Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park
Rainbow Rowell

Park's not popular but he's not an outcast. Sometime's that's all that matters when you're going to high school in middle America.  Eleanor's the new girl with hand me down clothes and strange family. Music and comics will bring them together but the social pyramid and Eleanor's family concerns won't make things easy. Eleanor and Park is the story of two teens falling in love and just trying to get by.

I've been swept off my feet. Rainbow Rowell is the real deal. Eleanor and Park is sweet, thoughtful and completely engrossing. Her characters feel real. With chapters shifting between Eleanor and Park's perspective the reader gets the full story. Seeing first love through both sides is completely enchanting. The growth from Parks annoyance at the strange girl with the red hair and Eleanor's downtrodden attitude makes it next to impossible to put down.

The other thing that Rowell really succeeded with was setting. Her books tend to be set in Nebraska but by shifting the time frame to 1986 it's like reading about an alternate universe. Eleanor and Park is such a timeless story. It's refreshing to see teenage romance blossum without facebook, texting and smart phones. Instead there are comic books and cassette players and *gasp* using the family phone!

Eleanor and Park is perfect story to rekindle those tingly feelings of love in high school, and the thoughts that those moments when you're 16 are the most important ones of your whole life. While it may be classified as Young Adult Fiction I promise you this novel has life far beyond it's genre.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

HHBPBO: Rubeus Hagrid

Rubeus Hagrid
*This Post Contains Spoilers*

When there is a society at war there are few constants. Life is fleeting and loyalties divide. That's what makes the gamekeeper of Hogwarts a lasting and important character.  After all when you're an eleven foot tall half giant and the first words your friends use to describe you are loyal, kindhearted and good what else can you be?

On the Surface
On December 6th 1928 Rubeus Hagrid was born to a wizard and a giantess.  In 1940, at the age of eleven Hagrid began to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and became a proud Gryffindor. Hagrid has always loved large, strange and dangerous creatures. His father died during his first year at Hogwarts.  In his third year this proved to be his downfall when he was framed for opening the chamber of Secrets. His caring for the Acromantula Aragog made him an easy target for the teenage Tom Riddle and he was expelled for his believed involvement in the death of Moaning Myrtle. His wand was snapped.

Dumbledore, believing in Hagrid's innocence, let him continue to live on the grounds and train as gamekeepers, a position he still holds today. He is now also the instructor for Care of Magical Creatures. The remains of his oak wand are hidden in a pink umbrella. He lives with his dog Fang and calls many different creatures friends.

Diving Deeper
Hagrid's importance to the Harry Potter series cannot be underestimated. He's loyal to a fault. When the Potter's are killed and Dumbledore needs someone to bring Harry to the Dursley's he doesn't ask McGonagall or the Minister of Magic. He asks the half giant who would jump on a grenade for him. When Harry isn't getting his Hogwarts letters it is again Hagrid who is sent to retrieve him.

Throughout seven books Harry has many father figures but Hagrid is the first we see. Hagrid is our first source of magically exposition. No only does he tell Harry about his wizarding fate, but he explains to the reader too. Harry, and by extension we, learn about Diagon Ally, Hogwarts Houses, Qudditch,'s hard to think of a basic part of the wizarding world that Hagrid doesn't cover within those first few hours with eleven year old Harry. He's the differences between knowledgeable and intelligent. Hagrid might not be able to cast a satisfactory cheering charm but he can tell you the basic history of the wizarding world.

The Bottom of the Lake
Rubeus Hagrid is safety. He brings Harry to Privet drive and is his guardian when he leaves that muggle house for the last time. He is someone to confide in. As a member of the Order of the Phoenix he forgoes his own safety to deal with Giants. He may not be able to do Magic but he is always ready to fight for the things he believes in.

Hagrid is an overlooked hero. He saves Harry from the Dursley's and Knockturn Alley. He shepherds him to Hogwarts and carries his lifeless body out of the forbidden forest. Hagrid is always there when Harry needs him. In his worst moment's he's there, believing in Harry and promising the reader that everything is going to be okay.

Sorry this week's post is a little late. April has been kind of crazy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

HHBPBO History - The Evans Sisters

My good friend and avid Harry Potter fanatic Jasmyn will be stopping by once a month to give us here at Hoo Hoo Big Potter Blowout some before-the-books history lessons. Stop by her Tumblr or Twitter and say hi!

Hello, Loving Books readers! Jasmyn here, for a Potterverse history discussion! Let's talk about the Evans sisters.

Petunia Evans and her little sister, Lily, grew up in the English town of Cokeworth -- which, I was unhappy to discover, is not a real place, but that's neither here nor there. As family is a huge theme in the books, Lily and Petunia serve as the consummate example of how sibling rivalry (even if the rivalry is one-sided) can split a family apart. Not much is known about the sisters' lives before 1971, but it stands to reason that Lily would have always been the more popular of the two, having a sunnier, more open-minded, and more compassionate personality, long before the revelation of her being a witch came to light. I doubt Petunia's feelings towards her would have turned as volatile as they did without any sort of standing foundation.

Of course, Lily's Hogwarts letter cemented everything. Petunia wrote to Dumbledore asking if she, too, could attend the school, but obviously, she couldn't, and with that rejection came the loss of her hope that she might be able to do what Lily could do. When she couldn't receive the same pride and affection that their parents had bestowed on Lily for being a witch, Petunia denounced Lily as "a freak."

Petunia didn't contain her jealousy with Lily, though. As Lily went through her Hogwarts education, excelling in her magical studies and becoming apparently rather popular, Petunia did everything she could to distance herself from magic. Petunia favored the absolutely mundane and unremarkable, and found her ordinary soulmate in one Vernon Dursley. Unfortunately, the Evans sisters' tastes in boyfriends would become a source of contention.

In a meeting I would give a big toe to have seen, Petunia and Lily introduced Vernon and James to each other shortly after the future Dursleys became engaged. Vernon, ever status-obsessed, and James, ever prone to laugh in someone's face, did not get on, as Vernon amused James to no end and Vernon found James's racing broom and solid gold wizard fortune absurd. After the volatile ending to that meeting, Lily was not asked to be a bridesmaid at Petunia's wedding, and the Dursleys didn't attend the Potters' wedding at all. The sisters were now estranged, and one year after their final correspondence, Harry was brought to the Dursleys' doorstep.

Here's where we get to the weird symmetry: Let's discuss Petunia, Snape, and Harry. Harry may have been the spitting image of his father, but he had his mother's eyes, and Petunia didn't have enough experience with James to look at Harry and see his dad more than his mom. We talk a lot about how Snape treated Harry because he looked at the boy and saw James, but how about Petunia treating Harry the way she did because all she saw was Lily?

Which brings us to some uncomfortable things to consider: Petunia transferred the favoritism of her household to Harry and Dudley; is that, subconsciously perhaps, how Petunia felt she was treated growing up? If so, what does her thought process that mistreatment would "stamp the magic out" of Harry say about that? And, clearly, Petunia's got some incorrect ideas about how relevant encouragement is when it comes to natural magical ability, but would that shed light on any thoughts Petunia may have had about why the perceived favorite-child Lily ended up a witch and she didn't? All this might be a stretch, but Harry ties the Evans sisters together in a lot of ways that have nothing to do with shared blood.

Until next time, your enthusiastic historian,


Monday, April 7, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Unique Books

Top Ten Unique Books

1. House of Leaves - Mark Danielewski
How many lists am I going to see this on today? I'm thinking more than half. House of Leaves is a story within a story with a side story going on. There are footnotes that lead to nothing and footnotes that lead to shapes. There are pages that are blank, pages that are upside down, and pages where the text is in spirals so you have to turn the book to read it. Plus it's mostly about a house that is bigger on the inside that it is on the outside. Oh, and the word house is always in blue. 

2.Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh
I've always been a fan of Allie. Her blog got me through some long college nights. Her book perfectly captures everything that Hyperbole and a Half is. It's full of crazy comics and crazier stories. It's these comics and stories that make it so unique. How many places can you read about a monster goose or an intelligently challenged dog? Her stories are very real, and it's very hard to find anything that honest in modern publishing.

3. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
 Life After Life was easily the most innovative book that came out last year. Kate Atkinson plays with time and reality in a way that is mesmerizing and completely fresh. You see Ursala Todd dies. She dies a lot. But she also finds a way to live. 

4. Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
If we were making a list of most unique authors Niffenegger would be at the top of my list. Not only does she tell amazing stories, she uses different mediums and also does her own book binding and art. Her Fearful Symmetry is her often forgotten second novel. It's about twin sisters who go to live in decided aunt's apartment overlooking London's Highgate cemetery. It's supernatural, it's a coming of age story, it's in parts a love story. I've always thought it was a story only Niffenegger could tell, and everything about it is so fresh.

5. One Day - David Nicholls
I think the reason this novel was so big a few years ago was because of it's unique set up. We only seem Emma and Dexter one day of the  year. It could come off as gimmicky, and sometimes it does, but this very narrow timeframe helps to keep Nicholls romance interesting.

6. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
I just finished Fangirl. You can call me one of the converted. I absolutely adored it. Cath's character is so unique to literature, which is kind of upsetting because I know plenty of girls like her. She's socially awkward, but that's fine. She's okay with having internet friends. She's not seeking out boys or trying to change to impress anyone. She's a part of the tumblr generation. She knows fanfiction. She grew up on the internet and I can't wait to see more girls like her.

7. Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan
Books about bookish things aren't exactly new. That being said Sloan creates an archaic bookstore in a Google world. There are secret societies but also coding. The combination is wonderful and different.

8. Tree of Codes - Jonathan Safron Foer
 Tree of Codes is more art that story. Foer took Bruno Schuiz book - The Street of Crocodiles and cut it up - literally. Instead of blackout poetry the book is bound with pages that are more holes than ink. It's an amazing experience. The story doesn't really stick out but it's worth it just for the way you have to read it.
9. The Book Thief - Marcus Zuzak
Who lets death narrate a book? Who lets death narrate a book aimed at kids and teens? Who decided it would be a good idea to let death tell the most heart wrenching story about World War II that we've seen in recent years?

10. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
In 2014 Dorian Gray seems a bit old hat. It's full of homosexual undertones but then again so is everything from Supernatural to Sherlock. It's vain, but you're reading this list on the internet. You found me because you also run a blog. It's got a magic picture...okay I'm having a hard time coming up with a suitable comparison for that...But Wilde didn't write in 2014. The 19th century wasn't kind on his debauchery. I can't imagine Victorian's reading about Lord Henry without a little shock.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

HHBPBO 4 Privet Drive

*This Post Contains Spoilers for books 1-7*
Before there is magic, wonder and the fight between good and evil there is a basket dropped on the doorstep of Number Four Privet Drive. That's right, there's no Hogwarts or flying brooms, at least not yet. Instead Rowling treats us to a perfectly normal house in Little Whinging, thank you very much!

The Basics
On the surface there's nothing particularly special about the house on Privet Drive.  It has a spotless kitchen and living room, as well as a second floor that contains Petunia and Vernon's room, a guest room, Dudley's room, and Dudley's spare room/Harry's room. Oh and we can't forget the spider infested cupboard under the stairs. The yard is perfectly manicured and there's an impressive car in the driveway. 4 Privet Drive is everything you expect of the tidy and tedious Dursley family.

Diving Deeper
There's something to be said for remembering your roots and letting them keep you humble. Harry's relationship with the house on Privet Drive, and it's often foul inhabitants, made him into the great Wizard that could share snacks on the Hogwarts express and defend a hurt Neville's honor. His neglect in it's perfect, clean walls taught him to keep a cool head in the face of adverse situations. The loneliness he faced locked first in his cupboard and then in Dudley's spare room showed him the value of Ron, Hermione and Hagrid. Part of what makes Harry the caring, compassionate character we know him as is his upbringing on Privet Drive. A lesser character would have been toughened by eleven years without love. In fact we know exactly what eleven years of hardship and neglect can do. We know a lot about Tom Riddle.

The Bottom of the Lake
Privet Drive holds a very special place in Rowling's magical world. It is both the least magically and most charmed placed in seven books worth of muggles and wizards. It is the place we're reunited with Harry at the start of every school year. No matter how many friends and pseudo family members invited Harry to stay for summer break he always has to spend a few weeks back at Privet Drive.

While he's at Privet Drive he's shunned for his magical abilities. The Dursley's fear what he is capable of and lock him away from his spell books. Before Hogwarts he always seemed most level headed with the Dursley's, but as he grows so do his outbursts. Incidental uses of magic in the muggle house in Little Whinging leads to official warnings from the Ministry of Magic and eventually an inquisition in front of a full court. Every force of nature is against magic at the Dursley's house. Their fireplace is boarded up, rendering the Floo Network useless. Hedwig, who isn't necessarily magically, is kept locked away.

But there's something more to 4 Privet Drive. Harry always has to return because he's safe there. What keeps him safe isn't the muggleness of the house, it's the magic behind family and love. The fact that Lily died to save Harry, and that Petunia took him in keeps him safe. One of the largest themes of the entire series is that Love conquers all. Harry can beat Voldmort because he knows how to love. He can't be touched by someone so evil while Lily's blood flows in his veins. He can't be located or harmed while he's in the house her sister owned.

So that's Privet Drive. The weeks Harry spends there over summer vacation can be worse than a run in with the Dark Lord, but the house keeps him safe, and the inhabitants keep him humble.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March in Review

"March was an unpredictable month, when it was never clear what might happen. Warm days raised hopes until ice and grey skies shut over the town again.”
 March...March was...How do I put this gently...

March was a chaotic mess. It was cold and tragic and full of so many things.

Things started fine. One of my college roommates made the trip from DC to Detroit to visit me. We spent a long weekend trapesing all over the metro area buying records, looking at art and eating amazing food. We even took a trip to Canada because why not? I mean it's right there! Her trip ended with an awesome Arcade Fire concert.

Unfortunately that night my grandma fell and apparently a broken femur was the one ailment she wouldn't recover from. She passed on the 25th and the rest of the month was dedicated to funeral homes, churches and trying not to cause a scene at work.

Needless to say I'm glad it's April.

Books Read:
10. Northanger Abbey - Austen
11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - 
12. A Replacement Life - Fishbone

American Authors: 1
European: 2
African: 0
South American: 0
Asian:  0

Male: Female: 2

New Releases: 1

Jar Books: 1

Challenge Books:1

Even though March was a mess, life wise, book-wise it was a vast improvement over February. By vast I mean finishing three books instead of two. Northanger Abbey took me for freakin' ever but I was glad to jump back into Harry Potter. A Replacement Life also marks the first Review book I've received since last spring.

I've made some bookish discoveries about myself this month. I can't read when I'm grieving (I also can't watch the Office, CNN or Reality TV. I can listen to A LOT of The National and nap.) In spite of this I am starting to find ways to incorporate my bookish interests into my everyday life. Like out in the real world, not just here on the internet.

So see ya March, it's been real. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Welcome to Hoo Hoo Big Potter Blowout!

Dear Reader,
Consider this your Hogwarts letter. Pretend for a second that this blog is a big fluffy owl and these words are in a big loopy cursive with ink blotches. You can even imagine a supply list if you'd like! Think text books, scales and potions ingredients! For this moment you can be eleven and having your wildest dreams come true.

Unfortunately I can't send you to Hogwarts. I can't even get myself out to Universal Studios to try butterbeer first hand. What I can do is invite you all to join me in Hoo Hoo Big Potter Blowout.  From today until October 31st I will be inundating you with Harry Potter knowledge. I'll walk you through the best locations, talk to you about the coolest objects and give you all the latest gossip on all of our favorite characters.

I hope a few of you will join me in reading, rereading, listening or even watching the series. April is Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone month and I can't wait to hear what thoughts you have on Harry and all his friends.

So stick around, Thursday I'll be giving you a tour of Privet Drive and you're all invited.

Solemnly swearing I'm up to no good,