The Boy Who Lived. 20 Years On.

Harry Potter.  The Boy Who Lived.

In the last 20 years the literary world, particularly the world inhabited by avid children and teenager readers, has changed dramatically.  Whilst I don’t want to downplay amazing authors such as Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl (I honestly don’t think I can downplay them – they are awesome), J.K. Rowling opened up a new world of possibilities when she introduced Harry James Potter to the masses.

My 13 year old self was introduced to Harry Potter by my lovely English teacher, who was encouraging us to read all the books shortlisted for the Carnegie Award that year.  As an already enthusiastic reader, this was not a problem for me but i’m sure you can imagine some of the groans that were rumbling around that classroom.  That year however, those groans quickly disappeared as people argued over the copy of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone that was circulating the class.  At that age I was quick to devour any books that I could get my hands on (often having to be vetted by my parents as they weren’t always age appropriate!), and Harry Potter was no different.  Actually no, Harry Potter was different.  Harry, Ron and Hermione opened up a world like no other – one that I don’t think anyone expected.  From that point onwards I, like the many millions across the world, was hooked.  My (now) husband faithfully queued with me at midnight in 2005 and again in 2007 as I eagerly awaited the release of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince and then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, knowing full well that I would not be sleeping until I’d finished them (secretly he was glad, because he knew he’d get his hands on them the next day without having to admit that he wanted to read them too).

I’ve spent many years being a little uncool because I love to read (the year I read Dracula whilst on a girly holiday to Magaluf sticks in my mind), however J.K. Rowling introduced a world that everyone wants to be a part of.  I love books, and I love the fact that you can disappear into a different world, if only for a short time.  Very few books however remain with you for quite as long as these seven books have.  For me, Harry Potter was part of my teenage years and early twenties.  What amazes me however, is that their longevity has meant that they continue to mean something, even now, 20 years on.  My 10 year old son has his copy of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone ready to read (once he’s finished the Percy Jackson series, obviously), and he’s excited to read it.  A new generation of fans is emerging with the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – my other 10 year old son is less of a reader than his brother but he is enthralled with the wizarding world that he has discovered on the big screen, even buying himself Newt Scamanders wand at our recent trip the Warners Bros Studio Tour.  Not only has J.K. Rowling opened up this amazing wizarding world to us all, but she also created a whole generation of readers who can’t get enough of these fantastical universes in which they can immerse themselves.  Authors have found themselves with young readers who can’t get enough of their creations – Veronica Roth, Stephanie Meyer and Rick Riordan to name but a few.

Thanks to Harry, Ron and Hermione we now have a whole range of strong characters across a number of genres who show our children just what they can achieve if they really try.  I am proud to be part of the Harry Potter generation, and I am proud that my children are becoming fans of the wizarding world.

I will however always be a little disappointed when another birthday passes me by without the arrival of my Hogwarts acceptance letter.

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Book Review: Waiting for the Bee Stings by Calvin Wade

I seem to have made it to book 13 (unlucky for some) in my Goodreads Reading Challenge!  My latest read was Waiting for the Bee Stings by Calvin Wade.

‘Mia Maher is nearing forty. She arrives at the funeral of an old friend, Chrissie, who has died suddenly. Happily married, with two school age children, Mia is unaware that this will be the day that changes everything and her life will switch on to an entirely new path.
‘Waiting For The Bee Stings’ is a story about the lives of four friends who met at Newcastle University in the mid-1990s. It is a tale of love, friendship, passion and betrayal.’ (Thanks Amazon!)

Waiting for the Bee Stings begins with Mia Maher attending the funeral of Chrissie, her best friend when she was young, but someone she had lost touch with over the years.  Mia, Chrissie, Gary and Jason had been firm friends throughout their university years when they had their whole lives ahead of them.  The novel is told from the viewpoints of Mia and Jason as they reconnect following Chrissie’s funeral.  With the story told from both characters point of view, we get a well rounded view of how Mia came to marry Gary, and how the four friends came to be estranged after having such a close friendship.

There’s very little more I can say without starting to give away how this story progresses.  I will say however that I enjoyed the different characters within the novel and whilst I did guess some of the plot, other parts remained a mystery which is always a winner in my view!  I felt that Mia was a little naive (if not a little stupid actually) as some of the things that happened were rather obvious, however I really enjoyed the character of Jason even if he was often a little wounded.  Well worth a read, and I will be exploring other novels by Calvin Wade.

Rating: 📖 📖 📖

Book Review: Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long

Book number 14 in my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge is Changing Lanes by Kathleen Long.

‘Abby Halladay has the perfect life. Or, rather, she will…as long as everything goes exactly according to plan. Abby never leaves anything to chance—not her job as a syndicated columnist, not her engagement to her fiancé, Fred, and certainly not her impending wedding in Paris (New Jersey, that is).

Unfortunately for Abby, even the best-laid plans often go awry—like when Fred runs away to Paris (France, that is), her column is canned, and her dream home is diagnosed with termites. Forced to move back in with her parents and drive her dad’s cab, Abby’s perfect life has now officially become the perfect disaster.

Then a funny thing happens. Slowly but surely, Abby begins letting go of her dreams of perfection. As she does, the messy, imperfect life she thought she never wanted starts to feel exactly like the one she needs.

Poignant and heartfelt, Changing Lanes celebrates the unexpected joys of everyday life—and the enduring promise of second chances.’

 

Firstly I should probably say that I seem to have developed a bit of a ‘thing’ for small town American novels…there are still a few reviews to come on novels like this, so I hope you are prepared!

I enjoyed this novel.  I liked that Abby felt she had the perfect life, but as it starts to disintegrate around her she realises that what she wants is not necessarily ‘picture perfect’.  We all have a vision of what we believe our lives should be like, but that vision and the reality can often be quite different.  Actually achieving what we believe we want can sometimes not actually bring us the happiness that we seek, and this is exactly what happens to Abby.  When Fred leaves her she is forced to rethink her life and what she really wants from it, something that eventually becomes a positive experience for her, even if she does spend a large portion of the novel in denial that Fred has really gone.

I enjoyed the fact that this novel makes you think about your own life decisions a little, and also what your own perception of a perfect life really is.  It’s a great piece of chick lit, with some romance thrown in for good measure.  Give it a read!

Rating: 📖 📖 📖 📗

Book Review: Derailed in Chancey by Kay Dew Shostak

Book number 12 in my Goodreads Reading Challenge is Derailed in Chancey by Kay Dew Shostak.

‘Carolina’s in-law’s marriage didn’t survive the holidays visiting in her and Jackson’s new home in Chancey, Georgia. Now both families have left, but she’s not sure how much longer she’ll still be in the small town. She knew moving teenagers from the Atlanta suburbs to a small Georgia mountain town last year was a horrible idea. She knew opening a B&B for railfans was an even worse plan. What she didn’t know, was that her marriage might not survive what was beginning to feel like an honest to goodness train wreck.

Oncoming headlights aren’t only aimed at her family, the town of Chancey is being set up for a collision that could change everything. And as that unfolds, Carolina’s husband Jackson is smack dab in the middle of it all, his hand on the throttle, going full steam ahead.

Drama unfolds on the high school stage, but it can’t match the drama happening right in Chancey when everything is suddenly on the line. Yet even in the midst of change and heartache, a small town must keep it’s sense of humor, and you can count on Chancey to be able to laugh at itself!’

Derailed in Chancey is the third book in the Chancey Book series.  Firstly, I must confess to not having read books one and two.  Obviously I have no idea if I would have enjoyed this novel more if I had read books one and two, but I felt it worked well as a standalone novel.  In fact, I couldn’t actually tell who books one and two were about, so I really did feel that reading it on it’s own was fine.

So…Carolina.  The novel is told from her viewpoint, as she slowly learns to live with the changes that her family have undergone – two teenagers now living in a rural town after having a suburban life, and a husband becoming increasingly distant.  Carolina has to learn to embrace her new way of life as a B & B owner housing railroad enthusiasts whilst throwing herself into a new role within town.

I have to say, I often found Carolina a little annoying.  She seemed to spend a lot of time looking for reasons to dislike living in Chancey rather than really appreciating the friends and lifestyle she now had in her new home town.  This is not to say I did not enjoy the novel – I enjoyed the setting and the small town politics!  I also enjoyed the storyline between Jackson and Carolina as they worked their way through a new stage in their marriage.  I enjoyed this novel as a light read, and would happily read another of Kay Dew Shostak’s novels.  If you’ve read this novel, let me know what you thought!

Rating: 📖 📖 📖

Book Review: We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman

Book number 11 in my Goodreads Reading Challenge is We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman.

‘Stella Carey exists in a world of night. Married to an ex-soldier, she leaves the house every evening as Vincent locks himself away, along with the scars and the secrets he carries. 

During her nursing shifts, Stella writes letters for her patients to their loved ones – some full of humour, love and practical advice, others steeped in regret or pain – and promises to post these messages after their deaths.

Until one night Stella writes the letter that could give her patient one last chance at redemption, if she delivers it in time…’ (Thanks Amazon!)

Death and trauma.  These are the underlying themes of this novel, and it details how different people cope with different life events.  Stella Carey is a nurse who works in a Hospice.  She is surrounded by loss and death as many of her patients are there for their final moments in life, and as a way of making their passage on a little easier, she writes letters for their loved ones to be read when they are gone.  These letters are scattered amongst the chapters, and some make truly heartbreaking reading – even the hardest of heart (i.e. me!) will find it difficult to not shed a tear or two.  The story however follows Stella and her broken relationship with her husband Vincent, an ex-soldier who has returned home from war but is struggling to find himself again after what he’s seen and experienced.  In addition, we follow Hope, a teenage girl who lives with Cystic Fibrosis, something she knows could kill her at any moment and how she copes with her own mortality at such a young age.  We also follow Hugh, a young men who’s mother died when he was young, and he is now alone following the death of his father.  He’s an awkward man, slightly anti-social with a cat called Jake who he never really wanted but has anyway.  He doesn’t like people and is more than happy with his own company.  I could completely relate to him on this point;

‘most of what people say makes me want to dig a bunker in the middle of a remote forest, hoard tinned food and wait for the apocalypse’

The links between these characters are subtle, and it was a pleasure to read about 3 characters who are so wildly different but are all dealing with some life changing events. Rowan Coleman has provided us with a beautiful novel which explores some topics, particularly death, which are often taboo subjects.  She explores them in a heartfelt and sensitive way.  Whilst reading about death can be difficult, so can reading about life.  How we deal with death should not define us, but it does give us an idea of the kind of person we are, or want to be.  Coleman deals with this concept beautifully.  I really cannot recommend this book enough – it has been nice to read a novel that really makes you think about what you want from life, and what you would do in the situations these characters find themselves in.  Any book that can really make you think is a winner in my eyes.

Rating: 📖 📖 📖 📖