Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I can’t believe I’m doing two posts in one day, but I couldn’t let this day pass by without comment! I’ve never been a huge Harry Potter fan, but as a lover of children’s literature and the reading community, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to engage in lots of fun book excitement. My best friend (pictured below in the photo on the right) and I attended two Harry Potter events on Saturday night. He’s a proper Gryffindor. I don’t have any HP paraphernalia so I borrowed his Gryffindor scarf even though I’m pretty sure I’m Ravenclaw… The local independent bookstore had ambitious plans at a large park in the city. We checked it out for a couple hours, but with 12,000+ attendees we weren’t able to participate in any of the activities (I think had more fun catching Pokemon, haha). We certainly weren’t planning to wait in line to get the book at midnight so around 11:00PM we headed over to the bookstore where my sister works. She dressed as Luna for her store event. I read a few pages before going to bed, just to get an inkling of what the play was going to be about.  I finished reading it in the morning.

SPOILERS PAST THE PHOTOS!!

There were many twists and turns where I gasped and cackled. I had absolutely no expectations for the story so nearly everything that happened was a surprise for me. My sister asked me if the story was any good and I said I wasn’t sure. It was certainly entertaining, but was it a quality continuation of Harry Potter’s story? I’ll come back to that question in a moment. Part way through I finally predicted that Delphi would be Voldemort’s daughter and that’s where things started to fall apart for me. Voldemort having a child doesn’t jive for me. The plot felt improbable and a bit melodramatic. I found some emotion in the story (largely in interactions between the adult characters we know and love), and I would still like to see the play performed, but story wise I don’t feel like this adds a lot to the canon. It’s great to have a bit about what the characters are up to as adults. But the dramatic plot feels forced and a touch fanservice-y to me (especially with the alternate timelines). Overall, I had fun reading this just to see what would happen. I don’t think it’s adding a whole lot to the Harry Potter Canon, though.

Did you participate in any release festivities? Have/will you read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? 

2016 Mid-Year Check In

Here we are now in July, rolling down the hill of 2016. Time for the mid-year review! I find it difficult to think this is the first full year where I won’t engage in any formal education. The school year has nothing to do with my own plans. I began private tutoring a couple weeks ago and I started working another part job this week. I’m finding myself with more work hours than I anticipated. I know saving cash for grad school is my priority now, and more work is a good thing, but I wonder how it’s going to affect my blogging. I might need a few more weeks to settle into a new schedule (especially since I plan on spending many weekends at the lake!). Anyway! How am I doing on my 2016 goals?

  • 64 posts (8/month when not travelling, twice a week, ideally one review and one other) – My two non-travelling months (January and June) were pretty well on track with this goal. July’s not off to a solid start, though I should be back on track by the end of the month.
    • Improve writing style (be more precise, use less words) – I’ve done a lot of posts this year, including reviews and responses, that I’m pretty proud of. I think I’m making progress here (though you wouldn’t know it from this post, haha).
    • Be more engaging (in posts and comments) – Bit by bit I’m working on this. I couldn’t do it so much in the first half of the year, but I’m trying to be more active on Twitter, find new blogs to follow, and leave more thoughtful comments.
  • 55 books read (updated to 84 books) – I read 29 books while travelling, which was 29 more than I planned on, so I updated my goal when I returned. I’ve read 46 books so far, putting me 3 books ahead of the new goal. Hooray! I couldn’t be picky with what I read while travelling, so I haven’t made a lot of progress on the goals below. I think I can catch up on them by the end of the year, though. On the goals below, I’m not counting The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, which I read annually.
    • 2/10 books reread – I’ve reread two books: Charlotte’s Web and A Darker Shade of Magic. I haven’t yet reread any of the books I actually put on the list.
    • 0/5 Japanese spirituality books – I’m 0 on this one. Most of the books I’ll borrow from a local university. I received one of the books on the list as a gift while travelling. I plan to tackle that one soon.
    • 1/6 Tolkien-related books – I read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (which I just realized is also a reread).  Most of the books on this list I have at home, so I should be making progress on this goal soon.
    • 3/5 Canadian Indigenous books – On track. Hopefully I can easily surpass 5!

This time last year, I talked about quality vs. quantity and recapped the ratings of the books I’ve read so far. I didn’t delineate ‘read better books’ as a goal this year, because I have no idea how to do that other than by reading more books, but let’s take a look anyhow…

  • I’ve read 9 ★★★★★ books, including 4 rereads. 5/8 five-star reads last year were rereads, so this is a small improvement.
  • I’ve read 19 ★★★★ books. That’s also an improvement over last year, by 4 books.
  • I’ve read 9 ★★★ books. That’s two less than last year. I really wanted to read less three-star books and more four- or five-star books, so it looks like I’m doing well!
  • I’ve read 5 ★★ books. One more than last year. Three were books I read while travelling because that’s what was around. Two were books I was really interested in but they didn’t live up to my expectations.
  • I’ve read 1 ★ book. Oops. The pretty cover and description lead me to request an ARC that turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve read in the past few years.

Looking at my 2016 Goodreads shelf reminded me of all the great books I’ve already this year. I feel like I’m doing better than in 2015. How is your reading going this year? Are you keeping up with any challenges, goals or resolutions?

Wrapping Up 2015, Looking Forward 2016

Welcome to my sixth annual review of the year past and the year to come. I’ve now got one full year of book blogging under my belt, albeit a frequently disrupted year from moving and travelling. How did I fare in 2015?

I read 77 books, falling just shy of my GoodReads challenge (80 books). I participated in three year-long challenges, as well as three of my own personal challenges. (I sort of dropped out of the CBC Monthly Reads challenge back in June.) I also participated in three events – April and October Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon and Armchair BEA. My goal had been to also participate in a Literary Blog Hop, Non-fiction November, and A Month of Faves (December) but I hadn’t anticipated conflicts with my travels and coursework.

In my mid-year review, I adjusted my Japan books goal down to three and said I was on track for all the others. Shortly after uprooting myself from Japan, I fell off that track. Let’s review:

    • Re-read: 10/12. I didn’t manage more than 12, but it’s an improvement over 2014.
    • TBR Pile: 6/12. While I only completed six books, I did give four more serious efforts and found them not to my liking. Therefore, I cleared 10 books that long languished on my TBR, so I’ll consider that a success.
    • Foodies: 4/4. I made the short end of this goal, squeaking into the Pastry Chef category.
    • Indigenous authors: 3/5. I had two books sitting on my nightstand for weeks to make this goal (Three Day Road and The Revolution of Alice) but I didn’t make it happen.
    • Tolkien: 5/6. Close but no cigar! I didn’t read The Hobbit, On Fairy Stories, or The Road to Middle-Earth. And of course, I didn’t read The Silmarillion… Well, 83% is still okay. 😛
    • Japan: 3/3 – I read one book about Koya-san and two books at the Shikoku Henro. 
    • 8 posts/month: After moving back to Canada, I thought I would discount July and August, therefore aiming for 80 posts. Once again I lacked the ambition to see that through. As for bracket of posting twice a week (one review and one other), I didn’t get that balance, either. HOWEVER, I do think my writing style (in reviews, at least) has improved a smidge…maybe? 

    That’s the end of 2015. While writing this post, it sounds like I failed at a lot of the things I wanted to accomplish. I’m not feeling too down about it, though. I know I improved in various areas over 2014. I finally acknowledge to myself that I have a problem with completing things (from eating the last bite of supper to completing a goal to finishing a paper on time). This problem affects all areas of my life. I want to tackle it next year, and not just dismiss it as some weird form of nihilism, like I usually do (“What’s the point in making this goal? No one cares but me. It doesn’t really matter.”). I don’t want to find myself losing my good habits halfway through the year, unable to recover them again until the New Year provides a fresh start.

    I will be travelling in New Zealand and Australia from February to May. To be cautious, I will assume I don’t complete any reading during these months (my time will be largely preoccupied by WWOOFing and outdoor adventuring). After returning, I hope to find work teaching English while I apply for grad school. I’m not sure how work will affect my reading habits. I liked my goals from this year and I think they would have been easily manageable had I better spirits. Keeping all these factors in mind, here are my general blogging + reading plans for next year:

    • 64 posts (8/month when not travelling, twice a week, ideally one review and one other)
      • Improve writing style (be more precise, use less words)
      • Be more engaging (in posts and comments)
    • 55 books read, including…
      • 10 books reread
        • Not counting regulars (White is for Witching, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
      • 5 Japanese spirituality books
      • 6 Tolkien-related books
        • Not counting regulars (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings)
      • 5 Canadian Indigenous books

    I am not actively planning to take part in any challenges (Foodies Read and TBR Pile Challenge will no longer be hosted by their creators) or events (sadly travels will interfere with the next 24 Hour Read-a-thon, a Tolkien Reading Event, and Armchair BEA) but I will participate as they catch my eye. Here’s to all the books read in 2015, and the gems to be found in 2016! Happy New Year. See you on the other side.

    Dishes from Quick and Easy Thai

    Back in May, I reviewed Nancie McDermott’s Quick and Easy Thai. Now that I’m back at home, I’ve made a few meals from this book using a new wok (how did I ever cook without one?!). Here are some snapshots of the recipes I’ve made. I usually forget to take pictures until I’ve already started to eat so some of them aren’t as nicely staged as they might have been 😛 

     Green curry chicken with zucchini (gaeng kio wahn gai): The first recipe I made in the wok, and also my first Thai curry from scratch. I followed the recipe pretty closely because of that. I found the curry thinner than I like, so after a bit of Googling I think next time I’ll try heating the coconut milk longer or straining a bit off. I used regular eggplant, but next time I want to try the Thai eggplants (green and golfball sized). Zucchini and eggplant make for a great green curry.
     Rice soup with chicken, cilantro, and crispy garlic (kao tome gai): McDermott knew just how to appeal to me when she described this recipe – “Simply delicious and simple to make, this is Thai-style comfort food. […] It’s the first choice when Thais cook for someone who’s under the weather, but I make it whenever we need a quick and hearty one-dish supper that satisfies us all.” I loved this soup. The cilantro adds a flavour I don’t usually have in my home cooking. My parents also like to mix in some Thai sweet chili sauce. I’m making this for lunch after I finish this post!
     Chicken with cashews and chilies (gai paht meht mamuang himapahn): I made this dish last weekend. I stopped by a Chinese market to pick up the chilies. I’d never been to one of the markets in Chinatown before (Chinatown being a very small part of my city), but I think I’ll be shopping there more often in the future! I love the spicy chilies. I don’t much like hot sauce (ex. Tabasco) but I love the flavour of spicy Thai food.

    All of these recipes were indeed quick and easy. The only time needed is the time it takes to cook the rice! The ingredients may be simple but they all pack that flavourful punch I love in Thai food. I realize now that I should maybe try some recipes without chicken… I would certainly recommend this cookbook for beginning Thai chefs.

    Response: Understanding Éowyn, Part Three

    Part One (Éowyn’s grief) | Part Two (Éowyn as a war bride)

    In this series, I respond to articles about Éowyn in order to develop a more nuanced view of Éowyn, so I can better inform my opinion of her and understand her role in Middle-Earth. Ultimately, I’d like to settle whether I can successfully argue Éowyn is a feminist icon (or conclude that that’s an unwinnable debate) through examining various facets of her character.

     
    Hatcher, Melissa McCrory. “Finding Women’s Role in The Lord of the Rings.” Mythlore 25.3/4 (Spring/Summer 2007): 43 – 54. Mythopoeic Society. Web.

    • Hatcher’s perspective: Éowyn is “a complete individual” (53) who best embodies “Tolkien’s highest ideal: a fierce commitment to peace” (43).
    • I appreciate Hatcher’s caution that we (Tolkien apologists) cannot fall back on presentism, as it neither “adequately explains Tolkien’s own sexism” nor does it “take seriously the powerful female characters in The Lord of the Rings” (44). Hatcher and I agree that Tolkien’s work and characters “should be judged on their own internal merit, without considering the biography of its the author” (44).
    • Hatcher draws many comparisons between Éowyn and Sam, arguing that while the two embody many of the same ideas, Éowyn “enacts in brief what Sam epitomizes throughout the entire work” (45). Hatcher sharply observes that critics view Sam’s transformation as heroic but Éowyn’s as submissive. 
      • Both exemplify all six of Gregory Bassham’s “keys to happiness in Middle-Earth”, where few other characters do (44).
      • Both have the goal of preserving Middle-Earth’s cultural memory. (45)
        • “In fighting both to participate in and to recount the story, Éowyn embodies the persistent struggle of women in the West to assert their voices and presence, to avoid erasure, and to figure in history (and in fiction) as they do in life” (45).
      • Éowyn’s shadow (vanity, love of glory) and transformation distinguishes her from Sam and makes her a more intriguing character. Hatcher writes, “Sam becomes stronger and wiser, but Éowyn conquers an evil within herself that is not present in Sam…” (51). Personally, Éowyn’s distinguishing complexity is what I appreciate most about her.
    • Now, despite all my talk about separating the writing from the author, I cannot help but think, “Look, Tolkien wrote this! He understands Éowyn’s struggle.”  when I read this retort from Éowyn: “All your words are but to say: you are a women and your part is in the house” (qtd. 47). Éowyn fears “being put in a cage of conventional female submissiveness”; therefore Tolkien recognized on some level this is something some women may fear. (‘How did he reconcile Éowyn’s character with his personal beliefs about women?’ is something I probably shouldn’t think about too much. XP).
    • Hatcher addresses arguments that Éowyn could only be a warrior when she became a ‘man’ by illustrating that Éowyn was portrayed as a warrior from her introduction in the story (49). Additionally, she succeeds at being a warrior because she is a woman, not because she is disguised as a man. 
      • Hatcher’s further exploration of that pivotal scene acknowledges that, through Merry and Éowyn, the reader sees “the presumably weak and ignored as heroes”.
      • Hatcher makes a key statement in this segment: “This defeat of evil in Middle-earth reinforces the idea that women and hobbits can be as valiant at arms at their male compeers, but they – unlike one-dimensional characters such as Boromir or Gimli – are well-equipped to pursue what is essential: peace, preservation, and cultural memory.” 
    • Hatcher addresses Éowyn’s relationship with Faramir, concluding that he wants her to overcome her weaknesses and that he does not oppress her because he understand her as an equal (51). Hatcher also highlights a quote from Jane Chance, who claims the healing of Middle-Earth is embodied by the healing of the two ‘stewards’, Faramir and Éowyn.
    • In one paragraph Hatcher suddenly speaks of the Christian ideal of marriage and Éowyn and Faramir embody that. It seemed out of place and unnecessary.
    • There are a few slips where Hatcher does a poor job at defending Éowyn in greater story context. Hatcher states (as I quoted above) that The Lord of the Ring’s characters should be judged on their own merit. Later on she writes (a sentiment I agree with), “We should not read Éowyn as the ‘only’ female character that is given any significance, but rather, the character Tolkien chose to fulfill his theme of peace” (53).  However, at times Hatcher throws in statements comparing Éowyn to other females in the story, which highlights problematic aspects of Éowyn that Hatcher does not, in my opinion, adequately address.
      • A statement in the very first paragraph best illustrates this: “While a number of critics have accused Tolkien of subsuming his female characters in a sea of powerful men, one heroine, Éowyn, the White Lady of Rohan, is given a full character arc in the novel. ” (emphasis mine) 
      • Hatcher claims Éowyn’s role is central to The Lord of the Rings’ message, as “Éowyn has more speaking lines and appears in more scenes than any other woman [in LotR]” (46). That’s not difficult to do… =.= 
      • One character does not a feminist work make. These statements are not totally relevant to the argument Hatcher is making, and I think her intended argument  (that Éowyn best embodies Tolkien’s ideal of peace) would be stronger without statements that distract to a different argument. 

    Hatcher clearly articulates a number of points in arguing Éowyn’s strength and contribution to The Lord of the Rings. While at times Hatcher drifts away from her argument, I think this article has been the best of the three I’ve read so far in that it helps me to understand Éowyn’s role in context of the greater story.