Monthly Archives: July 2011

Pottermore Challenge is Up and Running

After a month of anticipation, J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore web site is finally underway. Yes, it’s been accessible since June, but now the fun begins.

As I explained last month, Rowling’s Pottermore web site is designed to offer not only e-book versions of the entire Harry Potter series, but also inside information and exclusive details about the world of Harry Potter from the creator herself.

The site does not launch publicly until October, but a number of people will be able to log on sooner. Today through Saturday, people may register on the site for a chance to gain early access. But you must decode Rowling’s clues. New clues will be posted each day, as Rowling explains.

Those of you who would like the chance to gain early access to Pottermore must find The Magical Quill and then submit their registration details. Each day, from 31 July to 6 August, a clue will be revealed here. Solve the clue and you will be taken to The Magical Quill. Be quick, The Magical Quill won’t be there for long and registration will only be open while spaces are still available each day.

Leave it to Rowling to make her web site as suspenseful as the Deathly Hallows.


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Review: Prep

By Sam Smink

When I started reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, I was bored, then angry, and almost gave up the book altogether. But ultimately, I became engrossed and stayed up 4 more hours than I  should have to finish it.

Lee Fiora is a young girl from Idaho, who applies to a bunch of boarding schools and gets in to the infamous Ault School of Massachusetts, on a scholarship of course. She spends 4 years there, quietly living in the background of the prep school life with the bank boys, the popular girls, the token black guy, the follower, and some friends. She’s a typical teenager with unattainable crushes and broken friendships, but she never really fits in – or does she?

The truth is, she doesn’t fit in because she doesn’t let herself. It’s not the typical “I’m an individual/rebel” deal but more “I think I’m a loser so everyone must feel the same way.”  For all you bookworms, Lee is like Holden Caulfield a la Catcher in the Rye. Only Lee, if possible, is more cynical and critical in her thought process than Holden, probably because she’s a young girl. And we all know girls express bitterness much more clearly than boys.

But Lee isn’t critical or distrusting of the outside world, like Holden; in fact she seems very spot-on when it comes to other students’ characters. She’s just extremely, almost absurdly, critical of herself. I couldn’t understand how someone could analyze every single action so minutely and never actually act on it. Hence my anger.

But it wasn’t until I was reading well into Lee’s senior year that I realized she was just normal. And I began to understand my initial disgust. After all, who wants to read a book about someone so ordinary?

Lee was just being honest with herself and the reader. Granted, she was way too hard on herself, but who hasn’t been? No matter how insane or ridiculous or down on herself she was, we have all had the same exact thoughts at some point. We all hold back from saying what we feel; we all second-guess ourselves; we all over-analyze situations. And what made it all the more real: Lee knew. She knew how she was acting and didn’t stop herself. And it wasn’t until she was an adult that she understood why.

Enthralled by the last pages, I wanted her to have the perfect ending, with her man, finally telling everyone exactly how she feels on her terms. You know the quote “The only person who can make you feel small is yourself?”  It’s what made the ending so real. And that’s what both hurts the novel and makes it shine. The cruel, totally self-conscious view of life.

Reading this book, you’ll notice just how neurotic you were or maybe still are. And you’ll tell yourself to never act that way again. Live and learn. So don’t second guess yourself. But don’t second guess this book either.

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Behold, the Power of Biographies!

More than 40 years after Malcolm X’s assassination, the case might be revived — and it’s all thanks to a book. Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention has called attention to the Civil Right’s leader’s murder, which was never entirely solved.

Sure, arrests were made. But as this New York Times article explains, there are still unanswered questions, like who ordered the assassination. Some believe the innocent were blamed, while those responsible went free.

With the biography’s bestseller-status, some are pushing for the Justice Department, FBI, or Manhattan District Attorney to reopen the case.

People have attempted to reopen the case over the years, but as Shaila Dewan explains in her article, this time, there’s more of a possibility that it will make waves.

But this time they may well gain traction because the legal environment has changed: prosecutors in the South have demonstrated that it is possible to pursue and win cases that are decades old and, as a byproduct, they have made the failures of the police in the civil rights era abundantly clear.

Of course it helps that the book is a biography of one of the most intriguing people in American history, but the fact that a book has the power to open a murder case that’s more than 40 years old is amazing to me. What do you think? Do you think a decades-old murder case might soon be solved? Will you read the biography?

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Review: The Help

Recap: If you’ve ever wondered what it was like down South in the 1960’s during the Civil Rights movement, you’re in luck. If you haven’t ever wondered that, you need to read this book anyway. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help tells the story of a white woman and two black maids in Jackson, Mississippi, who surprise themselves when they decide to shake the town by writing a book about “the help.”

Skeeter, the white woman, is an aspiring writer and an outcast among her rich, white, well-educated friends. After graduating from college, she starts writing for a local paper, but can only get a job as the house-cleaning columnist, Miss Myrna. So she enlists one of her friend’s maids, Aibileen, for help. The two strike up a friendship, something that’s unheard of in those days.

Together they enlist a group of black women, including Aibileen’s best friend and outspoken maid, Minny, to write a book about the help’s experiences working for white women. But writing such a controversial book and keeping it a secret puts them in more danger than they ever could have imagined.

Analysis: I’m going to be honest. I don’t know much about the Civil Rights movement, nor do I know much about the South. I decided to read this book for the same reason everyone else did: it’s hugely popular and is about to become a movie. But I’m so glad I read it. It had me thinking about the differences between whites and blacks — or lack thereof —  like never before. And really, isn’t that the purpose? The fictional book that these women write gets the town talking about race. And now, 50 years later, Stockett strikes up the race chatter with her actual book.

I found myself asking my mother how she remembers life growing up. Did she have a maid? Was she black? How often was she at her house? What did my mother and her parents think of her? The book really made me think, and that’s something I haven’t had a book accomplish in quite some time.

Not only does Stockett get us talking, much like the people of Jackson in her novel, but she also writes in a style that feels real. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny each tell parts of the story from their own perspectives. The book is a revolving door of personal reflections from the 3 major characters. Not to mention, Aibileen and Minny’s sections are written in their natural tongue, with phrases like “I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime” and “circling around the little island a grass at the end with they windows down.”

MVP: Aibileen. The Help begins and ends with Aibileen sections. She’s the real focus of the story here. It’s Aibileen who first agrees to help Skeeter with her book. It’s Aibileen who gets Minny and the others to jump on the bandwagon. She takes charge, and risks everything for it. And despite what she loses, she recognizes what she’s gained, and that makes her all the more likeable.


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Borders is a Bust

All sales are final. As of tomorrow, Borders Bookstore is officially a bust. The once-popular chain will begin closing its remaining 400 stores nationwide, not only emptying shelves, but eliminating 11,000 jobs as well.

This comes after months of bankruptcy and failed attempts to sell and resurrect itself. So where did Borders go wrong?

1. The obvious reason; we are entering the digital world of paperless-ness. In fact, we are already in it. As online [book] shopping, e-readers, and tablets become more popular, the desire to buy a physical book is null and void.

2. As this WSJ article explains, other products in the store were beginning to hide the books altogether. As we all know, bookstores aren’t really just bookstores anymore. They’re fully equipped entertainment outlets, selling CDs, DVDs, and magazines. But once you start shielding the core of the store behind other products, the focus becomes unclear, as Matthew Dolan explains in his article:

Customers began to notice what made Borders distinctive was also disappearing. In Store No. 1, there are still books galore. But to reach them, customers must navigate through aisles of toys, stuffed animals, greeting cards, gift bags, compact discs and DVDs.

3. Barnes and Noble is better. I’ve always been a B&N girl myself. It may be the Starbucks cafe in each store. It might be the layout and look of the store. There’s also a good chance it’s the growth the company has seen after taking on the Nook, which is far more popular than Borders’ Kobo. Either way, it’s the number one bookstore nationwide, and Borders just couldn’t top it.

Whatever the reason, it’s sad to see such a staple leave the industry and say goodbye to thousands of employees, as well. What I’m wondering is, is there something Borders could have done to improve and save itself? What do you think?

***Here is another WSJ article that explains more about the financial struggle of Borders.


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Review: For One More Day

Recap:  Well, Mitch Albom did it again. The author best known for Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven writes yet another philosophical, fantastical novel about death. For One More Day follows the story of Charley “Chick” Benetto, who tries to kill himself by driving his car drunk into the path of an oncoming truck.

The accident seriously injures Chick, and he enters limbo between Heaven and Earth. That’s where Chick comes into contact with his dead mother. He spends one more day with her, reflecting on his childhood, learning about his father who left them, and even more about his mother and himself.

The story leaves us wondering a number of things. Is Chick seeing a ghost? Is this really happening? And is he going to die or live?

Analysis: In For One More Day, Mitch Albom does what he does best. He writes from the heart, telling a story that one could only wish, hope, and dream to be true. He gives this character – or real person as we’re told – the ability to spend one more day with his mother, after she’s been gone for so many years. Though I’m lucky enough to still have my mother, I know that if she were to pass, I could only dream of seeing her again.

What Albom does – and does well – is tell the reader some things matter-of-factly, whereas other plot points are blurred. For instance, he makes it clear that Chick Benetto is a real man he met one day, and that this is Benetto’s version of events. But the ghostly relationship that develops leaves us to wonder how much of this could be true. Albom develops this uncertainty on purpose.

He urges us to question so many things about what’s real and what’s not. In the end, he leaves it up to the reader to decide because ultimately, the reality of the plot isn’t the point of the story. The love between a mother and her son is the true story here. And I dare you to read this book and not feel that love or shed a tear by the end.

MVP: Pauline “Posey” Benetto, Charley’s mother. Real or not, she seems perfect and flawed in a motherly kind of way. Like any mother, she has her secrets, which are not revealed until much later. But she’s loving, caring, and would do anything for her children, despite their disinterest or unwillingness to appreciate her. She is proof that a mother’s love never dies.

Here is the trailer for the made-for-TV movie version of the book, starring Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) and Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Requiem for a Dream).


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Movie vs. Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II

By Alyssa Henry

SPOILER ALERT: This post is a comparison of major plot points in the movie and book versions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. II. There are spoilers of major scenes, events and deaths.

When I was 11, I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time. I was the same age as Harry when he first received his Hogwarts letter. (Unfortunately, it seems that mine got lost in the mail.)  Since then, there have been 7 books, 8 movies, and one epic adventure.  Here are some of my favorite moments that were true to the book, and some that were changed for the big screen.

True to the book: One moment the movie does well is the quasi dream-sequence after Harry lets Voldemort kill him in the Forbidden Forrest. The movie stays true to the scenery and imagery from the book. Kings Cross station is a surreal, stark white place, hovering between life and death. The dialogue between Harry and Dumbledore is the same as in the novel, and ends with one of my favorite quotes of the series: “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth must that mean that it is not real?”.

There are other key scenes that fans love from the books, and the movie does not disappoint. First is when Neville kills Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. This is his defining moment in the series, as Neville has been underestimated his whole life by his grandmother, his teachers, and even his friends. In Deathly Hallows Pt. II, he leads the student revolt at Hogwarts and stands up to Voldemort when he believes Harry is dead. Destroying the final Horcruxes cements him as a hero, and the fans in the theater loved it.

And another defining moment: when Mrs. Weasley kills Bellaxtrix Lestrange after she attacks her daughter, Ginny. The loudest applause in the theater happened when Mrs. Weasley shouts, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” and hits her with the killing curse.

And finally — the long-awaited kiss between Ron and Hermione. It was a perfect moment of love, amidst the death and destruction happening in the final battle of Hogwarts.

Altered for the big screen: While those moments came to life on the big screen, there were some that strayed from J.K. Rowling’s novel. Fred Weasley’s death in the book takes place in a hectic battle with Death Eaters, as Harry and Ron look on. In the movie, his death feels marginalized. Instead of watching him get killed in action, we see his family mourning over his body in the Great Hall. It’s one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the books, but without seeing him killed in the movie, it loses its effectiveness.

Another small, but notable, difference is the location of Snape’s death. In the book, he’s killed by Voldemort in the Shrieking Shack. In the movie, it takes place in the never-before-seen-or-mentioned Hogwarts “boat house”. The scene and memories are the same, and Snape is still a tragic hero of sorts. It’s just a minor annoyance that this location has never previously existed in the books or movies.

While Harry’s fight with Voldemort is a thrilling chase through Hogwart’s castle, Voldemort’s actual death is anti-climactic. In the book, the final duel between Harry and Voldemort takes place in the Great Hall in front of the entire crowd of Hogwarts students, teachers and Death Eaters, and a cheer erupts when he’s finally defeated. In the movie, however, Harry and Voldemort fight alone in the courtyard and when Voldemort is killed, he explodes into a million tiny pieces with a strange visual effect of dust floating in the air. He dissolves into the atmosphere with no one around to witness it.

And there is one more important plot point that was altered for the movie: Harry doesn’t repair his wand at the end of the film. As true HP fans know, in the books, Harry loves his wand because it’s one of the first things he receives that ties him to the wizarding world. So when it breaks in the novel, he spends much of his time mourning it. He then uses the elder wand to repair, before disposing of the elder wand itself.  In the film, however, he breaks the elder wand in two and throws it away without ever fixing his own wand.

Final Thoughts
Overall, Harry Potter and the Death Hallows Pt. II is an excellent adaptation of the book, as it captures the essence of the entire series. It’s a battle of good and evil, dark and light, and life and death, with the story of friendship at its core. It’s true to the characters and the plot and paints a vibrant picture of the final battle of Hogwarts.

So, my fellow Harry Potter fans, let us raise a glass to Harry Potter… the boy who lived.


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Something Seemingly Different from Jennifer Weiner

I’ve always been a fan of chick lit author Jennifer Weiner. Best known for writing In Her Shoes, which was later turned into a movie starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine, Weiner has a certain Jewish wit to her writing that’s funny and charming. And as of today, she has another novel to add to her repertoire: Then Came You.

Of the few books I’ve read of hers, I’ve learned that Weiner generally writes her novels from the perspective of a self-conscious, Jewish, overweight woman with plain Jane looks. Because most of her novels are also romance-oriented, the average looks and sour attitude add to the hilarity — and relatable quality — of the books.  As a woman, I completely understand most, if not all, of the thoughts racing through the mind of the usually anal protagonist. And it makes it even easier to like the woman and root for her.

Then Came You debuts today, July 12th, but it seems as if Weiner takes a different approach with her 9th book. After reading the first chapter online, I learned that yes, there is a focus on appearance and the protagonist’s discomfort with the way she looks. But in this novel, the protagonist is a blonde, thin, athletic, beautiful girl — much different from the other Weiner novels with which I’m familiar. Not to mention, the plot revolves around the girl’s decision whether or not to donate her eggs. Again, a striking dissimilarity from her other novels. Generally, her stories are lighter.

All in all, it seems like Then Came You is something a different from your average Jennifer Weiner novel. But different is good.

Recommended reads: Look for In Her Shoes and Good in Bed, two hilarious and heartwarming novels by Weiner.


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Who Knew? Another Wicked Book On the Way

The fourth and final novel in the Wicked Years series is on its way. According to, it was announced Thursday that Out of Oz would be released November 1st. The first book in the series, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the Westwas released in 1995.

Soon after came a little Broadway musical called “Wicked.” You may have heard of it.

I feel like few people know the show was based on Gregory Maguire’s novel. I knew that (and have yet to read it), but I was unaware that Wicked was just the first in a series of books Maguire wrote about the wonderful world of Oz. Hmm. May have to add that to the reading list!

For more information on the series and what Out of Oz is about, click here.

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Review: The Hunger Games

Recap: In a post-apocalyptic world, the only way for people to survive is to fight to the death. And so begins the story of The Hunger Games. The country of Panem is divided into 12 districts. Two 12 to 18-year-olds from each district must fight each other in the Hunger Games until only one remains. It’s a sporting event that takes place every year. Teens must fight for their survival, and win not only recognition for his/her district, but a lifetime of food, wealth, shelter, and fame.

Katniss Everdeen offers to play as one of the District 12 representatives in the Games after her younger sister, Prim, is chosen. Katniss simply can’t allow her 12-year-old sister to play. And so Katniss begins training and preparing to enter the arena. She must learn the ways of the Games, the importance of getting sponsors, and at the same time, she must do it alongside her opponent from the same district, Peeta.

The Games go on for a number of weeks. Together and apart, Katniss and Peeta must combat starvation, tracker jacker attacks, fire, and beasts – in addition to the 22 other tributes (as they’re called) trying to kill them. But the relationship between Katniss and Peeta never stays completely professional. Unbeknownst to Katniss, she falls for Peeta, and he does the same.

Analysis: I could not put this book down. Much like J.K. Rowling does with the Harry Potter series, Suzanne Collins creates an entirely different and unfamiliar world with The Hunger Games. The intrigue of the foreign setting pulls the reader in. It then develops further as the actual games begin. One assumes Katniss will win, but then other characters begin to develop. We start to think “No! If Katniss wins, that means Peeta must die! And what about so-and-so and so-and-so?” It becomes too much.

And of course, there’s the love story. No action thriller would be complete without it, right? But it’s the atypical love story – one in which the reader questions whether or not Katniss and Peeta find true love or make it up for show, for the games.

Every plot point consumed me, forcing me to turn the pages, until the final page left me breathless and in desperate and immediate need of the sequel.

MVP: Peeta. Yes, Katniss is the heroine here – a strong, resilient, and humble fighter. But it’s Peeta for whom one feels sympathy. He’s the one holding out for and protecting his love, the one who’s a bit weak physically but has a strong heart. As much as Katniss refuses to admit it, she falls in love with Peeta. And the reader can’t help but do the same.


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