Harry Potter #2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter is going into his second year at Hogwarts. He can hardly wait to get started! But when a mysterious creature shows up at the Dursleys warning him not to return to keep the other students safe, Harry pays no mind. How can he spend one more year with the awful Dursleys?

But  the real trouble begins when  someone–or something–starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects…Harry Potter himself?

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This book was super interesting and entertaining, just as in the first one. While maybe a little darker, and a little more violent, this book was still relatively not-scary. Ron and Hermione are just as loyal as ever, still getting themselves into fixes. From  helping Harry deal with the stuck-up Professor Lockhart, taking advice from a long-dead annoying ghost who haunts the abandoned girl’s bathroom, wandering into the forest to find the giant spiders, and turning themselves into some of the Slytherin students, they are always there for him.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Violence: 4/10 (students are turned to stone by a creature, and the creature comes into the story later)

Language: 1/10 (name-calling)

Innappropriateness/Romance: 1/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up

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Shadow Horse and Whirlwind by Alison Hart

Thirteen-year-old Jasmine is found guilty of assaulting Hugh Robicheaus, the owner of the horse farm where she works. But she’s still determined to prove the Robicheaus killed Whirlwind, the mare she loved. Jas is sure the Shadow Horse, a scrawny brown gelding she rescues at a horse auction, is the key to the mystery-but just how is Shadow Horse connected to Whirlwind?

When thirteen-year-old Jas Schuler found her beloved mare Whirlwind dead in her paddock, she though her heart would break. But now Jas knows the truth: Whirlwind is alive! Wealthy horse breeder Hugh Robicheaus faked the mare’s death, collected insurance money, then sold her to an unsuspecting buyer. And he’s going to get away with his crime, too-unless someone can find Whirlwind. And that’s exactly what Jas plans to do.

 

First off, good horse books are hard to come by. They all share the same plot, just will small alterations. Shadow Horse  was different, to say the least. I loved the entire story, and Jaz’s firey character. Usually horse books follow a girl doing everything she can for her horse; and by everything I mean risking her life, stealing, etc. While Jaz is looking for her beloved mare, Whirlwind, what the synopsis doesn’t say is that she is also trying to clear her uncles name. He was accused of poisoning the mare. So Jaz has more to gain from proving Hugh guilty that a horse.

The characters were fun, and I liked the setting as well. Jaz is quite angry in the beginning, but not without reason. I really like it when characters are far from perfect, so I personally enjoyed watching Jaz change throughout the story.

I’m not saying there was nothing cliche about this story, but as far as I’m concerned it was a refreshing story.

As for Whirlwind, I though it was an awesome sequel to Shadow Horse. It was exciting and full of adventure. Jas was still her perky self, but with a better idea of what she was doing. I loved it and it was a good book to go with the first. As I’ve said, good horse books are hard to find, but Alison did an incredible job with this book, and I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

I liked that Jas was opening up, making friends. There was good character development, and I love that in a book. I really enjoyed her character and all the characters alongside her.

 

Overall Rating: 4.5/10

Violence: 1/10 (I think)

Language: 0/10 (I think)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 3/10

Audiences: Ages 11 and up

Harry Potter #1: The Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

11-year old Harry Potter has lived with his horrid relatives the Dursleys for nearly his entire life, ever since his parents died in a car accident when he was a baby. The Dursleys, always trying to pretend Harry doesn’t exist, have actually been trying to hide a wonderful, horrible secret from Harry.

What Harry does not know is that he is actually an untrained wizard, living in a world of ‘muggles’, or ordinary people. After receiving an invitation for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his life is completely changed as he is thrown into a world of friendship, magic, and mystery.

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For any parent that has not let their child read Harry Potter, please do not be put off by the witchcraft element. In the school, there is a heavy difference between ‘okay’ magic and ‘evil’ magic. The overall story is still of good overcoming evil.

I know there is a lot of debate about whether or not Harry Potter should be read (or watched), but when my friend first convinced my mom that the movies really weren’t too scary, we finally watched the first movie. I was wonderfully surprised. The first movie isn’t too scary, and the story was great! It was entertaining, and as I soon came to find out, the book is even more so. Harry and the hilarious trio he begins with his loyal friends are easy to like, easy to picture, and easy to relate to.

Honestly, the magic is fun to read about. I think it may have been J K Rowling who started the ‘unusual school/training’ theme. She has definitely planned everything out very well, and the books are very consistent in the various magical terms and phrases in every single book.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Violence: 3/10 (mostly mild creepiness (a giant three-headed dog, and cloaked figure in the woods, etc.), and a few tense scenes; the movie is a little more so)

Language: 1/10 (some name-calling)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 0/10

Audience: Ages 10 and up (or for younger kids who are okay with stuff like three-headed dogs named Fluffy).

Darkwood by M. E. Breen

There’s no evening in Howland, it goes from light to dark in a matter of seconds. When the darkness falls no normal person would dare go outside out of fear of the kinderstalk, the wolf-like creatures that prowl the forest. Annie lives with her cruel uncle and ineffectual aunt and she never ventures out into the darkness – until she overhears her uncle planning to sell her into slavery. She makes a daring escape from the house, heading out into the thick forests. But the world is full of more danger as Annie must save herself from a treacherous mining operation, the political scheming of a wily king, and the packs of kinderstalk that are encroaching ever closer.

M. E. Breen did an outstanding job with this novel. I was always on the edge of my seat, curious about what would happen next. She had no lack of twists and unexpected surprises during Annie’s adventure. There was the perfect amount of description, for me at least. Although everything wasn’t described down to the last blade of grass there was enough to let my imagination fill in the rest. It made for a very vivid novel.

I really loved Annie’s character, and the setting of the books. Both held such mystery; I was completely glued to this book. The end of the novel was a bit sudden, and the author could have explained more. Yet it left me wondering, in a good kind of way.

 

Overall: 4.5/5

Violence: 4/10

Language: 0/10

Inappropriateness/Romance:  0/10

Audiences: Ages 11 and up

Nancy Drew #29: The Silent Spy

You, as Nancy Drew, have been mysteriously invited to Scotland by some unknown person to help bring down something called Revenant, a terrorist organization that may be planning another deadly attack. Can you find and prove who is a part of this evil plot before the city is in peril? And what will Nancy discover about how and why her mom died?

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This game, while being one of the newest ones, was very different. Graphics were totally amazing, and the story was more complicated. I’m not sure that the complicated part is good, or bad.

I know some of the older Nancy Drew’s tend to reuse puzzles, but this one was filled with new puzzle designs that were pretty complicated, even on the junior detective setting. My only problem with the game was there weren’t any ‘chore’ type things, it was all puzzles. And because there were so many different codes to break and ciphers to solve, it was easy to get all of them mixed up (as in, easy to mix up the solutions).

There was some super-cool spy stuff, and some of the activities include playing bagpipes, snooping (the usual), ziplining, archery, and making cookies for money so you can ride on the train.

Creepiness Factor: 1/10

Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher

 In Venice in 1487, the secrets of glassblowing are guarded jealously. Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks. Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night.

One night he is disturbed by a bird—a small falcon—that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her—the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid. Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe in this atmospheric adventure.

When I was browsing through my library I saw this book on the shelf. I was immediately interested in the running shadows on the brick wall, and the beautiful glass falcon taking up most of the cover. One of my favorite animals is the hawk and falcon, so I was immediately wanting to know more. As I read the synopsis it sounded like just the book for me, set back in time and revolving around something I didn’t know about, but sounded very interesting: glass blowing.

Venice. A beautiful setting for the book, and the fact that I know little of this city and it’s history made it all the more an idea to pull me in. Much of what I read kept me wanting to know more, about Renzo’s life, but more importantly the city he lives in. The assassins to keep great secrets about the glass blowing, and just the beauty of it all. For someone who deeply enjoys history this was a great glimpse at it. Although I didn’t learn much about Venice in the late fifteenth century it was enough to peak my curiosity.

I loved the setting and the mystery surrounding the glass, and the bird children. Even from the prologue I was intrigued and as I continued to read I wanted to learn more. Although it was confusing because the book would change points of view. It took a while to understand how the second point of view connected with the first.

I like the relations ship between Renzo and the mysterious girl. The author wasn’t too quick to make either of them trusting, and yet it didn’t take too long for them to become good companions. I really liked all the characters in this book and I wish there was a sequel. The ending felt sudden, and I wished I could have learned more about the bird children. I came to know that they were just different, not necessarily wielding power to control their birds. Although it did seem like there was something more magical about it than they let on.

 

Overall: 4/5

Violence: 4/10 (a characters eye got stabbed)

Language: 0/10 (from what I remember)

Inappropriateness/Romance:  0/10 (I think)

Audiences: Ages 12 and up

Nancy Drew #18: The Phantom of Venice

Travel to Venice, Italy and recover the stolen pieces of art and the thief who took them!  You, as Nancy Drew, are hired by the Italian police to solve the mystery of the “phantom”.  He/she has been steeling valuable things from rich people and wearing a mask to hide among the Venetian citizens who are celebrating Carnevale, a holiday in which everyone dresses in masks and costumes.  Rumor has it that the next thing the “phantom” is going to steal is a person, and the police have a suspect on who’s behind the recent crimes, and they want you to spy on them.  Can you capture the thief before someone is kidnapped?

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I thought this one was really fun because you get to disguise yourself as someone else, steal something, and spy on someone.  You also get to pick locks, but that kind of got old quickly.  There were three people to talk, which is kind of a normal amount.  A few puzzles took a long time, were very hard to figure out, and weren’t very interesting, though we had to do them to move forward.  Also, there really wasn’t anything very creepy.

Creepiness Factor: 2/10

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater

Every year, dozens of aspiring winners of the Scorpio races wait for their mounts to wash up from the beach. The water horses, or cappaill uisce, are not just ordinary horses, despite the fact that they come from the sea. The carnivorous creatures are always hungry, and their would-be riders are kept on their toes as they try to tame the wild horses that crave the taste of flesh and the sea. The dangerous beasts are more brute than horse; many riders are killed each year. By teeth, or by the water, it makes no difference to the untamable horses.

Told from two different characters, returning champion Sean Kenndrick and rookie (and the only female) Puck Connolly, battle the sea, their own horses, other rider’s horses and the other riders, are each motivated to win. But so is everyone else. Both with everything to work for, and everything to lose. But only one person can win the Scorpio Races.

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I’m having a hard time summarizing what I thought of this book. I am very torn. Parts of it were stunning and moving, and parts of it weren’t written very well.

The water horses were the best part of the story. What bothers me most about the story is that I didn’t think of it first! Their vicious nature is easy to imagine the way it is described, but the pull of them and Sean’s connection with them is also understandable as well.

The main character, Puck, is not very compelling. I suppose her intentions are all right, but seriously, she could have thought of something else to make money, right? This seems like the writers flaw; she really, really wanted to write about a girl, and couldn’t just drop it.

It bothers me that no one argued Puck’s point about not riding a water horse. I hope that isn’t a spoiler, but it actually makes me angry. The riders are supposed to ride water horses, that is part of the race. And she doesn’t; her horse is an ordinary island pony. Her own tension and suspense could have doubled and made the book more interesting.

Her emotions were constantly explained, which kind of bothered me as well. And they changed often; she is irratable in one paragraph, and then guilty the next. I suppose that is fine, but I don’t like how she had to be explained. It isn’t very believable when she has to tell you what she is feeling; it doesn’t make you feel like you are inside her head.

Now Sean on the other hand….wow. He has to be one of the deepest and best character’s I’ve ever read about. He is so mysterious, the mystery about him and the magic he works on the water horses is never explained. That might have bugged me, but that is what keeps it mysterious. He is so much more interesting than Puck, and what he does, and what he understands, and the way he understands it really makes him unforgettable. His passion for the water, and the monsters it spits up, and his relationship with his own water horse who sometimes really just wants to eat him is incredible.

Each chapter switches back and forth between Sean and Puck (which is really annoying, because I really just wanted to hear about one or the other), but the chapters in which Sean narrates are the best. The writing just seems better.

And the romance was annoying. Although, if I were Puck, I would have fallen for Sean. What’s not to like? So I guess it makes enough sense.

The ending was only okay. It was a bit too happily-ever-after for me, although it was sweet. Several things weren’t wrapped up, but I guess I can forgive the writer. You don’t need to like horses to like this book.

Overall: 4/5

Violence: 6/10 (I mean, they are flesh-eating water horses with teeth like knives. Some descriptions of the wounds and deaths are gross)

Language: 5/10 (Mild to medium bad words throughout, and quite a few crude comments)

Innapropriateness/Romance: 4/10 (The actual romance wasn’t too innapropriate, but the crude comments also falls under this section)

Audience: Ages 12 and up