Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling

May 3rd, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter.

There are probably not many people who list this as their favorite Harry Potter book, but it still deserves a lot of credit. While, without book 1, the rest could never happen, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone deserves more credit than that.

The later books will focus on Harry and the others learning and performing magic, this one IS magic. One thing that I wish Ms. Rowling had not gotten away from was the feverish excitement of the magical environment of Hogwarts. I am sure it was a difficult thing to sustain when the details had already been given in the early book(s), but I would argue that some of the fun has been lost over the series. Here everything is new to Harry and each time I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone it is new to me all over again.

I am continually amazed at how many things were foreshadowed by this book. So many times things were mentioned, seemingly in passing, which are brought up later in the series. To be able to think that far ahead has been one of the great strengths shown by Ms. Rowling as she has given this series life.

I know many people avoid these books for any number of reasons. If you are included I hope none of your reasons has anything to do with the fact that these were branded as "children's books." The books do seem to age as Harry does. The story line grows up, but maybe not enough. I can, however, understand that the magic of these books (pun intended) is in their youthful energy, which may be a deal breaker for many readers.

If you have not yet squashed your inner child and you have not yet read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, frankly I am not sure what you are waiting for...

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May 3rd, 2007
David Sedaris - Barrel Fever - 186All I do is lie, and that has made me immune to compliments.

Boy's Life - Robert McCammon

May 2nd, 2007

Boy's Life by Robert McCammonZephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson -- a place where monsters swim the river deep and friends are forever. Then, one cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car plunge into a lake -- and a desperate rescue attempt brings his father face-to-face with a terrible vision of death that will haunt him forever.

As Cory struggles to understand his father's pain, his eyes are slowly opened to the forces of good and evil that are manifested in Zephyr. From an ancient, mystical woman who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown -- for his father's sanity and his own life hang in the balance....

Boy's Life is somewhat like Mystic River in how it portrays the excitement, despite the ignorance, of youth. Yes I know that Mystic River focuses on childhood very briefly, but it was the first book that came to mind as I read Boy's Life. Both books seem to glorify (with good reason) childhood; life was simpler when we were younger. And while both books also revolve around plots which require the boys grow up in a hurry, the details surrounding the loss of innocence are very different from one book to the next. We can draw parallels all day long to other works about children -- Stand By Me comes to mind quickly -- but that isn't fair to the book or its author.

Every once and awhile a book makes you pause. It may be for only a moment or maybe longer. It may be just once or maybe more. These seemingly rare occasions happen to reflect on a genuine appreciation for the writing, which I certainly had for Robert McCammon as I read Boy's Life. It has been a long time since I read a book like this.

The story, at times, became strange. A few pieces of the plot revolved around unbelievable and even supernatural events. They were central to the story, but they still felt out of place in it. A story about a boy growing up in the south, however, needs some excitement to make it worth reading. I feel comfortable in saying that your childhood was nothing like the one chronicled in Boy's Life.

Best friends. Bullies. That brand-new bike. Baseball. McCammon describes each of these themes in Boy's Life. Each is celebrated in its own way and none becomes cliché. With the nostalgic thoughts which will swirl around in your head, so too come harsh realities. We grow up. We drift apart from those to whom we were the closest. The world moves on, but sometimes people, places and relationships cannot keep up.

The supernatural elements to the story made it unrealistic to be sure. However, without them the story could not have progressed. If you are looking for a writer's words which will hold you with the tenderness of a mother's arms please do not be discouraged by the sometimes-bizarre nature of the plot.

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May 1st, 2007
Thomas Harris - Hannibal Rising - 27"Would you like to remember everything?" Mr. Jakov said.
"Yes."
"To remember is not always a blessing."
"I would like to remember everything."
"Then you will need a mind palace, to store things in. A palace in your mind."
"Does it have to be a palace?"
"It will grow to be enormous like a palace," Mr. Jakov said. "So it might as well be beautiful. What is the most beautiful room you know, a place you know very well?"
"My mother's room," Hannibal said.
"Then that's where we'll begin."

Book of the Month - May, 2007

April 20th, 2007

For One More Day by Mitch Albom

For One More Day by Mitch AlbomThis is the story of Charley, a child of divorce who is always forced to choose between his mother and his father. He grows into a man and starts a family of his own. But one fateful weekend, he leaves his mother to secretly be with his father - and she dies while he is gone. This haunts him for years. It unravels his own young family. It leads him to depression and drunkenness. One night, he decides to take his life. But somewhere between this world and the next, he encounters his mother again, in their hometown, and gets to spend one last day with her - the day he missed and always wished he'd had. He asks the questions many of us yearn to ask, the questions we never ask while our parents are alive. By the end of this magical day, Charley discovers how little he really knew about his mother, the secret of how her love saved their family, and how deeply he wants the second chance to save his own.

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About A Boy - Nick Hornby

March 27th, 2007

About A Boy by Nick HornbyWill Freeman may have discovered the key to dating success: If the simple fact that they were single mothers meant that gorgeous women -- women who would not ordinarily look twice at Will -- might not only be willing, but enthusiastic about dating him, then he was really onto something. Single mothers -- bright, attractive, available women -- thousands of them, were all over London. He just had to find them.

SPAT: Single Parents - Alone Together. It was a brilliant plan. And Will wasn't going to let the fact that he didn't have a child himself hold him back. A fictional two-year-old named Ned wouldn't be the first thing he'd invented. And it seems to go quite well at first, until he meets an actual twelve-year-old named Marcus, who is more than Will bargained for...

I have known some Nick Hornby readers, but I had never taken the plunge. The due diligence I had done seemed to confirm the reviews from friends: Hornby writes with such a charming wit that it is easy to overlook how alarmingly exposed he leaves the male perspective. Finally I decided to see for myself, though it wasn't by reading this book. I started with High Fidelity, which I enjoyed enough to want more Hornby in my life.

About A Boy tells the story of how a man -- who is not getting any younger -- finally starts to grow up. It is, however, less about his slow transition away from the shallow, playboy persona and more about the unexpected relationship with a young boy that makes the transition possible. (Man does that sound awkward.)

Will's latest scheme to meet women involves a fabricated story that he is a single father of baby Ned. Single mothers, he has decided, are the greatest untapped natural resource available to single men. On a date to the park with just such a single mother, Will has his chance meeting with Marcus -- the socially awkward young man whose poor conversation skills and even poorer fashion sense are the product of his parents' divorce. The woman who takes Marcus to the park -- and into Will's life -- is not Marcus's mother, she had...other plans.

Will knows more about what to wear, listen to, and talk about as a teenager than Marcus does. Seeing the opportunity to improve his social status at school, Marcus latches on to Will. While Will teaches Marcus about being a kid, Marcus teaches Will about the importance of family.

I can definitely see why some readers think that Nick Hornby offers a little too much "playbook" information from the man team. In About A Boy, as in High Fidelity, he writes very candidly about how (stereotypically) men feel in certain situations. Some men may feel like their secrets are betrayed, and some women may feel that they have been given the key to finally understanding their less-emotional (or even emotionless) counterparts. I don't think anything he writes leaves men that vulnerable at all, but they are certainly entitled to their opinions.

Regardless of the subject matter, Nick Hornby writes in a comfortable voice that I enjoy. His books are short and simple to read and there is enough humor in the right places to move the book along. I liked About A Boy, and my desire to read more Hornby has not been extinguished.

The only complaint that I have with About A Boy is that I would have preferred a little more development of Will's unwillingness to consider Marcus as his friend. I understand the arm's-length approach that Will uses for his interpersonal relationships, but Marcus could not have been seen as a threat to the personal sanctity of Will's carefree lifestyle. He would go out of his way to do nice things for Marcus, but on an inconsistent basis.

If you have seen the movie, which starred Hugh Grant as Will, here are a few thoughts on the differences. Hugh Grant is significantly more charming than Will is as he was written. The movie was clearly more upbeat as the book was written from a darker perspective. The young man who played Marcus in the movie was a very good casting choice.

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Book of the Month - April, 2007

March 20th, 2007

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasSet against the turbulent years of the Napoleonic era, Alexandre Dumas's thrilling adventure story is one of the most widely read romantic novels of all time. In it the dashing young hero, Edmond Dantès, is betrayed by his enemies and thrown into a secret dungeon in the Chateau d'If -- doomed to spend his life in a dank prison cell. The story of his long, intolerable years in captivity, his miraculous escape, and his carefully wrought revenge creates a dramatic tale of mystery and intrigue and paints a vision of France -- a dazzling, dueling, exuberant France -- that has become immortal.

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March 19th, 2007
Robert McCammon - Boy's Life - 183I thought that when I got home I would sit down at my desk and try to scratch out a story in Ticonderoga #2 about where music went when it got into the air. Some of it had gotten into Davy Ray, and he was humming that song as we returned to the pool and our parents.

Pure Drivel - Steve Martin

March 9th, 2007

Pure Drivel by Steve MartinSteve Martin's talent has always defied definition: a seasoned actor, a razor-sharp screenwriter, an acclaimed playwright, and, of course, the ingenious comedian who turned King Tut into a national craze. In this widely praised collection of humerous riffs, Martin shows he is a master of the written word.

From a wildley imaginative meditation on who Lolita would be at age fifty, to a send-up of the warning labels on medicine bottles, these pieces, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker, hilariously and intelligently skewer the topics at hand.

This is truly one of the most delightful books I have ever read. In a very uncharacteristic move, I have made a mental note to hang on to this book so I can go back to it periodically. Martin's writing is just plain funny. I am a tough customer when it comes to humor, but this book had me laughing out loud. Not that it was ever in question, but in this book you begin to see just how intelligent Steve Martin is. Some of the comedy I am sure was over my head, but there was plenty that was not. (Sometimes such intelligent writing may be a pitfall when it might make the book funny to a smaller number of people.)

Steve Martin writes with witty prose in a manner that is comfortable to read and easy to understand. Like many avid readers, I too have that hope in the back of my mind that one day I will be a published author so that I may tease the emotions of readers similar to how I like mine teased. I have read books before which I have visualized myself emulating in my own writing, but before this book I had never felt so strongly an appreciation for the author. This, for the most part, is how I wish I could write.

Pure Drivel is a series of short stories, which I normally avoid because I have had a few bad experiences. I had no problems and I have nothing bad to say about this book. I loved it and have had multiple conversations about it with a friend to whom I lent it. She loved it, too. The book is very light reading when you are in the mood for something quick and minimally involved. The writing is complex and the ideas are abstract, but that should not contradict the previous sentence. I am not ashamed to admit how embarrassingly out loud I laughed at this book.

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March 8th, 2007
Thomas Harris - Hannibal Rising - 24Every person is worth your time... If at first appearance a person seems dull, then look harder, look into him.