Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (Little Blue Envelope, #2)

I think something is art when it is created with intention -- serious intention. Even crazy intention. And I think something is beautiful if it reveals something about what it means to be alive.

When Maureen Johnson wrote 13 Little Blue Envelopes, this book's predecessor, she hadn't intended to make a sequel. It was going to stand alone the way it was. But the outcry of the fans and Johonson's own creative imagination birthed something else: The Last Little Blue Envelope, its sequel.

The Last Little Blue Envelope starts off at the beginning of Ginny's winter break. She's busy worrying about her future, missing Keith, and reminiscing about her summer when she gets an email from a man named Oliver, who has managed to fine the last letter and all its contents.

Ginny soon finds herself back in Europe and things are as crazy as ever. The last letter has a new mission and another surprise at its end. As she seeks closure for herself in this last adventure, she finds herself battling heartbreak, discovering new loves, and generally dealing outside of her comfort zone. It's going to take a great deal of work to keep her from losing her head this time around. She'll have to work even harder if she wants to keep her heart too.

The conclusion to Ginny's tale was everything I had hoped it would be. I liked the first book, but without the sequel it lacked luster and, most especially, closure. The sequel was a great call for Johnson, because it tied up all the loose ends and everything fell neatly into place the way it should by the time it wrapped up. The first just can't quite stand on its own. The addition of a sequel made it a thousand times better.

Once again Johnson's witty humor emerges from the story with each page turned. She's quite a quirky person and has definitely found her voice when it comes to writing. She does a wonderful job at it. It is her, through and through. I couldn't get enough of this story or Johson's cleverness at molding the written word to be exactly what she demands of it.

I would definitely suggest this to anyone who has read the first and simply needs that closure. Even if you weren't sure how you felt about the first book, this one wraps it all up in a neat little package and commands that you enjoy it. So go ahead, go pick it up.


"People always say they can't do things, that they're impossible. They just haven't been creative enough. This pool is a triumph of imagination. That's how you win at life, Gin. You have to imagine your way through. Never say something can't be done. There's always a solution, even if it's weird."

Friday, August 24, 2012

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

"It's our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

[Click here to see my review of book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone]

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
 is the story of Harry's second year at Hogwarts: School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After spending a terrible summer with the Dursley's, Harry is just about to return to school when a strange creature that calls himself Dobby shows up in his bedroom. Dobby warns Harry that terrible things are going to happen at school this year and he mustn't be there, because it would put his life in grave danger.

Harry, however, refuses to stay with his horrible family and dismisses Dobby's warning as a cruel joke played by someone who doesn't want him back. But things start going wrong from day one: Ron and Harry can't get onto the platform for the Hogwarts Express and have to find other means of getting to school. That's merely the beginning of it.

Then Harry starts hearing voices that no one else can and something starts attacking the Muggle-born students. No one is safe. A rumor about the Chamber of Secrets and Slytherin's heir passes through the student body quickly as fire. Can Harry find out who the Heir of Slytherin is and stop the monster that's attacking the students in the process? Can he protect his friends and convince people that he is not the heir?

Rowling draws us into the sequel to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with the same eagerness and excitement that made the first book so wonderful. Once again, she manages to knock us off our feet with her masterful storytelling and her way of keeping us hooked from beginning to end.

Not only does she write wonderful characters that you get to grow with and learn to understand as if they were close friends, but the story itself is filled with twists and turns that one wouldn't have expected, yet would never question. When an author can have you coming back to the story time and time again, wanting to delve into it just once more, that's what makes a truly good book. And that's what J.K. Rowling has in this series of books. You'll always come back wanting more.

Rating: ★★★★☆

[Click here to see my reviews of book 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, book 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.]

The ink shone brightly on the paper for a second and then, as though it was being sucked into the page, vanished. Excited, Harry loaded up his quill a second time and wrote, "My name is Harry Potter." 
The words shone momentarily on the page and they, too sank without a trace. Then, at last, something happened.
Oozing back out of the page, in his very own ink, came words that Harry had never written.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

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

"Harry--you're a great wizard, you know."
"I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him. 
"Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things--friendship and bravery and--oh Harry--be careful!"

This is the second time I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the third, if you count listening to the audiobook) and it is no less a magical ride now than before. It is the perfect introduction to an amazing series and some wildly wonderful characters.

Harry Potter is living with his awful relatives, the Dursleys, who mistreat and dislike the boy, when he discovers an amazing truth. He is a wizard, as were his parents before him. Suddenly, his life takes a turn for the better. He is sent to a school for wizards called Hogwarts and, for the first time, manages to find a place where he feels loved and can make friends that are loyal and kind.

Everything is going well, better than he could have imagined, when he and his friends discover a three-headed dog on the third floor, apparently guarding something of great value. At first, they're merely interested, until they find that one of the teachers is trying to steal it. If he manages to do so, it could mean the end of the security the wizarding world has only just gotten used to. It could mean the return of a threat that was thought to have ended eleven years ago, the night Harry's parents were murdered and he received the scar on his forehead that resembled lightning. Nothing is quite as it seems and there are many dangers awaiting Harry and his friends during his first year at Hogwarts. Will they be able to make it through the year's dangers and excitements and still manage to pass their exams? It will take all of their cleverness and all of their loyalty if they even want a chance at succeeding.

It's no secret that I am a major fan of J.K. Rowling's work and it was a sheer pleasure to be able to immerse myself in it again. After LeakyCon, I wanted to reread the books and I'm very excited about continuing on. Even in her first book, Rowling shows a profound ability to draw the reader in and present them with both a believable and simply magical tale that captures their hearts.

Definitely a must-read, this series is very likely one of the greatest fantasy series of our time, on par with the works of Lewis and Tolkien. Whether you're nine or ninety-nine, you'd better go pick this book up right away.

Rating: ★★★★☆

"After all, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all--the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them."

Friday, August 17, 2012

LeakyCon Lit 2012

Maureen Johnson, Lev Grossman, Stephanie Perkins, Robin
Wasserman, Megan Whalen Turner, and John Green
discussing Boy Books & Girl Books and whether there is
 a legitimate distinction.

This past week I had the privilege of being able to attend LeakyCon, a Harry Potter convention that was held in Chicago, Illinois, this year. The convention was fantastic and gave my brother and I the opportunity to meet plenty of others for whom the Harry Potter series has been a treasure and somewhat of an obsession.

One part of the convention that I was very excited about was LeakyCon Lit. LeakyCon Lit is a particular set of panels and events that only those with Rockstar or Lit passes can attend. Headed up by Maureen Johnson, LeakyCon Lit gave those who signed up for it the opportunity to sit in on panels between a select number of Young Adult authors who were scheduled to appear, as well as receive the chance to talk with them or go to signings.

These panels proved to be both informative and highly entertaining. The authors assembled were an eclectic and intelligent bunch that, for the most part, know each other well and deeply enjoy discussing the finer points of books and their own work in the literary field.

Because I enjoyed this particular part of the convention, I thought I would give y'all a little rundown of the panels and what I learned from them. So here we go:

Come to this Panel if You Think You Hate Romance
I don't happen to be a hater of romance, but I thought this would be an interesting panel to attend and it was. The panel was made up of Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor, Daniel Ehrenhaft, and Margaret Stohl.  We learned that most romances that people hate are the campy ones with overused phrases and gag-worthy dialogue. When a romance is fresh and new, there is something that draws you to it. Everyone enjoys a good love story, it just has to be done right.

Notable quotes from this panel: 
"Romantic love is the closest thing to magic that we have in real life." -Stephanie Perkins
"Literature is escape, but it's also emotional truth." -Daniel Ehrenhaft

Bad Books and Why We Love Them
In this panel, we discussed what makes a book bad and whether or not we really have the authority to label a book "bad" or not. John Green, Holly Black, Margaret Stohl, Robin Wasserman, Megan Whalen Turner, and Maureen Johnson went back and forth on the difference between books with bad writing, books with bad morals, and books that were so off-the-wall terrible that they turned around and became favorites because of how hilarious it made them.
One very interesting point that was brought up was the fact that we should do our best not to be sticklers about what others are reading because they're doing just that: reading. We should be doing our best to encourage that, even if we aren't very fond of their book choices. Instead of bashing the ones they're already into, we can suggest our own favorites and let them make the choices from there. We don't want to discourage others from reading, and chances are they'll find the really good books on their own if you let them wade around in the water a bit.

Boy Books and Girl Books
This panel may have been the most interesting I attended all week. Hearing from Megan Whalen Turner, Robin Wasserman, Stephanie Perkins, Lev Grossman, John Green, and Maureen Johnson on whether or not there really is much of a distinction between girl books and boys books was simply intriguing.
John Green & Maureen Johnson at a signing. He looked up
just as I took the picture. He wasn't actually glaring at me.
Haha. :P
As an aspiring YA author, I was fascinated and horrified to learn more about the sexism involved in the  book industry: both buying and selling. For years we have been operating under a system where "boy books" are normal books and "girl books" are chick lit. Why is that? What really separates the two? Why are girls encouraged to read whatever we can get our hands on, while boys are told that only these books over here are acceptable?
It isn't fair. Not to authors, not to boys, not to girls. This stigmatizing of certain literature causes boys to think there's something wrong with them if they want to branch out from "boy books" and causes female authors to be set aside in favor of male authors because it's unthinkable that a woman could write something that would interest a man.
Stephanie Perkins referred to an incident when she worked at a bookstore in which a father actually put Harry Potter back on the shelf though his son wanted to read after she casually mentioned that J.K. Rowling was a woman. He actually said "She?" and placed it back on the shelf as if it were suddenly detestable because of the gender of its author.

Notable quotes from this panel:
"I'm not kidding. I would've punched you and then I would've called you a liar, and I would've set fire to your house." -Maureen Johnson [describing her reaction if someone would have told her that she would be writing "girl books" when she was in high school]

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Every Single Harry Potter Novel
This panel was open to everyone, not just those attending LeakyCon Lit. John Granger, known for his in-depth analysis of the Harry Potter book series gave a series of lectures on Christian symbolism, postmodern morality, ring composition, and many other literary devices implemented in J.K. Rowling's books. I only attended one, but it was simply mind-blowing.
Honestly, I walked out of the room both dying to write and never wanting to pick up a pen again, because how could I even come close to the masterful work Rowling did in her series?
Theres no way I can rehash what I learned in only an hour of his class, but I can suggest getting any of his books. If those lectures are any indication, the man is brilliant and should certainly be heard by as wide of an audience as can comprehend what he has to say.
I will definitely be keeping an eye out for his books and now have even greater respect for one of my favorite authors, J.K. Rowling, for her masterful work.

I Was a Teenage Writer
Maureen Johnson is always telling those who want to be authors that one of the key factors is to "learn to let yourself suck". By that, she means that no one is great from the beginning and sometimes you have to put out a lot of bad writing in order to improve enough to make something great. In this panel, John Green, Margaret Stohl, Holly Black, and Kate Schafer Testerman supported her statement by producing some work they created in their teenage years. The result was hilarious. Needless to say, many were comforted by the end of the meeting. They saw how far these authors had come in only a decade or so and knew that if they worked at it, they would likely be able to do the same.

Ask Me Anything: Book Editors
My brother and I chose to attend this panel last minute, but it was definitely worth it. In fact, the panel convinced him to consider becoming a book agent because of how excellent the job sounded and how much the agents present were passionate about what they did.
Rebecca Sherman, Jennifer Laughran, Kate Schafer Testerman, and Daniel Ehrenhaft answered questions that ranged from "What does your job entail?" to "Should I follow book trends and try to produce something along those lines?" Hint (on the second question): a book is generally bought three or four years in advance of it being put on the shelf, so unless you can predict the future, you won't have much luck trying to ride on the coattails of current trends.

My LeakyCon swag. It includes 3 new books I can't wait to
read: Hacking Harvard by Robin Wasserman; Geektastic by
Holly Black and Cecil Castelliucci; and Wizards, Wardrobes
and Wookies
 by Connie Neal.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. I look forward to attending more book events in the future and learning even more about the books and craft I adore so much.

I would go again in a heartbeat.