Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! That was an amazing book. I have so many thoughts about it that they’re going to be difficult to organize. This is easily my favorite of the HP books so far.

First, a quick recap of my HP adventure. I read the first HP book back when i was a tween, then i saw the first movie and decided it was close enough to the book for me and went back to my Star Wars novels instead of continuing on with the HP book series. I saw all of the movies as they came out, and promptly forgot them for the most part. But i liked them a lot, so recently i decided it was time i read all of the books and re-watched each movie as i finished them.

So what i remembered about this fourth one from watching the movie long ago was that there was the tournament which Harry competed in, and Robert Pattinson also played someone who competed in it, and there was one task that involved rescuing people who were underwater and another task in a maze-like thing in which some boy died. I pretty much forgot everything else. My memory for movies is terrible.

Because my memory of the story was so poor, i enjoyed the book immensely. There were many surprises for me, especially at the end. I feel like i’m the last person on Earth to read these books and actually be surprised by them, and it’s kind of an eerie feeling. Like i’m stuck in the past while the world is decades ahead of me. But i digress.

I loved the little hints about Ron & Hermione’s jealousy, even if it was borderline annoying how they bitched at each other incessantly. And Hermione’s sudden political-mindedness was definitely obnoxious, but thankfully it faded out for the last third or so of the book. The focus of this book is a little more squarely on Harry; Hermione and Ron played bigger roles in the previous books, and i liked that. But i also love Harry, now more than ever. So, i’m not complaining.

I loved the little romance Hagrid had, and the drama with Cho and Fleur and Krum and all that. The ball was delightful. I did kind of remember that from the movie, because i love relationship drama. I thought it was a little far-fetched that the Beauxbatons and Drumstrang students just hung out at Hogwarts for an entire year doing nothing because the tournament tasks were so spread out, meanwhile their respective schools were without their headmasters. But it worked so well for the story that i don’t really care anymore.

I’m amazed at how many characters Rowling is able to invent and create compelling stories for within the Harry Potter world. Rita Skeeter, all the Weasley brothers, Hagrid, Ludo Bagman, Neville, Snape, Mr. Crouch — there were so many little stories within the bigger story of this book, which itself is within the bigger story of the series, and each one of them was important and interesting.

And Voldemort. Lord Voldemort is terrifying. Poor Harry. Brave, amazing, wonderful Harry. What a perfect end battle. But that was just the beginning of the end. There was another fascinating twist that i didn’t see coming at all, and all of the loose ends and little mysteries and stories were tied up so neatly into one marvelous package. I’m almost afraid to go on in the series, though, because this is clearly just the beginning of Voldemort’s second reign of terror, and i know things get even darker and sadder and more difficult from here on out. I think i’ll read a different book before i start the next one, as i had been doing in between the previous books.

Brava, J. K. Rowling. You really are a skilled writer, and deserving of quite a large portion of your mountainous heap of cash. I’m really starting to get it now.

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Book Review: Foundation

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you like clever political maneuvering and don’t particularly care if a book has any other substance to speak of, you’ll like this one.

I can’t understand why this is considered to be one of the best sci-fi books of all time. There’s nothing enjoyable about this story except for those moments when someone has done something exceedingly clever without the reader’s noticing. There was a moment of interesting action in the middle of the book, and the rest was just slow drifting about, talking. The characters were almost wholly unremarkable. There were two females in the entire book: one who mooned over a pretty garment and then was gone, and a horrible acid-tongued wife who only made a brief appearance.

The fact that it was set in space was just coincidental. Other than the one intriguing city-planet in the beginning, the rest of the worlds were not even described. There were no aliens. The ships weren’t really described. The weapons and other nuclear-powered doodads sounded sort of interesting but were really only glimpsed.

I just don’t get it. Even the story wasn’t played out to my satisfaction, but i’m sure as hell not going to be reading the rest of the series. I can pretty much guess that it’s just going to be a lot more of the same.

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Book Review: The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If i hadn’t been reading this book on my Kindle, i very well may have chucked it against the wall at the end. There were so many things about it that bothered me, but let’s see if i can write them all out coherently.

I didn’t believe the relationship between Lyra and Will. Why would the strong, independent-minded girl from The Golden Compass respond so positively to being bossed around, threatened, called names, and generally disregarded by a boy she knows nothing about except that he’s killed someone? It takes Will a long time to warm up to her, and that makes sense, but Lyra likes him immediately, which doesn’t.

I love Lyra. I was disappointed that the focus was no longer on her in this book. I’m not sure how i feel about Will. He’s a bit flat, and a touch psychotic. I do kind of sympathize with him, but the way he reacts to things is very strange and hard to relate to. I miss Iorek Byrnison. I’m pissed about what this book did to Lee Scoresby. And i hate Mrs. Coulter much more now than i did at the end of The Golden Compass, which is fairly amazing. How is she suddenly so powerful?! And how is Asriel suddenly so powerful? This book takes so many strange leaps that i didn’t see coming, even knowing that The Golden Compass was just the beginning of the story.

So many of the characters make dumb mistakes in this book that have terrible consequences. And that sort of counteracts all the overly-serendipitous stuff that happened in the first book, but it’s frustrating to read. The witches all act like stupid whores—and i’m sorry to say that, but their behavior just makes me angry. The one exception was Serafina’s first scene. Every other scene that included witches in this book made me roll my eyes really hard, or worse.


Ancient Aliens meme ANGELS

The whole Dust = dark matter = ANGELS part made me want to puke. All this build up with the Dust was so interesting, and then ANGELS. I can’t exactly put my finger on why it bothered me, it just seemed really dumb.

There was some interesting action in the middle of the book, but everything else was either boring or frustrating or gross. The monkey-stroking-the-snake scene made me feel yucky, which i’m sure was intentional, but even before that happened the whole book kind of made me feel yucky. I don’t particularly like this series, but i’m going to have to read the last book at some point. I can’t leave off here; there are so many unanswered questions both big and small—which is part of the reason that this book just utterly fails to stand on its own. For example: if there are so many doorways to the other worlds, why did Asriel have to blast a new one? Why was his gateway up in the sky when the others seem to be on the ground—i.e. the multiple worlds overlap in space, don’t they? How is Asriel manipulating time? Why does the subtle knife only cut doorways between two of the millions of worlds? How does Mrs. Coulter communicate with the Specters? How do they suddenly start flying at the end of the book? What ever happened to those two adults from Cittagaze? Who the hell is this Sir Charles, other than a plot device? And on and on and on.

This middle book just felt like a hurried exposition of how complex the characters have supposedly always known this multiverse to be. I think it was really poorly executed in comparison to the first book. I don’t care about any of the characters. I just want to see Mrs. Coulter meet some sort of satisfying fate—she’s the only one i feel strongly about anymore. But i need a few cold showers and less confused books before i can move on to The Amber Spyglass and see this stupid thing through.

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Goals for 2014

This. (Which i found here):

The real lesson is to look for and recognise as many [of] these little pleasures as you can! smile when you find one. Eventually you should find enough that each smile lasts until you find the next one and hey-presto; happiness.

Too often we look for what is wrong. Society trains us that way: it tells us that life is not good enough and that [in] all areas our mission is to ‘improve’ and how we should improve is to look for what we are doing wrong and fix it. This is often why we see the most successful in society are also the unhappiest – they are experts [in] focusing on the faults.

Live life. It’s a miracle that you’re here at all.

So this year i’m gonna chill a little bit on the goal-setting. Last year i did cut back on social media and i think that was a good choice, but i essentially failed all of my other goals. So this year there are just three tangible things i want to do:

1. Try a local dance class. There’s a very cheap adult hip-hop dance class down on the south side that i plan to get my butt to next week. I think it’ll be great fun and great exercise.

2. Learn a little German. I actually enjoy learning languages, and i want to learn some German before we go to Europe this September. I found a pretty decent website called Livemocha that i’ve already been doing some lessons on. Das ist gut!

3. Do NaNoWriMo again. One of these years i’m going to come up with a good story to write, i’m determined.

That’s it. There are other things i want to work on, of course, but it’s more important that i “follow my joy,” as they say, than try to fix what i think i’m doing wrong.

Happy new year!

Year In Review: 2013

2013 Juliet beer foil

I don’t know why i waited a whole year to talk about last NYE. It’s not even worth mentioning, but i said i would. We had the party with our friends here at our house. People were falling asleep before midnight. And that’s pretty much all i remember about it.

In January i read The Night Circus, and it changed my life. It ignited a passion for fiction that’s carrying on into 2014, and i imagine well beyond.

In February we went to Colorado to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 30th birthday. We visited Celestial Seasonings, Oskar Blues, and a bar that was tapping Pliny The Younger. That’s right, we had PTY on tap. And we also got to have it side-by-side with the Elder. Huge difference. It was amazing.

Hop slam at El Bait
Also, we had a pour of Hop Slam at El Bait Shop.

I think it was in March that i quit sleeping in on the weekends. I thought it was pretty great. We got more done on the weekends and getting up in the morning seemed a little easier. I also went to a Barre/Pilates class a few times on Saturday mornings, and it was a kick-butt class that i liked a lot. But sleeping in just feels so good, i eventually went back to that instead. Maybe i’ll try again in 2014…

We had some sort of fun party, but i can’t remember why. Later i went out with my friends Emily and Sara to celebrate their golden birthday. Someone mistook us for high school kids, so that was pretty encouraging.

In May it snowed! That was crazy. I took my mom to see The Great Gatsby on Mother’s day. We both loved it. And i re-read the book and that was also dreamy and great.

In June we made the 3.5-hour trek to Decorah to celebrate both our two-year wedding anniversary and the exclusive release of Toppling Goliath’s fabulous Kentucky Brunch stout. We drank beer at 7:30 in the morning. Later, we met up with my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my nephew. A few of the aforementioned may have been there just to be warm bodies, but i also had a lot of fun hanging out with them. Each person present was eligible to buy a bottle of the coveted beer, and Nathan and i had arrived just early enough to also be invited to buy a second bottle apiece. People were passing open bottles of rare beers around the taproom. It was a really fun experience, and i hope the timing will be this good for us again in 2014.

In July we went to an Independence Day party at my cousin’s lovely new house out in the west. I played volleyball in my dress and drank Bud Light and watched the kiddies play on many-colored scooters in the street. It was great except for the very big kid trying desperately to sound cool during the fireworks show. Oh well, it was worth enduring his incessant talking for the great view.

80/35 also happened in July. Dancing along with Yeasayer was super fun. I like that band very very much.

Later in the month, Nathan and i went to Chicago and stayed at a friend’s condo, which was great. We went to The Publican for the second time, had some tasty Korean food, hit up some bottle shops, and went to the Pitchfork music festival. We decided to go to the Animal Body Worlds exhibit at the museum before the concert, so we only wound up seeing two acts: Joanna Newsom and Bjork. Those were the only two i really cared about anyhow. And because we’d been to the museum earlier in the day, i recognized the Tesla coil Bjork was using to create some of the booming bass notes in her songs. ROCK.

In August we had my ‘90s-themed birthday party. It was wonderful. We had two TVs set up in the living room with N64 on the flat-screen and Super Nintendo on the old CRT. We made Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap’n Crunch cupcakes and ate all manner of nostalgic junk food: Gushers, Cool Ranch Doritos, Frappuccinos, Pop Rocks, Jones Soda, Pizza Rolls, Jell-o shots… Several people got stomach aches. I also found a box of Polly Pockets and Little Mermaid dolls in the basement that i didn’t know i still had. I’m so glad Nathan had the idea for this party. It was perfect.

The '90s party group

We went to the fair on my actual birthday. I don’t know why i’ve never done that before. On my birthday, i mean. It was a great way to spend the day, since it fell in the middle of the week this year. At the end of the month i took a couple of girlfriends to see Geographer with me, and i was gratified that they enjoyed the show almost as much as i did. What a good band.

In September Grandpa died, and i already wrote about how much that sucked, and how seeing my siblings at least made it a little better. We managed to still have Nathan’s birthday celebration, though, which was a gastronomic dream featuring delectable cheeses, delicious pork products, and of course many rare and wonderful beers. Stouts, to be precise.

Bodhi feeding a giraffe
At the zoo with Bodhi and Amy

We also went to a cabin in Minnesota with a group of our friends at the end of September. It was a welcome release from the stress that had been building up all summer for me. Nathan and i celebrated five years together over—what else?—a lovely rare cherry stout. I wanted to stay at that cabin indefinitely, even though the plumbing situation was a little sketchy.

Every day i'm puzzlin'
We got really into the puzzles.

I don’t think we did a lot in October. Drank pumpkin beers… I carved a pumpkin with my girlfriends… We went to a Halloween party dressed as Washed-Up Batman (Nathan) and the host of the party (me)—who, by the way, was a large redheaded man. They didn’t get what i was at first, but once they were told they enjoyed the little details i’d put into it: his wrist tattoo, a pocket knife, an orange beard, Nathan’s jeans, etc. It was fun.

My jack o' lantern

In November i surprised myself by doing NaNoWriMo. And finishing! But i still just feel like what i wrote is very short and very stupid. I hope that some day i’ll come up with a story worth telling. I plan to try again next year.

Nathan cooked Thanksgiving dinner for four with very little help from me. It was a really wonderful meal.

Nathan's thanksgiving dinner

This month we’ve been spending a lot of time with friends and family, which is what the holidays are all about. We went to California early in the month to see my grandparents. I got them to tell me some stories about how they met and what their first jobs were like and about my great grandfather, who shares a few pretty prominent traits with Katniss’s dad. He had two daughters, he worked as a coal miner, he liked to practice archery, and he had a vegetable garden. Makes me want to try archery even more than i (and every other female in the country) already wanted to.

We also hit a few breweries while we were in California, and i had one of the best meals of my life in a place that didn’t even have chairs (The Lost Abbey). The beer, called Duck Duck Gooze, was expensive, and the food, from a truck called Devilicious, was cheap, and everything was fantastically delicious. I had a pork belly sandwich and parmesan truffle fries that blew my mind.

Here’s to another great year. Cheers!

2013 In Music

2013 New Album collage

Twenty-thirteen was a mind-boggling year for music. I didn’t buy all of the albums in this collage, but i did purchase several of them. I just can’t believe the volume of good music that was released this year. Maybe it’s just that my musical horizons have broadened, but i’ve got a 2013 playlist on Spotify that’s sixty-four hours long. That’s about half as long as my playlist for the entirety of the aughts.

I can’t possibly mention every album that was released this year, but here are a few things that stick out in my mind:

Charli XCX finally released an album. I waited a long time for this, and it didn’t disappoint me—although the best tracks on the album are the ones i had already heard from her teaser singles.

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories disappointed me. The single Get Lucky was so damn good, and they hyped the album so much that i expected something more exciting than this weird collection of lounge music. If only Pharrel Williams was on every track, it would’ve been a much better album.

Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, New Order, and Queens of the Stone Age all came back with really solid new albums.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s new album Mosquito is terrible. I don’t know what happened to them, but i was really disappointed by this one.

Paramore, Thom Yorke—i mean Atoms For Peace—Tegan and Sara, The National, and a number of other bands i already loved put out really good new albums.

I hated Ra Ra Riot’s new album Beta Love when i first heard it. It sounded so auto-tuned and so different from the sound i fell in love with years ago. But then it grew on me, and i wound up buying a used copy of it.

And my Favorite Album of 2013 goes to newcomers CHVRCHES. The minute i heard their EP, i began to anticipate the full album. Bones of What You Believe is truly enjoyable from start to finish. I don’t remember how i discovered CHVRCHES (pronounced “churches”), but i’m glad i did.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of my favorite tracks from 2013.

This year i got to see the following acts in concert:

  • Yeasayer
  • David Byrne & St Vincent
  • Joanna Newsom
  • friggin’ Björk
  • Geographer

It’s not a super long list, but i still felt like i had a really great year for seeing concerts. I mean, i finally saw Björk!! Now i just need to see Billy Corgan some day before i die.

Bjork at Pitchfork
Björk at Pitchfork. Photo by Amanda Hatfield

NaNoWriMo 2013 – I did it!

2013 NaNoWriMo Facebook Winner Cover image

I’m a NaNoWriMo winner! Which just means that i wrote a 50,000-word “novel” this month. Whew!

I hadn’t even planned to do this, but on November 1st i saw Erin Morgenstern (author of The Night Circus, i.e. my idol) and a couple of other people tweeting about it, and i thought man, i really want to do that. I wish i had a story to write! And so, in the true nature of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, by the way), i decided to fly by the seat of my pants. I took about an hour to come up with a story that had a semblance of a plot, with a protagonist and a sort-of antagonist and something of a conflict/mystery and a beginning and a middle and an end, and then i signed up and started writing. And i made myself write every day, just like they told me.

It wasn’t easy. My dog feels very neglected. The first week was easy, and then the second week was much harder. I thought getting past the halfway point would make things easier, but it didn’t. The third week was the worst; i was swiftly running out of story and i felt like i was writing total crap and that my story wasn’t even worth finishing anyway. There was one day when i was feeling so miserable about it that i decided that i needed to donate $10 to NaNoWriMo and get my halo so that if i felt like quitting i would feel crappy about giving money to something that didn’t work for me anyway. And that strategy worked, because i damn near quit that night but then i saw my halo, and i got to work.

Why is it a halo, by the way? All the cartoons i watched as a kid trained me to associate halos with dead people. So, looking at the NaNoWriMo site, it looks like half the participants are dead because they have halos over their avatars.

Anyway, i powered through it and i got through week four slowly but surely, adding little scenes here and there to fill out what was already a finished story. I never fell behind. I gave myself the day off yesterday for Thanksgiving (which was a fantastic meal hosted at our place for the first time and cooked almost entirely by Nathan!). And then this morning i got up at six, went beer shopping with Nathan, came home and putzed around a bit and then started writing. I had about 1800 words to go and nothing to write, so i added one more playful scene, hit 50k words, validated it on the WriMo website and earned this nice little badge! And it’s not even 1:00 p.m. now.

Now i can read books again! I’ve fallen behind with my reading goal because of this, so i need to read four more books in December. Wish me luck!