written after but actually the prequel, and “Winter Moon Rising” the third, final book.

These books are very metaphysical and apparently have many Native American traditions in them.  It has communing with nature, a spirit realm, etc.  It is really about a man’s journey to find inner peace. He meets unique characters along the way.

Scott Blum is the founder of DailyOM.