Harry Potter Movies Review

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Review:

Despite being a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, I’ve always been a little meh about the movies. The early films came out about the same time as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and they just didn’t stand up very well by comparison. The first two films were competently made, but lacked the sense of wonder in the books and never succeeded in making the world feel truly alive in the way the Lord of the Rings films did. The third film, Prisoner of Azkaban, was the most artistically accomplished in the series (with the exception of the unbelievably awful CGI werewolf), but made such egregious trims to the plot that I have to wonder if people who haven’t read the book even understand what is going on in certain scenes. The fourth and fifth films were back to competent-but-uninspired, and I never even bothered to watch the sixth, seventh, and eight, although my daughter likes them.

Amazing cast, though – practically a who’s who of great British actors.

My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

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Harry Potter Series Review

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Review:

Unless you’ve spent the last 15 years in a cave or something, Harry Potter needs no introduction, and I doubt that there’s anything I can say that would convince you to read them if you haven’t already. However, I’m supposed to be reviewing everything on this blog, and the Harry Potter series actually ended up being a big part of my life, so I feel like I’d be remiss not to.

I remember first learning about the series in a Newsweek article about it back in the late 90s, about the time Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out. The premise intrigued me, and I ended up getting the first book as a birthday present for my younger brother. It was a hit with the whole family (minus my mom, who doesn’t like the fantasy genre and refused to try it until years later, when my daughter cajoled her into reading the first book out loud together). Soon after finishing the second and third book, I went off to college, where I was delighted to discover that a bunch of the other girls in my dorm were fans, too. There was an empty room on our floor and we had fun making it “Harry and Ron’s Room” and leaving messages on the whiteboard from Hermione, You-Know-Who, etc. One of my friends even wrote Harry Potter fanfiction (including a fic that ended up being pretty popular), but I didn’t understand the appeal at the time and never really got into it.

A few years passed and I graduated, got married, and continued enjoying the series. Then my husband and I moved across country for the first time, leaving behind our family, friends, and my job. I started working at home, picking up assignments as a freelance writer, but I still had long hours to kill at home while my husband was at work because we didn’t have any children at that point and I was, frankly, too terrified of California drivers to go anywhere. (I learned to drive on the type of rural Nebraska backroads where you wave at other cars as you pass and anything more than three in five minutes qualifies as a traffic jam; Southern California traffic nearly gave me a heart attack.) I was lonesome and bored a lot, and one of the things I missed was talking with my brother and friends for hours about Harry Potter. So I joined the Harry Potter forums at FictionAlley Park. I was intending to hang around for discussion of the books, not fanfiction, but one of the first things I discovered was that I wasn’t the only person who’d always secretly suspected Remus Lupin and Sirius Black of being something more than simple friends. From the HMS Wolfstar threads it was an easy slide into Wolfstar fanfiction, and from there to reading other Harry Potter fanfiction, and from there to writing it myself.

I’ve never looked back.

Although I’m not really an active member of the Harry Potter fandom anymore, it was my gateway fandom and still my most intense and obsessive fannish experience. I miss it.

What was it that so captivated me about the Harry Potter series?

Probably the biggest single factor was the worldbuilding. Despite its periodic issues with dark wizards, anti-Muggle racism, and the like, the wizarding world of Harry Potter is a fantasy world that you want to be a part of.

Rowling’s heavy use of whimsy and clever wordplay gave the wizarding world a rather old-fashioned, nostalgic atmosphere that felt simultaneously cozy and limitless. Especially in the early books, she did an incredible job capturing Harry’s wonder and awe as he explored his new, magical world.

The characters were another major draw. With a huge and diverse cast of characters to choose from, practically every reader is guaranteed to get attached to someone. Personally, I got attached to many. As a feminist, I especially appreciate the many wonderful and memorable female characters.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Review

The Harry Potter series got off to a great start with this book, which introduced us to Harry and the Wizarding World and made us instantly fall in love with both. As a fan of both the fantasy and mystery genres, I also enjoyed the clever use of mystery elements in the first three books.

My rating:4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review

The weakest of the early books, but still quite good. A much creepier mystery than the first book.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review

My favorite book in the series. The best and most tightly plotted mystery, plus the introduction and largest role for my favorite character in the series, Remus Lupin.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Review

Amazing as it is that JK Rowling had children the world over reading a book longer than The Canterbury Tales, I think Goblet of Fire is where Rowling and her editor started to lose control of the series a bit. The mystery elements were not as well plotted and there was lots of stuff that seemed kind of superfluous and unnecessary. Still enjoyable, but a step down from the previous.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review

I have seriously mixed feelings about Order of the Phoenix. On the one hand, there are few tropes I hate more than prophecy plots. (Ugh.) One of the few happens to be plots that wouldn’t exist if people just sat down and TALKED to each other. Basically the entire plot of this book wouldn’t exist if Dumbledore had just sat Harry down and told him what was going on, and it drives me nuts every time I reread it. Frankly, it ruined my opinion of Dumbledore and I’ve disliked him ever since. Forcing Snape to give Harry occlumency lessons was also inexcusable, imho, both because Harry wouldn’t have needed them so much if Dumbledore had simply told him what sort of manipulations Voldemort would attempt and because Snape is a terrible teacher at the best of times, and even worse than usual with Harry.

On the other hand, Order of the Phoenix has so many of my favorite subplots and scenes it’s probably the book I reread most after Prisoner of Azkaban. I especially love the stuff with Dolores Umbridge (by far the best villain in the series, and one of the best ever written, imho) and the Order itself. As a big Neville fan since book one, it was lovely to see him get to come into his own more with the Order’s help, and I also adored Luna Lovegood, who was introduced in this book.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Review

My least favorite in the series. I disliked it so much that it’s the only one I’ve never re-read, so I don’t even remember entirely why I disliked it, but a big part of the reason was the amount of focus on Voldemort, who is boring, and Snape, who I hate. The romantic entanglements of the characters were also more annoying than interesting.

My rating:2 Stars (2 / 5)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Review

Better than Half-Blood Prince, but just not as satisfying or fun as the early books.

My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

The Look-It-Up Guides To Mythology Series Review (Mythlopedia)

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Review:

On our wishlist

My daughter loved the Percy Jackson series and I wanted to get her some books to give her a somewhat more accurate understanding of Greek mythology. Unfortunately, my copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths seems to have disappeared in one of our moves and she’s still a little young for Hamilton’s Mythology. While I was browsing through the library looking for an alternative to D’Aulaire (which they didn’t have for some reason), I stumbled across this series. It looked funny and accurate (despite a whole bunch of extremely anachronistic slang), so I checked out the whole series and my daughter LOVED them. I’ve personally only read bits and pieces so far, but her reaction was enough to add them immediately to our wishlist.

The full series is:

Lego Castle King’s Castle (70404) Review

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Review:

I nearly bought this set on the spot when I saw it in Target for the first time. Lego Castle was my favorite theme as a child and King’s Castle reminded me so much of the great classic sets like Black Knight’s Castle that I grew up with.

As it was, I held out until, er, the next day. But near-impulse purchase or not, it’s not one I’ve regretted. It took my daughter a couple days of working on and off to finish and it’s one of her favorite sets to play with (along with her Lego Friends sets Olivia’s House, Summer Riding Camp, and Adventure Camper.)

King’s Castle comes with seven minifigs, plus a horse, and a bunch of cool features reminiscent of the classic Castle sets, like a working drawbridge, portcullis, and catapult. It’s a large set with plenty of room to add minifigs from other sets (and even themes – the Lego Friends girls and their horses spend a lot of time hanging around, as does the Golden Dragon) for more elaborate scenarios, and it also makes an attractive display piece.

Eventually, I’m hoping to get a whole medieval theme going with Medieval Market Village and Kingdom’s Joust, and this castle will be the centerpiece.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Lego Friends Summer Riding Camp (3185)

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Review:

My daughter isn’t as horsey as I was as a girl, but she loves animals in general, so this set ties with Olivia’s House as her favorite Lego Friends set. Like Olivia’s House, the compact design packs in a lot of cool details and she really enjoyed both building it and playing with it. Our only complaint is that a couple of the shutters were missing in the package (and I haven’t gotten around to requesting replacements from the Lego company).

Note: This set will soon be discontinued, so if you want it, now’s the time to snag it before the price goes up! Otherwise, check out Sunshine Ranch (41039)  as an alternative.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast Albums Review

When I was a child, there was a Carol Burnett/Julie Andrews skit that I thought was absolutely hilarious called “The Phantom of the Opry”:

Inspired, my parents gave me the “Highlights from The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast” album for my 8th birthday and I’ve been a huge “phan” ever since.

To this day, more than 25 years after the musical opened on London’s West End, the original London cast is considered the best by many phans. Though I enjoyed the 25th Anniversary Concert and the three touring productions I’ve seen of the stage musical, I have to agree. Sarah Brightman’s acting skills apparently left something to be desired on stage (see the music video below for evidence), but her high, pure soprano was perfect for the role of Christine and comes across beautifully in the cast albums, while Michael Crawford’s vocals – by turns hypnotically beautiful and threatening – epitomized angel, phantom, and ultimately, man.

Which original London cast album is right for you?

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Endangered Species Chocolate Review

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Endangered Species Chocolate is our family’s favorite brand of chocolate bar. The 72% dark chocolate series in particular is excellent: velvety smooth and richly flavored without being either overly bitter or excessively sweet.

I also appreciate the ethics of the company, which is what initially induced my mother to pick up our first bar years ago. The company donates 10% of net profits to wildlife conservation organizations such as the African Wildlife Foundation and The Xerces Society (a personal favorite, due to its excellent work in the under-appreciated field of insect conservation). Endangered Species Chocolate bars are also made using ethically sourced chocolate and other ingredients. They are Rainforest Alliance certified and many of their products contain USDA organic ingredients or sustainably-sourced palm oil. Endangered Species chocolate bars are also Kosher and gluten-free, and some bars are vegan.

My only complaint is that melting and resetting the bars ruins the texture of the chocolate to a greater degree than you find with cheaper chocolates like Hershey, so be extremely careful about leaving these bars in a hot car!

As a premium chocolate brand, Endangered Species Chocolate bars are pricey. I’ve seen it as high as $4 per bar! Fortunately, they seem to go on sale pretty frequently at 2 for $5 or a similar rate, and we stock up during the sales. You can also lower the price per bar by buying in bulk via Amazon or other retailers.

Here are our family’s favorite (and not so favorite) flavors:

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Tangled Movie Review

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Review:

On our wishlist

When it was released, Tangled was the best Disney film in years. Now, of course, we’ve got Frozen heating up the competition for best Disney film of the new millennium, but Tangled was a huge step in the right direction after years of mostly mediocre Disney offerings.

It had an appealing heroine, an exceedingly handsome hero (though Disney has yet to beat Anastasia‘s Dmitri for sheer animated hotness), some good songs, a pair of hilarious animal sidekicks (my daughter liked Maximus so much she wanted us to name her brother after him!), a villain who rivals Frollo in terrifying psychological realism, and some simply gorgeous animation (though I still prefer the classic Disney style to the computer generated stuff). The plot was a fun blend of action-adventure, humor, and pathos as well.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake Recipe Review

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 7/8 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup buttermilk

For directions, please visit Alexandra Cooks.

Recipe Review:

As soon as I saw this, I knew my daughter would love it, and she did. It was a big hit with the rest of the family, too, and my parents even asked for the recipe after I cooked it for them. It has now entered their regular breakfast repertoire as well, especially when my daughter is visiting. 🙂 As the blogger says, buttermilk seems to make everything moist and delicious.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Magic Tree House Series

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series has been a big hit with my daughter, and luckily (given how many of them there are) they’re easy to find at used book sales. In the books, a pair of ordinary children named Jack and Annie are sent on missions by Morgan Le Fay (and later Merlin) to historical and fantastical locations with the help of a magical treehouse, learning about history, mythology, and science along the way. My daughter also enjoyed the games at MagicTreeHouse.com.

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