review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

harry1 {Source: GoodReads.com}

Oh, Harry.

I resisted reading this series for a while when it first came out, mainly because it was so popular, and you know that feeling of, “well it can’t possibly be good if so many people like it”? Thankfully, I did end up reading this book and anxiously awaited the final installment when it came out in 2007.

It all begins so innocently and so wonderfully, with Harry living in The Cupboard Under the Stairs with his horrendous “family”, the Dursleys, until one day, funny things start to happen. Harry finds he has a specific set of abilities that scare the Dursleys, owls begin appearing, letters come through the fireplace and there is something that no one is telling him. Something big.

When Harry does finally find out the truth –

You’re a wizard, Harry.

– it’s pretty magical. He discovers Diagon Alley, Gringotts, Hogwarts and makes friends with Hermione and Ron. Over time, darker forces threaten his happiness, and he learns the truth about his parents’ death, the mysterious scar on his forehead, and ultimately, his own destiny.

JK Rowling perfectly captures every child’s dearest fantasy – that they will discover that they are actually a wizard, destined for amazing things and whisked off to wizarding school where they will learn to do magic and escape from their humdrum lives.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone isn’t the strongest of the series (I give that to Azkaban but it is the beginning of a beloved tale that will stand the test of time (given it’s been made into a theme park and all…), and introduced us to a cast of characters that I will never forget.

review: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

intheunlikelyevent {Source: GoodReads.com}

Note: I won this book in a GoodReads.com giveaway from the publisher, Knopf. I thank them for the chance to read and review. All opinions are my own.

Oh, Judy.

I love Judy Blume so much. As soon as I finished In the Unlikely Event, I immediately picked up my well-read copy of Summer Sisters so I could be back in one of Judy’s worlds again.

In this tale, we follow quite a few perspectives (I admit to finding this tough and a tad confusing in the beginning, but I quickly found my groove), but the main heart of the story is Miri Ammerman, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s. As planes plummet to earth, Miri struggles with the fever of first love, a best friend who seems to be unraveling at the seams, a rambunctious, opinionated and loving family, and a town in chaos.

Three planes did actually crash in quick succession in Elizabeth, during Judy’s childhood. Those scenes are especially vivid and all the more wrenching because you know it happened. Those balls of fire, those plane bellies upended and spilling intestines, those bits of people found strewn across the earth like piano keys. It’s all too much, and that’s reflected in the characters’ growing horror as they wonder… what is happening? Is the world ending? Is it a conspiracy to kill children? Is it just bad luck?

Could it be that the world is that cruel, that unfeeling… that dark?

I loved following Miri’s story, and I found her to be an engaging and lovely character – tart in her opinions, intelligent and as fiercely trusting as only a fifteen-year-old girl can be. The haunting touches throughout the book – Ruby (she hit me the most, like a smack, looking into that baby’s eyes), Natalie’s eating disorder, Penny and Betsey, Fred the dog, Mason… it all comes together to form a tapestry of normal life, made even more beautiful by tragedy.

Judy Blume has said this may be the last book she ever writes. If so, it’s a worthy coda to her wildly successful career. But I hope it isn’t true. I can’t wait to fall into another one of Judy’s worlds again.

She’s just that good.

review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

firsts {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Okay. So. Here’s the thing.

1) There is a character in this book who should just go die in a fire.
2) The honest depictions of sexuality in teenagerdom were refreshing and honest.
3) The slut shaming that goes on is really, really tough to read.
4) Zach is the cutiest cutie pie that was ever adorable.

Okay, so that’s four things.

Firsts was good, but not *great*. I could feel while reading that with careful editing, the book would have risen to another level, so I do think some pruning would be advisable. The book is about three chapters too long.

Firsts is about Mercedes, a girl with a rather odd hobby. Mercedes de-virginizes guys so that their girlfriends will have good first times. You see, Mercedes had a terrible experience when she first had sex, so she’s trying to make sure that doesn’t happen to other girls… yeah, it’s as bizarre as it sounds. She’s also having no-obligation Wednesday sex with her lab partner, hiding her secret life from her psychotically religious best friend (who made me roll my eyes on more than one occasion) and flirting with her new buddy Faye, who rolls into town with all the finesse of a Mack Truck.

As you can imagine, none of this ends well, and Mercedes is pressured into having sex on more than occasion, which I found very upsetting. Not to mention there are implicit threats of rape from one character. There really isn’t much exploration of the illegality of this and I think it’s a missed opportunity. He’s quite possibly one of the biggest douchebags in all of YA history, and I dearly wish the book had ended with a better comeuppance.

Regardless, I enjoyed this one. It’s wonderful to have a YA novel that doesn’t sugarcoat sex, or assume teenagers aren’t having it / obsessed with it. Likable writing – and like I said before, I do think that the book would bump up another star with editing – it’s way too long.

A note as well: I’ve heard Mercedes called a lot of things by reviewers (nice slut shaming, btw) but in my opinion, she’s a lot like a regular teenager. Fairly self-centered, confused, lots of feelings down below, not a lot of smarts. I know I was a total headcase at that age. Mercedes is typical, and that’s why she’s largely unlikeable – because teenagers are assholes, in case you’ve forgotten.

review: Swimming Sweet Arrow by Maureen Gibbon

swimmingsweetarrow{source: GoodReads.com}

God, I loved this book when I first read it. Still do, as a matter of fact.

Yeah, yeah to the pearl-clutchers who call it “vile” and “pornographic” (you must be SO much fun to hang out with!) just because the main character is a girl who actually enjoys sex! GASP HORROR SHOCK.

The tale of Vangie growing up and eventually, growing apart from those she once held dear, really hit my heart. It’s one of the more realistic depictions of sex – in all its messiness – that I’ve ever read, and the dirty fun of the characters, and their intimate, raw lives, just never gets boring.

It strikes close to the bone with so much of the story – the friends who realize they really don’t know each other anymore, the many many variations of sex, the rape, the pain, the awful squalid chicken farm, and the reality that becoming an adult sometimes means letting go of childish things.

Highly recommended – mainly, for its perfect characterization of Vangie, and for an author who isn’t afraid to make her main character sexual. Love.

{buy Swimming Sweet Arrow on amazon.ca . amazon.com . amazon.co.uk}