Read-A-Thon to the Rescue

It’s a weird time right now. We’re cancelling plans and trying to stay informed, but we’re all unsure about what the future holds. What we do know is that staying home is one of the safest things we can do to minimize our exposure to this virus. If you’re someone who loves to read or has wanted to get back into reading, this time at home could be an opportunity for you to dive into that stack of stories sitting on your bedside.

But do you want to make it interesting? Perhaps try some reading challenges that could get you metaphorically one step closer to becoming a witch or wizard of the beloved Harry Potter world?

The 3rd Annual OWLS Read-a-thon is here, lasting from April 1st to April 30th. I previously covered this read-a-thon in another blog post that I’ll link here, but in essence, it’s a month-long challenge to read books that would align with Hogwarts school subjects. If you “pass” certain subjects, you’ll be able to work in specified wizarding world professions like an auror, a professor, a curse breaker, or Ministry of Magic member.  

The creator of this read-a-thon, TheBookRoast, has gone above and beyond this year for an even more interesting challenge. She’s added additional workshops and trainings and is also hosting a number of Harry Potter-related activities online.

So what are my professional goals this year as a Hogwarts student? When I saw the new Merpeople Linguistics course, I knew that I would definitely want to work in International Relations with Merpeople. I’ll be focusing on earning both a Magizoologist and a Herbologist career with a possible Ministry of Magic credit if I have time. I was definitely an overachiever in muggle school so of course I’d be Hermione-level studious at Hogwarts.

Here’s my tentative OWLS Exam Schedule:

  • Ancient Runes: Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia (getting this on Hoopla!)
  • Care of Magical Creatures: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  • Herbology: A Monster Like Me by Wendy Swore
  • Potions: Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd – Stanton
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts: Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  • Charms: The Crooked House by Agatha Christie (my edition has a white cover)
  • Divination: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Since the library will be closing its services until further notice, it may be difficult to find physical books to fit your challenges, but don’t forget that all of our online services including Sunflower E-Library and Hoopla will be available for you to use.

I hope you join in on the OWLS Read-a-thon this year and get to add a little magic to your life!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Scavenge the Stars

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

First Line: The first thing Silverfish had learned on board the Brackish was how to hold a knife.

Summary: Amaya has spent seven years on a ship working off the debt her parents sold her to cover.  Just a few days before she is due to be released she rescues a man from the sea.  For her kindness he offers her the chance to get revenge on the people who have wronged her. 

As their scheme progresses she becomes entangled with the son of the wealthy merchant they intend to bring down.  The more she learns about him the harder it becomes to follow through with their plans.

My Thoughts: This is a gender swap retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  It has a stunning cover and a fun plot.  It is always fun to read a retelling especially if it was done well.  I liked Amaya and Cayo’s interactions.  I wish that there was more of it.  Hopefully in the second book there will more.  It ended with a big cliffhanger!  I am looking forward to the sequel coming out next year!

I actually received this as the book from the Owl Crate subscription box. This was my first time participating and I loved the experience. For a fee of $29.99 plus shipping I got a box filled with bookish goodies and a new young adult book. Usually the books are signed by the author, have exclusive covers, and letters from the author. Also inside was an exclusive Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix mug, an enamel pin, The Hobbit banner, a candle, Crooked Kingdom socks, and a tiny mirror pillbox.

It was fun to splurge on something like this. I love to read YA books and I have lots of fandoms. They have new selections every month and several special edition boxes throughout the year. Plus they have added an Owl Crate Jr. edition for younger readers.

FYI: A few trigger warnings are mutilation and violence against children.

* This is my pick for category #9 (A book that features a strong female lead) for the ReadICT challenge.*

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon Week Four

Well the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon is over! And I did it. I finished the challenge with 2 days to spare. I was getting a little nervous at the end but I finished in time. I really enjoyed having a set list of books to read. I was not sure how I would feel but it was almost freeing knowing exactly what was next on the list. How did your challenge come along?

In the last week I completed four books. First was I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings by Maya Angelou. I had previously read Mom & Me & Mom. I liked both and found them very interesting. Next I finished Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray. She is a wonderful writer for the Star Wars books. The writing is great and the story is always fun. Then I finally read Virgin Earth by Philippa Gregory. I had read the first in the duology years ago but never finished it. I am glad I did. It spanned years of English history and two continents. I was constantly looking up plants mentioned in the book. And it was a perfect companion to our Big Read theme. But my favorite of the week was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

*Beware this may contain spoilers!*

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and J.K. Rowling

First line: A busy and crowded station.

Summary: In the eighth book in the Harry Potter series we find out what happens years after the Battle of Hogwarts. The wizarding world is at peace. Voldemort is defeated. And Harry Potter is a father. His son Albus is heading to Hogwarts for his first year when he meets Scorpius Malfoy on the train. They become close friends to the chagrin of their fathers. When rumors begin to appear about a Time Turner that escaped the destruction at the Ministry, Albus tries to step out of the shadow of his legendary father by changing the past in hopes of saving someone his father could not.

My Thoughts: I had been putting this off for years. I have owned the book and loved the rest in the series. But knowing that it was not written by J.K. made it not a priority. It is written as a play for the stage in London. The format seemed a little intimidating and strange. Kind of like the first time I picked up a graphic novel. It does not feel comfortable at the beginning but as it progresses it becomes much easier. When Alyssa announced the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon I knew that I had to include this book on my list.

I can see how many other Potter fans are not happy with it but I really enjoyed it! A Potter and a Malfoy best friends?! Seriously. I loved their friendship. I felt that the playwright was able to capture the spirit of Harry Potter and bring the story further. The little twists and turns were fun. I loved going back into the past and seeing how someone’s actions can affect the present. And it was great to see how Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco changed after their years at Hogwarts. They each matured and learned some important lessons along the way.

I really hope that one day I can see this performed on stage! If you have been a little skeptical about picking this up then listen to me and give it a try. The story is good. It revisits everything that made the original so good while adding to it as well.

FYI: J.K. Rowling has accepted this as part of her canon. It is considered Harry Potter #8.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Midnight Riot

We have several new apps and services.  My new favorite is RBDigital Unlimited.  It has a wide selection of older audio books available to download onto your mobile device.  I love to read the new releases but sometimes there is a book that I have been meaning to read but have not gotten around to it yet.  Well this is a good way to get them off the TBR list!  The best part of this is that there is no waiting for a title.  Every title on the site is available immediately.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

First line: It started on at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St. Paul’s at Covent Garden.

Summary: Peter Grant, a probationary constable, has hopes of becoming a detective. When investigating a disturbance he gathers some information from a witness. However, this witness also happens to be dead. With the knowledge that Peter can communicate with ghosts brings him to the attention of Chief Investigator Thomas Nightingale. He heads a special department in the London PD who deal with magic and supernatural occurrences. As a string of murders overtakes the city, Peter is thrust into the world of magic and mystical beings.

Highlights: I found this to be a mixture of Sherlock and Harry Potter. This is a fun book. As a grownup who loves to read a mixture of YA, fantasy and mysteries, then this is the perfect combination. It was originally recommended to me by my German sister, Melanie. This sat on my to be read pile for a long time but when I saw that I could listen to the audiobook using RBDigital Unlimited, I immediately checked it out. It was gritty and dark but at the same time a little lighthearted. There was humor mixed in with the murder.  One thing that I found to be new and interesting is that several of the characters are rivers in human form.  This is the name of the series, Rivers of London, but I never actually considered that they would be actual characters.  If you want something a little different than this may be it.

Lowlights: A lot of the story was building the world. Who is Peter Grant? What is the magical department and what do they do? As with all new series it takes a bit to get the ball rolling. I think this was my main issue but I will definitely pick up book 2, Moon Over Soho.

FYI: There is language and violence.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Over the six years I have been working here at the library I have found so many things to love.  One of those is audio books.  I listen to them on my phone and in my car.  I have such a long list of books to read that listening has helped knock a few off.

My favorite series to listen and relisten to is Harry Potter.  The narrator, Jim Dale, is wonderful.  He has different voices for each character.  He brings the story to life and makes for a very enjoyable road trip.  I recently picked up book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for the umpteenth time.  Each time I read/listen to it I find little things I missed before and I love it even more after each read.

*Beware of spoilers if you have not read Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.*

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

First line: Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.

Summary: Harry Potter is in this third year at Hogwarts.  He is the boy who lived.  He defeated the Dark Lord.  However, when Sirius Black escapes from Azkaban he finds himself once more in danger.  As the Dementors surround the school, Harry’s school year proceeds as normal with Quidditch and classes until he learns that Black is coming to kill him.

Highlights: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of the series!  I have loved it since the first time reading it.  I have reread it numerous times.  I think one of the main reasons is that it is a little different from the rest of the books.  Voldemort does not play a strong role in the story and we learn more about what happened on that fateful Halloween night.  What happened to Harry’s parents?  Who were they?  They became more fleshed out.  They had friends.  They went to Hogwarts. 

Rowling builds so much of the world in this book.  The Knight Bus alone is pure genius.  I love Ernie and Stan.  I was so excited that Universal Studios even has a replica of the Knight Bus outside Diagon Alley.  In addition, we get to spend more time in the wizarding world.  Harry explores more of Diagon Alley and visits the town of Hogsmeade.  While reading I wanted a nice hot cup of Butterbeer.  I’ve had the iced version at Universal but warm sounds rather tasty as well.

There are many new characters and each of them adds to the story in their own ways.  Even the animals like Buckbeak and Crookshanks.  I love the character of Sirius Black.  He is very complex.  I do not know what it is that draws me to his character but he is always my answer for my favorite character.  Plus, Remus Lupin is hands down the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  The lesson with the boggarts is lots of fun to read.

 Lowlights: Nothing.  This book is FANTASTIC!

 FYI: Check out the audio book voiced by Jim Dale.

Go to Hogwarts and Read!

Most muggle students are in the thick of their first month of school, but I have recently been facing an academic feat of my own; taking my O.W.L.s. That’s right! I have been taking my Ordinary Wizarding Levels at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Well, maybe not actually taking them, but I’ve been participating in the Magical Read-a-thon created by Book Roast on YouTube, and it’s been both an exciting and challenging experience!

What is the Magical O.W.L.s Read-a-thon?

Here is Book Roast’s announcement video about the read-a-thon. Though the read-a-thon itself was hosted back in the spring, I’ve decided to jump into it on my own.

In a nutshell:

The Magical O.W.L.s Read-a-thon is a month-long challenge to successfully “sit and take exams” by reading a book based on each challenge inspired by a course one would take at Hogwarts.

Book Roast created this fancy Hogwarts letter which explains what each course’s challenge is and the grading score. To pass one’s O.W.L.s, a reader must complete five books from five different subjects (no doubling up!), but a reader could potentially finish 12 books if they so desired.

My Experience

In classic Hermione fashion, I set out to complete all 12 O.W.Ls for this challenge. I went through each subject and chose a book then created my own very official exam schedule to keep track of each challenge.

My exams started on August 5 and I have until September 5 to finish.  I’ve earned an O or Outstanding Score on my O.W.Ls after having finished eight books, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to meet my final goal of 12. The biggest challenge I found with this read-a-thon was actually locating books that met both the criteria of the course and my own personal criteria (currently interested, already on my TBR, and under 300 pages). I’ve also had to change the book that I chose a number of times because it either wasn’t a captivating read or I lost interest in reading the book in the first place. Overall, though, this challenge has been so much fun and is such a creative way to get some reading in.

If you are interesting in taking your O.W.Ls then go for it! Print off the course descriptions from Book Roast’s letter, choose your books, set a month-long beginning and end date, maybe design an official Hogwarts exam schedule of your own, and get to reading. If you manage to get through your O.W.Ls, then you can join me in taking the N.E.W.Ts

…but that’s for another blog post!!

Harry Potter

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter!  As a person who loves all things Harry Potter this is a big year.  But this has not always been the case.

When the books were first released my dad bought them in the hope that they would get my younger sister interested in reading.  She has never been a reader and he had heard that this was something that was getting kids to read more.  But try as he might he never got her to pick one up.  He read the first four in quick succession.  I can remember listening to him laugh while he read the scene where Mad-Eye Moody turned Malfoy into a ferret and bounced him around the halls of Hogwarts.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Universal Studios Orlando

I was not very interested in the stories of a young wizard because I preferred historical fiction.  They seemed silly to me until the day that one of my friends started reading them.  She started telling me how much she liked them and I decided to break down and try them out.  I was hooked from the first page.  I was a sophomore in high school when I started Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the first movie was coming out in November.  In a month I had read books 1-4 and then the wait began for book 5 (in which I cried my eyes out at the end).  Then 6.  Then 7.  But the wait was worth it.

Fire breathing dragon above Gringotts at Universal Studios Orlando

Ever since I picked up that first book I have been a devoted fan.  I have pre-ordered all the books, went to the theaters for all the movies and visited the theme parks in Orlando.  When I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I was instantly transported into the books.  The shops, actors and rides were breathtaking.  I spent Thanksgiving morning eating an English breakfast at The Three Broomsticks.  I downed multiple glasses of butter beer outside the Hog’s Head Inn.  I rode the Hogwarts Express.  I battled dragons, escaped from Gringotts and flew on a broom through the grounds at Hogwarts.  I even got myself a wand.  This is every Harry Potter reader’s dream!

Ashley in front of the Knight Bus at Universal Studios Orlando

I thank my dad (and my friend) every day for introducing me to the world of Harry Potter.  I found something that made me even more passionate about reading and expanded my world.  I love that still today I have kids come into the library looking for the books I read and love.  They are experiencing them for the first time and I envy them.  I re-read/re-listen to the books regularly and each time find something I missed before.

And now I have to go to London to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour and see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage at the Palace Theater.

 

Time To Work on the TBR List

I have an endless reading list.  It continues to get bigger no matter how many books I read per year.  I will never be able to read everything I want to read but I will try my hardest!

One way that I have found to be very helpful in reducing my to be read pile is audiobooks.  There are many ways that audiobooks can be useful including digital downloads and books on CD or Playaway.  Some books are great in audio form while others are not.  It all depends on the reader and story.  Moreover, when you find that one perfect story you will be hooked.

My favorite audiobooks are the Harry Potter series.  Jim Dale, the reader, does a great job of creating new voices for the characters.  He brings the stories of J.K. Rowling to life.

When I go on road trips, especially by myself, I like to have something to listen to in order to stay awake.  I feel like I am traveling with someone rather than alone.  When I bought my most recent car, the only thing I really cared about having was a CD player so that I can listen to audiobooks.  It really surprised the car dealer that I did not want blue tooth or back up cameras.  Very simple tastes for this librarian!

Another time I have learned is wasted and could be filled with reading is during my morning routine.  Apps like RB Digital and Sunflower eLibrary (Overdrive) are perfect for this.  I always have an audiobook downloaded on my iPhone that I can have playing while doing my hair and eating breakfast.

With the wide variety of audiobooks available it is never difficult to find something interesting.  The last several years I have been able to read over 100 books due to audiobooks.  It gives me much more freedom to work my way through my list of books.