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In the beginning of my journey as a reader, I avoided buying books in fear of wasting money on something I would hate. I never ventured outside of my reading comfort zone, which was, at the time, an author named Ted Dekker. I practically only ever read his books, and in order for me to read something other than Ted’s work, you’d have to pry the book out of my hand and give me one of your own (because I loved sharing Ted!)

Finally, I began to realize that I wanted more of a passion for books, and so, I went on Instagram and followed as many bookstagrams as possible! Eventually I stumbled upon a monthly subscription called BooklyBox, where I had access to a social media page specifically for book lovers, would receive a book monthly, AND (the best part) was that every time I receive a book, so did a child in need. How could I say no? I couldn’t! But trust me, I still struggled with fear of paying for a book I may hate. Knowing that I was making a difference for a child somewhere else in the world was the ONLY thing that helped me push through my fear.

I received my first box from BooklyBox and was overwhelmed with joy! I have loved EVERY book (except for 1- haha) that I have received from them since I joined. I began to realize that my favorite reads were from Young Adult Genre, and decided I would look at other Young Adult Genre books. As I began searching for more books I found myself stumbling into pages and blogs that were reviewing books in depth. I was given the opportunity to fall in love with the book before I had even opened it! This gave me the confidence to begin purchasing new books that actually appealed to me, rather than just collecting books, because, well… I could.

I went through my collection of books and immediately purged my library of unwanted tit-tat that I had collected because they were “cheap” or free. Libraries do not deserve to be disrespected like that. They’re to be a collection of beautiful creations, a portal to another world- an escape. My collection was far from that. Books that were a bore, and were poorly written swarmed my shelves. This was the day things changed.

With a new bookshelf, and [nearly] a fresh slate, I began to create a list of TBR’s. I kept going and didn’t stop until my heart was content, (for the moment at least.) I finished off my list with 157 TBR’s, and that’s not including one’s that I had already had in my library (the few that I kept anyway) that just hadn’t been read, yet. Here I am just a few months later with 3 six-cubed bookshelves, and a swarm of books I’m just dying to read. I still have empty shelves, but instead of rushing to fill them with ANYTHING, I’ve realized the importance of appreciating your books- the importance of collecting, vs. hoarding.

This blog is designed to help all those reader’s out there that are like me, the one’s who are lost, and looking for a good read. Instead of rushing out to just buy a book, because they’re beautiful, and the smell is intoxicating- go into that book store INFORMED! Liberate yourself from the impulse to buy books you never intend to read, and go in confidently knowing you are truly EAGER to read the book in front of you!

Welcome to The Reading Phoenix.

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The Surrendered (PG-15)


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Author: Case Maynard

Publisher: Blaze Publishing

Publishing Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9780997010473

Received: Give by Blaze Publishing, in exchange for an honest review
Our Protagonist, Vera Delancourt reminds me very much of the main character in “The Taming of the Shrew.” She’s ill-mannered, blunt, troublesome, and she is perpetually sticking her foot in her mouth. 

Vera was surrendered to “The Tax,” along with her twin brother, Oliver, when she was 10-years-old. “After a 40 year period of unsound financial decisions, a declined worldwide currency, and international social unrest, the world was catapulted into complete devastation and ultimately all government collapsed. The commander decreed that each child under age 18 was to be a taxable commodity, allowing one exception per family the commander ordered parents to pay exorbitant fees for their offspring.”
Vera’s parents, having twins, would have only needed to pay tax on one of them whilst the other was exempt, but before long Vera’s mother was with child, again. Faced with being surrendered Vera refused to see Oliver be surrendered alone, or leave him behind, and was therefore surrendered with him. They have spent six years enslaved to the Master, and the Overseer in the Mills, in which they are enslaved. 

Vera, affectionately known as Vee, is a Driver, or head, of the Herb Mill, while her brother is the Driver for the Military/Ammunitions Mill. Meanwhile Oliver works to keep his head down, and do as he’s told, but Vera has always been a hot head, and wouldn’t know how to keep her mouth shut no matter how hard she may try. They have hoped and dreamed that the two of them would age out of the system together, and re-enter society next year when they become of age- together.
Unfortunately, after an unforeseen event takes place at the Mills, Vera flees with two younger girls, Jane, her younger sister whom she never expected to see at the Mills, and Ramsey, a fellow Herbalist, having to leave her brother, Oliver, behind in the mills. They are running for their lives, knowing full well they’ll be killed if caught. Once off the grounds, however, the girls are discovered stowing away in the back of a truck driven by two young men, Cason and Matthew, sons of a Farm Mill owner, John William. Initially fearful that as quick as their run started it has stopped, they find they have stumbled on some of the few people in the world who would dare take them in. John William and his wife Ann instruct the boys to hide the girls underground, lying in wait to travel up North for freedom. (This plot piece sounds a lot like the Underground Railroad to me!) Unfortunately, chaos strikes before their ride ever arrives, and they are thrust into a race to save each other, and Oliver. 
This Dystopian novel deals with rape, child slavery, and some realistic depiction of death. It embraces the nastiness of greed, and a broken society that chooses not to revolt against the government to protect their children. 

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. 

-Edmund Burke

For this reason I’d easily rate it PG-15. Though Case handles the phraseology of some of these topics quite well, I do still think it’s a bit much for adolescents, therefore I suggest an older audience. A thought provoking novel, that had me clinging to every word, loving every second of Vee and Cason, and dying to know what happens next, this book easily receives five stars. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a GREAT Dystopian. 

The Rattled Bones (PG-13)


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Author: S. M. Parker

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publishing Date: August 22, 2017

ISBN: 9781481482042

Received: PageHabit Book Box
A powerful novel that embraces true feminism, hard work, perseverance, and determination! This book embraces topics like racism, sexism, grief, touches of mental disabilities, and then adds a fantasy-ridden twist. Great for it’s touches of suspense, and paranormal, this book gripped me from early on! 
Rilla Brae has become property of the ocean, bound by its beauty, and after her father’s death, she becomes bound by duty. At eighteen years old she had plans to go to college soon, but with the loss of her mother to a psychiatric hospital twelve years ago, and the death of Jonathan Brae, she’s conflicted. Should she leave the only home she’s ever known, defy the statistics, and let Gram fend for herself, whilst getting an education so she can return ready to conquer the fishing industry? Or should she stay and care for Gram, take over the fishing business once successfully run by her father, and be the statistic she’s never wanted to be?

Rilla is a strong female protagonist, definitely making strides for feminism. She’s working in a world of men who are arrogant, and egotistical, but if he’s got the last name Benner then he’s just an ass. Defending the only thing she’s ever known Rilla sets off to take over the fishing business, to maintain the income for her and her Gram. With the change from a Trio to a Duo, she finds her heart crushed in the habits she still holds from before her dad’s wake, like making two lunches before heading out to sea. 

When Rilla’s boat malfunctions and she sees a young girl standing at the shore of Malaga she hopes the girl can provide some help, but in the blink of an eye she disappears. Once Rilla gets up the courage to return to the Island of Malaga, following this same young lady, she bumps into Sam, an archeology student from away. With a budding friendship ensuing the two of them set out on an adventure. Rilla’s adventure is to escape the death of her father, the aching loss of her mother, and the anger she feels towards her for leaving, and the confusion between attending school or staying home. She battles distancing herself from her friends, like Hattie, whom she partially blames for taking her to a party when she could have been on the water to help her dad the day he died. Forgiving Hattie means she will have to forgive herself, and that takes courage. There’s also Reed, her boyfriend of two years who is still childish and selfish. Words left unsaid can do so much damage once they are released in anger, and she must determine what she wants to do with these words. 

Meanwhile, Rilla battles the thought that she may be more connected to her mom then she could ever hope. She starts seeing visions of a young girl on Malaga island early on, but it doesn’t stop there. When the girl begins to invade her home, and every aspect of Rilla’s life, she can no longer deny the truth that is facing her, that this girl is real. Rilla is challenged to find this girl’s story, and how it was tied to her, and tied to her Mother. She’s been called crazy from early on, thanks to living in a small town and her mother leaving. She’s not ready to share this “private thing” with anyone because she isn’t ready to deal with the town thinking she’s gone insane after her father’s death. They already dismiss her ability to fend for herself and patronize her due to her gender, she doesn’t need to be tied to her mentally unstable mother as well. 

Eventually she opens up to Sam and a whole new world begins where she’s able to be open with someone who believes in her, and is willing to fight the world to keep her safe. (Not going to lie, I shipped these two from the start!) Through the whole thing Rilla finds her town was far from innocent, and the ancestors of her people hid their horrific sins, but when she reveals the real story, hidden for years, the unmasked truth is surprising, but oh so refreshing to finally have a clear conscience.

Overall this was a great novel, held my attention,  and was absolutely wonderful! Due to the content, and some language I’d say I’d rate it PG-13. Definitely worth the read! 

Shadow Fall

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5 stars

Author: Audrey Grey
Publisher: Blaze Publishing
Publishing Date: Noveber 22, 2016
ISBN: 9780997010480

“The asteroid that will destroy the earth is named Pandora.” Maia Graystone has always known her world would end. She’s known “the exact day, the exact hour, the exact minute, but no one explained to her why.” In the world that Maia lives we find her battling every demon imaginable. Hunger, thirst, poverty, and insanity have ravaged her lands. The world’s demise, which the government has so “lovingly” called Deliverance Day, is to be brought on by an asteroid they’ve called Pandora. Deliverance Day was intended to be some kind of twisted version of Salvation. Society has been classed by Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Bronzes, unless they were able to purchase sleeping chambers, won’t survive the hit, silvers are buried underground in the chambers that will maintain their lives in a stasis, and Golds will party it up in space on Hyperion, while Silver’s watch through the eyes of the Chosen.

Maia, our protagonist, was once a member of the elite Chosen, designed to be a key factor in D-Day, by allowing people to piggyback onto her mind, seeing and living out all of her actions, thoughts, and feelings from the safety of their stasis chambers underground, while all the Golds would continue life out on Hyperion, far from the asteroid that would render earth uninhabitable for years to come. Maia was a Chosen because she was designed to be genetically flawless from birth, expected to carry on the human race not only in her mind, but by bearing children later on. Unfortunately, however, when Delphine, a fellow Chosen, actually assaults her, and Maia’s mother consults the Emperor, Maia is compared to a gangrenous toe and is banished and cut off from court. There starts Maia’s fall from grace, and the absence of her mother. Salvation would never come for her. The thing is, though, as the years have gone on, “they don’t mention salvation anymore. No one does.”
In our lives we all have things that we hold onto, things that allow us to be strong against all odds, and for Maia, that one thing is her Brother, Max. Maia has persevered through 7 years in a six-by-six foot hole in the earth, hiding from the creatures in the Pit, a Pit she was cast into when she was caught trying to steal food to feed her and her brother.

In her mind, she views herself as weak, and a failure, because when she was arrested, she abandoned her brother who was waiting on her return, and once in the pit she didn’t fight, she hid to survive. I think it was wisdom to stay hidden, but Maia hates herself for it daily. She’s learned how to live afraid, but trust me, for someone who is constantly afraid, the more we get to know her, the more we realize that she’s actually quite ballsy.

I think one of my favorite things about her is how easily I relate to her ability to stick her foot into her mouth. At one point she’s been captured by Ripper, who has been hunting her down to kill her since she first entered the Pit. Ripper asks Maia if she thinks she’s better than her, to which Maia says yes. Obviously it’s a mistake to piss of the person who’s got your life in their hands, and therefore when Maia is being choked by the rope that’s binding her, she says “Given my current way with words, this might actually keep me alive.,” and I literally laughed out loud.

Thanks to the Pit that Maia called home for 7 years, she’s learned to put every person she meets into a category; Predator or Prey. If imagining life in a 6-by-6 foot hole isn’t heart-wrenching enough, imagine being dropped into the Pit when you were just nine years old, after watching your father being brutally murdered, and labeled a traitor. When she talks about the Pit, she says, “my young brain couldn’t yet understand that there are some places where you are never safe.” Even now, as our government-tearing-down, wounded, and never trusting rebel continues on her mission, she’s only 16 years old.

When Maia’s father died, he was declared a traitor, and his head was mounted on a pike over the wall to prove a point to all of society what would happen to a traitor. Before he died, however, he hid something inside his children, a key, and a map, to lead them to the weapon that would help them save the world. During this time, this was all being helped along by Maia’s mother, who had abandoned her family two years prior, when Maia was only 7 years old. Much like Maia, I’m inclined to agree “I want to say it’s my mother, not Emperor Laevus, who should be punished.” The question that haunts me is, did her mother deliver her father into the hands of an Emperor who has an insatiable hunger for blood?

The plot rolls on and we meet new characters: Nicolai, the head of the plot to kill the Emperor, Riser, someone she knew from the Pit, but now expected to be her partner, Flame, the tech savvy, devoted-to-the-cause Fienien rebel, and Brogue, the twitchy mercenary who was brought along to protect Maia and Riser inside the Shadow Trials, and Prince Caspian, the Emporer’s son, the man Maia was genetically made to pair with. The rest of the novel we have a fight to save the world, and an emotional love triangle that had my heart coughing up blood by the end. Why must triangles be so tough? Can’t she just be with both of them?! Of course not, but there’s no salve for the torment Grey put me through! She did an incredible job keeping me as equally emotionally confused as our pit surviving friend with a name change, Maia Graystone to Lady Everly March. Lady Everly March being the person Maia was reconstructed to be since she could not infiltrate the Shadow Trials as herself.

Throughout this entire novel, one of my biggest struggles was that the symbolic representation of the enemy was the Phoenix, and the symbol you can’t help but root for is the Scorpion killing the Phoenix. It isn’t hard to tell why this bothers me, identifying with, and being known as Phoenix made this portion of the plot quite hard to swallow. I had to separate myself from it and look at the mere fact that, as with anything, not every individual part of a species can be good. So while 99% of Phoenixes are great, this 1% is just not… however heartbreaking that is.
One of the things, however, that I admired most about our author, Audrey Grey, was her ability to span about a weeks time into a 302 page novel. Maia reveals to us once she is out of the Pit that D-Day (or Deliverance Day) is two weeks and five days away… and *spoiler alert* we don’t even see D-Day by the end of the book, hence book 2, Shadow Rise. Can you imagine being 16 years old, have spent 7 years of your life hiding to survive in a cannibalism infested Pit, only to be saved to find that the safety of the world weighs on your shoulders and you have TWO AND A HALF WEEKS to save it?!

Another high praise to Audrey Grey is for her use of rhymes and poetry throughout her book. It really created a realistic view of what has happened to this society over the years. She even has a tune “Dandy Apples, Dandy Apples, smell like roses in the fall. When their swingin’ and they’re screamin’, Ain’t they the dandiest sight of all?” Morbid, of course, but a really wonderful graphic depiction of the kind of societal tearing that’s taken place. She’s constantly injecting these poems into the plot and they flow so beautifully with the story. She also added moments that make a bibliophile’s heart ache. The government burned all books, and they could only be bought on the black market. Unsanctioned text would lead to the capital punishment of death, which we see later on in the novel. The few REAL books that are left are so mangled that they can’t be read, save for the book that Maia recieved from her mother just she left for good. As awful as Maia’s mother is, Maia still yearns to prove herself, because she wanted to say “I can be good,” clearly lacking in any kind of approval from her mother.

The rest of our journey through this novel is just smaller individual steps towards tearing down the government, facing her mother, deciding who she loves, Riser or Caspian, and saving humanity. Thus, Grey has created a novel that I could not put down (for a second time) and rendering my need for sleep and food a useless tool until the release of Shadow Rise! I most definitely would recommend you read her novels, and would give the book a rating of 5 stars, and PG-12, primarily for the heavy amount of death and destruction, and that it confronts all the issues one would expect when overthrowing a government that may leave a child under 12 a bit emotionally shocked.

Thank you for taking the time to read my review and I’d love to hear your thoughts about this novel once you have read it, too! You can find it on amazon or at Blaze Publishing:

https://www.blazepub.com/books/shadow-fall/

XoXo,

Phoenix

Saints and Misfits


⭐️⭐️⭐️✨ (3.5)

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9924-8

Author: S. K. Ali

Publisher: Salaam Reads

Publishing Date: 2017
Janna Yusuf is a very conservative hijab wearing Muslim-American girl. She’s smart, and kind, but broken inside. She’s strong inside and in her mind but it takes a while for us to see the physical appearance of her strength. Having divorced parents, Janna has a secular father, and religious mother and brother. Her father has remarried, and has two children with his new wife. Janna continues to love him endlessly, but we see mixed emotions between Muhammad and his father.In the beginning of the book we find that Janna is sexually assaulted by Farooq, the monster, as he’s well known for the rest of the book. The rest of the plot is spent running away from, and avoiding Farooq, her family, and her friends, as Janna shelters the truth inside. During this traumatic time Janna is still faced with the normal struggles of everyday life.

She’s attends Fenway High School where she’s fallen for a young man named Jeremy, a Christian boy. Clearly, this is against her beliefs, and what she’s been taught her whole life, but she cannot simply shut off her feelings for him. Through Advanced Classes, Mixed Emotions, Traumatic Experiences, and Shotty Friends, Janna also cares for an elderly man in her area, a Mr. Ram, whom she cares for once a week. A wise and caring man, Mr. Ram has been watched by Janna since well before she was a teen. He reads poems, and gives advice to Janna during her times with him, and I never left moments with Mr. Ram unaffected. 

During moments of frustration we see some favoritism towards Muhammad which seems to be culturally correlated with his gender. For obvious reasons Janna is irritated by this, and she now begins to play with the idea that her mother loves Muhammad more than her, and that she “finds it easy to exclude” her. 

While the monster who hurt her continues to attend her school and mosque, Janna has no place to hide. 

The novel was well written, especially if you focus on the accurate look into a Muslim-American’s everyday life. The characters and character relationships are genuine and allowed me to read the novel with the utmost ease. That being said, however, I found myself frustrated with the plot, easily bored, and having to stop myself from skipping along to get to the interesting things faster. I believe S.K. Ali could use improvement in the area of discerning how far of a gap should exist between plot and filler. That being said, I was also extremely frustrated with the sexual assault in the beginning because I felt it could have been detailed better creating in me a replica of the violation Janna felt. 

If I had to give this book a star rating I would say 3.5/5 stars considering is was a great diverse read, but the amount of time it took me to digest my book. I look forward to hearing your opinions on the book as well!

The Cruelty

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four-and-a-half-stars (4.5 Stars)

Author: Scott Bergstrom

Publishing Date: February 7, 2017

Publisher: Feiwell & Friends

ISBN: 9781250108180

Let me premise this entire review by saying this: I am reviewing the book that I read, not the man who wrote it.

I say this because as I’ve read other people’s reviews, most have automatically gone to good reads and have marked his book with a poor review without having even read it solely because they were upset and angry with things that he had said and done as an author that could be construed as rude and arrogant. I cannot speak to or for the man, but I can speak about his book, which is what I’m going to do. That being said, let’s begin.

WOW. I genuinely enjoyed this novel, and was pleasantly surprised. If you enjoyed the movie Taken (not Taken II, because we all know the sequel sucked,) then this book is for you! Gwendolyn Bloom, 17-year-old stuck in her shell as a “diplobrat” who has moved more times than I can count is stuck in your run-of-the-mill rich-kid societal school where she’s bullied because her daddy isn’t rich enough, and she lives in her head. Don’t get me wrong, if I didn’t know Gwen, and all I saw was that she often responded to her teacher’s questions about “benign indifference” in French, I’d think she was some arrogant show-off, too. In reality, however, that’s not the case.

When Gwen’s dad is kidnapped her world shatters. She’s faced with information she never anticipated that rocks her world. In a rush to save him since the government isn’t doing it’s job, she leaves behind a short-lived romance with someone whom she’s quickly and unrealistically fallen in love with as he becomes her only tie back to the world she’s left behind. It’s a race against time as Gwendolyn has to become as cruel as the people who have taken her dad.

We start the book off with a quote from George Orwell that really sets a unique tone:

“Part of the reason for the ugliness of adults in a child’s eyes, is that the child is usually looking upwards, and few faces are at their best when seen from below.”

Gwendolyn Bloom’s mom died when she was seven leaving her in the hands of her step-dad, seeing as she never knew her biological father. She has a close connection with her dad, and wouldn’t think of him as anything less. At one point she’s called into the principle’s office, and she corrects the principle who calls him her “step-father” and instructs her to just call him her father. We see early on that Gwen has a brave side to her, a side with tenacity, but it’s often beaten into submission. She has an innate sense of justice, too, one that she tries to see through even from the very beginning.

Gwen is an intellectual ruled by a mind that never stops. If it did she might be faced to confront the ugly past of her mother’s death, a past she was present for and remembers all too well. A sloppy gymnast for hobby, Gwen is raw power. Between her books and the balance beam she walks on, Gwen always finds an escape. She craves stability and normalcy, but what would a diplobrat know about that?

In the novel we meet several other characters, but we really only briefly get to know a few of them. We spend time with Gwendolyn’s neighbor, Bela, an ex-Musad agent who made a promise to her father never to feed her the lies of the government. He made good on his word, to say the least. We also spend time with Gwen’s long-lost aunt on her mother’s side. I’d like to say that I really appreciate the fact that Scott painted the Judeo-Christian woman as kind, and genuine, rather than cruel and twisted. Typically religious folks always end up being painted as nuts in the novels, and Lili was genuine through and through. She was a much needed support in the initial time that Gwen’s dad went missing.

One of the things that I loved most about this novel was that it was so true to it’s title… Cruel. It was genuine, hard-core, well written, and well researched. Over time I get sick of the traditional sugar-coated, watered down YA novels that are fed to us. The Cruelty was far from that. Fast paced, and extremely realistic, I didn’t feel like Scott was spoon feeding me a story he was going to wrap up in an unrealistic pretty bow. In fact, I loved the ending, which for me is rare. The end of the story was concise, and didn’t leave a ton of loose ends. I felt satisfied in the end, and noticed Scott left just enough of an “open-ending” to make room for a second novel. It didn’t leave me craving book two right away. Some novels leave you with your mouse hovered over the pre-order button on Amazon for the next book, but Scott didn’t do that to me. Like I said, I felt satisfied, but eager for the next book. Almost like after you finish a good meal, you’re full- not looking to eat more right away, but you’ll be ready when it’s time for dessert.

Another character we meet is Yael, a Musad agent covering as a dance, and krav maga teacher. Yael has a gentle spirit, but is a strict teacher. She doesn’t play games, and I love that she doesn’t coddle Gwendolyn. Often times when you get a YA you have these characters that are intended to support the protagonist and aid them in the shift between where they started and where they are going- character development. It isn’t uncommon that these supportive characters end up babying the protagonist, and being a shoulder to cry on. In some books that’s needed, but in this one it would have been an embarrassment. Scott portrayed his characters realistically, ugly at times even. I felt like he’d actually been to these other countries and had met these people because they were genuine. He wasn’t afraid to paint society for what it is- brutal, ugly, and cruel.

As a supporter of raising awareness on Human-trafficking I also appreciated his accuracy in the representation of that side of the world Gwen’s thrust into. It’s often times painted as glamorous and as a reprieve from being a run-of-the-mill whore, but Scott didn’t go that route. Again, unafraid to paint the ugly truth he was detailed and open about how things work and what happens to these girls. Though that wasn’t the focus of the story, or even a huge part of the plot, the fact that he didn’t neglect it, that he didn’t halfheartedly write that piece, I appreciate.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel. I rated in a 4 and a half stars because I felt like it was well-written, well-researched, and genuine to its title- cruel. From beginning to end I enjoyed this read, and though the first 30 or so pages were a bit slow, it picked up quickly. I never felt like I wanted to DNF this book, or put it down and take a break. Often times I had to tell myself to put it away because I needed to sleep, but I never did, because I needed to know what happened more. As I stated early on, if you were a fan of the movie Taken, or stories like that, then I definitely believe this book for you.

One of the things I have decided to start doing is rating books similarly to movies. This book, I would say, even as a YA novel is definitely a PG-13 based book. With heavy language, violence, death, human-trafficking, and prostitution, I don’t think this is something a twelve year old should read, or a thirteen year old for that matter, but if you’re open to that for your child, be prepared to explain and walk them through the emotions they will experience during this novel. Please be aware of this information when considering this book for yourself, a friend, or your child.

I hope you enjoyed my review, and if you’d like to discuss the book with me you’re welcome to comment below, or message me on any social media. If you’re unable to access those platforms feel free to email me!

 

XoXo,

Phoenix

Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone

harry-potter-sorcerers-stone-new-uk-childrens

four-and-a-half-stars (4.5 Stars)

Author: J. K. Rowling

Publishing Date: September 2014 (original in 1997)

Publisher: Bloomsbury

ISBN: 978-1-4088-5589-8

 

 

Almost everyone has read the Harry Potter books, if not even more than once, but I am just now getting around to joining this literary fandom. I’ve always loved Harry Potter from the movies, but as a kid I was not allowed to read them. Clearly, I’ve been over 18 for a while now, but I’ve been so painfully busy with my business and every other book I’ve been reading I just had not gotten to it. This being said, I believe that such a well known book deserves an insanely deep review. I probably have a hundred little post-its throughout the book. I can, however, jump ahead and, as suspected, confirm the book was way better than the movie. Let’s begin!

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

From the very first sentence of the book we are given a clear insight into who and how the Dursley’s are. By gosh, just 5 pages in J.K. Rowling confirms that Mr. Dursley doesn’t even “approve of imagination.” The Dursley’s are Harry’s Aunt and Uncle who were asked to take care of Harry since his parents had been killed by Voldemort. Rowling doesn’t just introduce us to the Dursley’s, though.

We quickly meet Professor McGonagall in the form of a nosy cat, and Professor Dumbledore before the first chapter is even out. Dumbledore is quick to admit he lacks powers that Voldemort, the Dark Lord, has. McGonagall wonders over how “You-Know-Who,” a rather annoying substitute for Voldemort’s name, could have killed so many people, and yet been outdone by a child. A few pages later we meet Hagrid, a sentimental, sweet, (half) GIANT, Teddy Bear! He comes with baby Harry in hands, sobbing away at the death of Harry’s parents, and the idea of saying good-bye to Harry.

As we keep reading we get a good look into Harry’s home life once he’s older. The Dursley’s have always treated him like he was a burden. He slept in a cupboard under the stairs, was never included in family photos, only ever got given Dudley (the Dursley’s plump and spoiled son’s) hand-me-downs, as far as clothes go, and was once gifted a coat hanger for his birthday. As far as his home-life was concerned, there never really was anything very homely about it. They even went as far as to teach him their “first rule for a quiet life with the Dursley’s” was “Don’t ask questions.” (Though I must say, I will forever remember “Dudley as a pig in a wig.”)

Personally I don’t see why it would make much of a difference even if he did ask questions since they’d lie anyway. Do you need an example? Oh, how about telling a young lad that his parents died in a car crash, which we all know IS NOT true.

During an unexpected surprise trip to the Zoo for Dudley’s birthday, after having found out Harry’s baby-sitter, an old, cat-loving hag had broken her leg and couldn’t watch him, we find out that Harry has a gift. He’s able to speak to snakes. Whaaaattt? That’s right. In the wizarding world of Harry Potter there are those who can speak to snakes!

Weird things have always happened when Harry got upset, or frustrated. After his bully of a cousin, Dudley, pushes him out of the way to see a snake that had ignored him earlier but was now responsive to Harry, Harry gets angry and suddenly the glass window of the enclosure vanishes knocking Dudley and his arrogant friend into the enclosure after the snake slithers its way out and “Thanksss” Harry! Of course, this anomaly somehow translates into being his fault and he’s later punished for it by Mr. Dursely.

The Dursley’s were abusive to Harry in how they treated him. I was genuinely surprised by the amount of compassion Harry had regardless of his circumstances. The Dursley’s spoke about Harry as if he wasn’t there, couldn’t hear, and didn’t matter. Even to the extent that when it came time to prepare for the school year and Dudley got accepted into an academy they bought him new uniforms but gave Harry Dudley’s old clothes and just dyed them in hopes no one else would notice he didn’t actually have a uniform. It’s as if they had the mindset that their money was too good to be spent on him.

One evening Harry receives a letter that Mr. Dursley won’t let him read. After having flooded the house, the fireplace, and surrounding their house with owls, Mr. Dursley transitions Harry from the Cupboard to Dudley’s largest bedroom – proof they knew that his living conditions were abusive. When the letters don’t stop, Mr. Dursley loads everyone up and drives to a hotel. Unfortunately for him, the hotel’s front desk was soon flooded with letters addressed to Harry, too. On Harry’s Eleventh Birthday, everything changes. Thanks to Mr. Dursley, he uprooted the family from the hotel, packed a gun, and placed the family in an old run-down shack in the middle of no where, where he believes no letters will be delivered. To his surprise, one was hand-delivered by our very own Rubius Hagrid – aforementioned giant teddy bear!

Hagrid brings Harry a birthday cake, the first Harry has probably ever had, and then hands Harry a letter that will forever change his life inviting him to the school for Witchcraft and Wizardry – Hogwarts. Hagrid begins to open up to Harry a bit about who Harry is, and when he finds out that Harry has been lied to all these years by the Dursley’s he becomes enraged. Harry’s parents had been killed Halloween night by Lord Voldemort, not by a car crash as the Dursley’s had told Harry. When Hagrid is challenged by Dursley he pulls out his umbrella and in an attempt to turn Dudley into a pig gives him a pig tail. Tsk, Tsk Hagrid! He’s not supposed to be doing any magic as he reveals he had his wand snapped years ago and was expelled from Hogwarts.

After Dursley puts up a fight about Harry going to Hogwarts, Hagrid puts him in his place and brings Harry along notifying Headmaster Dumbledore that he’s collected Harry and is taking him to get his school supplies in Diagon Alley. Before entering the Alley, Hagrid takes Harry through The Leaky Cauldron where we meet one of his professors, Professor Quirrell, and some admirers.

When we are introduced to this world within our world Harry began to consider this may be an elaborate prank, but “Harry had known the Dursleys had no sense of humor.” Before Harry can get his supplies, though, they have to stop by Gringotts, the only bank in the wizarding world, run by Goblins. Apparently his parents left him quite a fortune. Hagrid also had a package he needed to retrieve from vault 712!

Fun Fact: Albus Dumbledore was asked to be the Minister of Magic but refused the position so that he could remain at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Whilst Harry is traveling around to collect his school supplies we are introduced to a new character. Draco Malfoy, a white haired, arrogant, entitled prat. “Harry was strongly reminded of Dudley.” Apparently the two boys would be attending Hogwarts together in just a short period of time. Before the day was done, Harry collected all of his supplies and was even gifted an Owl for his pet to bring to school (which was quite useful for sending notes and letters.)

Once Harry gets into King’s Cross Station he meets a red-haired family known as the Weasley’s. He was unaware how his life would forever change after meeting them. We meet Molly Weasley, mother, Fred and George Weasley, twins, Ron Weasley, future best friend, and Ginny Weasley, not yet involved in the story. They board the train, and off to Hogwarts we go! The rest of the journey you’ll have to experience for yourself by picking up the book.

One of the things that I greatly loved about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is that it was so intricately detailed. Knowing “most” of the story from the movies, and seeing details I have been missing out on, I can appreciate all the little things she includes. She is so beautifully gifted at wrapping up a story with a beautiful bow and taking you on a journey from beginning to end.

I love that she was so willing to explain magic to our Muggle minds, going as far as to express that Harry’s cloak of invisibility didn’t stop him from being solid. She tells us that the “wand chooses the wizard,” and that most bad magic folk seem to come from House Slytherin. (Not all are bad, because I’m a Ravenclaw-Slytherin Hybrid.) She even goes to the point of explaining their monetary system of Galleons and other coinage. After I did the math it turns out that Harry’s wand was $175! I guess instead of the latest smart-watch we could all upgrade to a wand… 😉

Fun Fact: There are 42 stair cases at Hogwarts.

Rowling pulls in many real-life struggles into her story such as: racism with the “pure-blood” ideology, family with the bonding of house members, Harry’s insecurities and fear of rejection, and bullying from Dudley, Draco, and Snape. We experience the in-depth character flaws of normal humanity in most characters, one for example in that Draco Malfoy was a habitual liar and attention seeker due to the weight of parental expectations and toughness. If she didn’t have enough details as is she brought in an ENTIRE fictional sport, explained to us how it worked, and even expressed that a game had once gone on for an entire three months.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is what everyone has known for quite some time… J. K. Rowling is a literary Queen, and has a genuine gift. I know that she worked tirelessly on these novels, and wasn’t even published right away, but she created a masterpiece that I’m so excited to finally be a part of! Thank you for taking the time to read this insanely long review, but I felt that such a good book deserved my time and effort!

XoXo,

Phoenix

Dark Matter

Image result for dark matter blake

four-stars (4 Stars)

Author: Blake Crouch

Publishing Date: July 26, 2016

Publisher: Broadway Books

ISBN: 978-110-1-904-220

 

This is twice this week that I’ve finished an incredible book, with what felt like a lazy ending. I’ll give Blake credit,  though, the novel was a great thriller, and held my attention the entire time!

We start off with meeting Jason Dessen, family man, undergraduate physics proffessor, married to Daniela Dessen, used-to-be artist, and stay at home mom, with a 15-year-old son Charlie Dessen. Before long we realize that the Dessen’s lives have not turned out the way it was “originally” intended. Jason was a brilliant man working on an invention that would usher the world into the ability to explore the multiverse, while Daniela was an aspiring artist who was just beginning to tip-toe into the luxuries of the world of art when Daniela became pregnant with Charlie.

One night when Jason goes to a bar to greet a successful friend with congratulations, he is mysteriously abducted, stolen from, and thrown into a box within which when he wakes up, he finds himself in a new world entirely. New worlds sound wonderful, but not when it means that his wife is not his wife, and his son has never been born. We spend the entire novel journeying with Jason through this new world, and many other worlds as he is dead set on returning to his wife and son. Over time, however, there’s the lingering question of if the world where Daniela and Charlie were his, was ever real. In this new world he’s a renowned scientist who has achieved the unbelievable and is welcomed back with open and excited arms.

This story took me on a heart-wrenching journey that had my heart torn in so many different ways. The message of this novel is so very clearly focused on the importance of family, and valuing the life you have as the results of the decisions you made. We spend most of our lives questioning “what if,” instead of valuing what we have directly in front of us. Crouch grabbed me by my soul and put a mirror to my face and asked “are you happy with your life?” He thrust me into a world where I was forced to face possibilities, and realities I’d always imagined, but could never fully fathom.

If you don’t know, I am engaged, and listening to this novel tore my heart in moments where I had to question… What would I do in Dessen’s shoes? I know, without a doubt, I would fight to get back to my fiance! We may not have a child, nor have we been together as long as Jason and Daniela have been, but the life we’ve built together is beautiful and I would never want to lose him. Daniel, my fiance, is my Daniela, and I would literally, and figuratively search 1000 worlds for him, just as we do alongside Jason.

I rated this novel 4 stars because it gripped my attention from beginning to end, evoked emotion from me that I was not expecting, and is beautifully detailed and well written. All of this being said, however, I could not rate it a five stars because the ending felt cliche, and a bit like a cop out. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into details, but I will make it clear, you will most likely be disappointed with the end, but I doubt you’ll ever be disappointed with the read.

 

XoXo,

Phoenix