A Monster Calls

Conor O’Malley is both a typical and atypical young boy. He’s quiet, has virtually no friends, and lives with his single mother after his father left them. But Conor’s mother is ill and Conor has to take care of both of them. It is a lot of work for such a young man. And there’s another problem Conor faces: constant nightmares of losing his mother to her illness. Conor cannot imagine living without his mother.

In their backyard, from the kitchen window, there is an old yew tree. Conor’s mother loves the yew tree, but Conor thinks it is a bit creepy. He doesn’t quite understand where his mother’s affection for the tree comes from; Conor simply doesn’t think much about it.

Until the day the yew tree comes alive and speaks to Conor. The tree makes a deal with Conor: he will tell Conor three stories, at the end Conor must tell the tree a story. But the tree doesn’t want just any story. He wants Conor to tell him about his nightmares. For his part, Conor thinks it’s all just another nightmare.

Until he finds leaves on his floor in the morning. A dream wouldn’t leave something tangible behind…unless it wasn’t a dream?

As Conor struggles to come to grips with his mother’s failing health and how it will change him, he listens to the stories of the yew tree. But are they just stories? Did they actually happen? And what do they mean for Conor?

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was originally the brainchild of Siobhan Dowd; unfortunately, she passed away due to illness before it could be written. Ness does a fantastic job writing this short narrative about a boy who must learn that losing the thing he loves the most is difficult but not the end. And that sometimes letting go is for the best.

I really enjoyed A Monster Calls, perhaps far more than I expected to. While short in length, it packs a lot of introspective thought and emotion into it. I often felt myself empathizing with Conor as I read his story. It is quite different from the high fantasy stories I have been reading of late, but it is quite a read and one I recommend to anyone who has had any interest in it.

My rating: 4.75/5



Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Just when you thought we left the Wizarding World behind…surprise! A new adventure arises! But wait…is this a prequel? Yes, and no. It’s not a direct prequel since it does not focus on Harry specifically, but it occurs 70 years before he was born and it’s events are related to Harry’s adventures in as yet unexplored ways.

It’s 1926 in New York City. It’s a glamorous era, but also the age of prohibition. It’s a great time to be alive…unless you are a witch or wizard. Because being a witch or wizard in North America isn’t like being one in Britain. While still secretive, witches and wizards in Britain still are free to express themselves and mingle with muggles. But North American witches and wizards are forbidden to have any unnecessary interactions with no-majs (muggles) and, because of prior persecution, live in fearful secret.

Enter Newt Scamander (of the famous Hogwarts text, but before he actually wrote the text). He is on his way to Arizona via New York on a personal matter, and he’s brought a magical case with him. Of course, if you know anything about Newt, it’s no ordinary case; it’s filled with magical creatures Newt is either studying or caring for (or both). While in New York, Newt unknowingly breaks a North American law when he brings his creatures with him. Shortly thereafter, he breaks another law when he encounters the no-maj Jacob Kowalski and doesn’t obliviate him after Jacob witnesses Newt doing magic. This forces witch and ex-Auror Tina Goldstein to take Newt into custody at MACUSA (North America equivalent of the Ministry of Magic) in an effort to reclaim her Auror status.

Things don’t go as planned when Newt discovers that some of his creatures have escaped. To complicate matters, something seems to be terrorizing New York, attacking no-majs. Newt’s escaped creatures are blamed and hunted despite Newt’s insistence of their innocence. It then is up to Newt, Tina, Queenie (Tina’s legilimens sister), and Jacob to find Newt’s creatures before they get hurt and discover the cause of the attacks.

While JK Rowling released a version of Harry Potter’s first year textbook a few years ago for charity, the actual Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is her newest wizarding work. It is not, in fact, a novel but a screenplay/script from the movie. As such, it’s a very quick read but it still contains all of the elements that make a Rowling wizarding book. What makes this book extra special for me is the artwork of MinaLima, the dynamic duo artists team behind all of the Harry Potter stories and movies. Add to that the introduction of a new character who is a Hufflepuff (badger house pride!) who is lovable, dorky, but totally exceptional at what he does and I have not only found a new wizarding book but my favorite wizarding world character.

I highly recommend watching the movie then reading the script. I find that reading the script afterwards allowed me to capture what I missed in the movie since I could read dialogue I missed hearing or expand on short scenes. Either way works, but I think reading the script afterwards allowed a much better glimpse at the movie itself.

Let me be perfectly frank: I literally screamed when I heard JK Rowling was releasing a new wizarding story. I laughed when I finally saw the trailer for the movie. I grinned like an idiot throughout the entire movie. And I squealed like a teenager when I read the script. I can’t wait for the blu-ray release to live through it all again. It’s so go to be back!

My rating: 5/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

And here we’ve come at last to the end of a series, one of the best series in my opinion.

This is supposed to be Harry Potter’s last year at Hogwarts. This is supposed to be the year Harry and his friends prepare for their N.E.W.T.S. and to take their place in the wizarding world after leaving Hogwarts. This is supposed to be Harry’s first year as a wizarding adult, the year he can do magic whenever he pleases without fear of breaking the restriction for underaged wizardry.

This is supposed to be a fun, carefree year.

But it’s not.

This is the year that Harry has to finally defeat Lord Voldemort…or die in the process. Before he died, Dumbledore helped Harry to discover the existence of the Horcruxes, objects Voldemort has placed pieces of his soul in to become nearly immortal. Together, Harry and Dumbledore found a Horcrux – or so they thought. It turned out to be a fact, but contains a clue as to where the real Horcrux could be. Even if they find it, there are at least four other Horcruxes, and Harry has no idea how to find them – or how to destroy them. He only knows he must if the wizarding world is to survive.

Constantly on the run and not wanting to involve anyone more than he must to keep the ones he loves out of danger, Harry can only rely on himself and Ron and Hermione. But the strain of finding the Horcruxes is putting a toll on their friendship; can it remain strong in the face of all the evil they are up against?

Rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was really like reading it for the first time. I had forgotten so many of the details that the movies did not capture well or completely omitted. I really enjoyed rereading it. It wasn’t ever one of my top favorites before, but after this reread I think it’s moved up in rank a bit.

For my reread, I chose to use an ebook purchased from iTunes; they have an exclusive version with illustrations, some of which were animated. I really enjoyed scenes that were animated as they really made the story more alive. (Eventually I plan to get the rest of the series in this version.) I really recommend those who have Apple products and like reading ebooks to consider getting these exclusive editions. The visuals really do add something to the story telling at key parts.

I’ve never been really one of those people who think the movies need to be a play-by-play of the books since they are two different mediums of art. But – and I’ve said this before – I really believe that leaving out many of the details in the Harry Potter films loses some of the magic of the story. I am still advocating for a tv mini-series with each series/season revolving around one book for a total of 7 seasons. Please, someone, make this happen!

My rating: 4.25/5