Monday, July 28, 2014

Murder at the Mikado.

Let me be honest...I was reluctant to read this book. However, that's only because I was in the middle of rereading the Harry Potter series and I really didn't want to be interrupted. :) It wasn't that I thought I wouldn't enjoy this third installment in the Drew Farthering mystery fact, I was sure that I would enjoy it. I liked the first book well enough, and the second one was even better.

As it turns out, Murder at the Mikado was my favorite of the three. (Also, this is my favorite cover of the three. It's so moody and classy!)

I loved the theater as a setting. It feels like such a classic mystery setting to me: a play going on, one of the actors murdered, and most of the theater troupe held in suspicion. Combine that with the ongoing setting of 1930s England, and it's pretty much perfect!

After three books, I feel like I know the characters pretty well, though as I've mentioned before, I don't really connect with them. I was a little disappointed with some of Drew and Madeline's behavior toward each other at times...I wish they had been a bit more understanding about each other's feelings. Anyway, they're still cute together. And of course I was glad to read more of Aunt Ruth, who is basically the (more pleasant) Lady Violet of this series.

The mystery kept me guessing until the very end. I had a definite suspicion from fairly early on, but I was completely wrong, as usual! (Yes, it seems that it was just a fluke that I guessed the correct murderer in the last book.) I did have trouble keeping a few of the characters straight: in particular, Benton and Hazeldine. But after one of them faded into the background of the story, that wasn't really an issue anymore.

I really enjoyed Murder at the Mikado. I'm not sure if it's the last book in this series or not...I thought I had read that it was, but I can't seem to find confirmation of that now. It's a good, solid mystery and a satisfying conclusion (if it is indeed the conclusion). I am still curious about Drew's mother, though, and I definitely wouldn't object to another book, especially if they just continue to get better and better! :)

*Note: I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.*

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets {Book + Film}

I'm going to say that this post will probably contain spoilers, and possibly not just ones from this specific book but also from later on in the Harry Potter series. You've been warned! :) I tried to keep the last review spoiler-free, but that gets more difficult the further you get into the series.

I enjoyed rereading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets more than I remembered. :) The series really does just keep getting better as it goes! This book, at its heart, is a mystery novel. And you guys know I love a good mystery (even if I already know how it turns out).

Realization: it was pretty stupid of Harry and Ron to take the flying car to Hogwarts. I know they were panicky and people do dumb things when they're panicky, but still...wouldn't they have thought to wait for Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to come back? It's not like you'd get expelled from school if you were a little late, especially if it was due to something that was out of your control! Anyway, the car does prove rather important in the Aragog situation, so I guess I should be thankful that they did take it. :)

Also, this was the first time I noticed how incredibly suspicious it was that Harry is at the scene of nearly every attack. No wonder people were thinking the worst of him! I probably would have, too, to be honest. He really does have a knack for getting in trouble and for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (And all of the suspicions and whispers against Harry feel like they're foreshadowing when that happens later on in the the Order of the Phoenix, I guess?)

Speaking of foreshadowing, I realized this time how Ron takes up for Hermione, even this early in the series. Maybe even more than Harry does, even though Ron and Hermione were also a lot more likely to disagree and be angry with each other than Harry and Hermione. Also, it's sweet that Ginny has a crush on Harry. :)

Professor Lockhart is one of the most hilarious and obnoxious characters ever. The more we get to know him, the more obvious it is that he's bluffing, so I've never really understood why Hermione continues to look up to him. She's usually the first one to notice little things like that.

Of course I love Dobby so it's awesome to meet him, and I absolutely love the way this story ends for him. :) I've also always loved the Polyjuice Potion parts, for some reason.

One thing I was wondering, though I had never thought about it before...exactly how old are Voldemort and Hagrid? I mean, if they went to school together when the Chamber of Secrets was opened fifty years ago, then they have to be in their early-to-mid-60s, and I just can't comprehend that. I've never really thought about Voldemort's age because he was so messed up anyway, and it's not like he would look his age. But Hagrid?? 62 or 63 years old? I just don't see that! I always thought he was about 50 at the oldest, or even closer to the age of Harry's parents. I guess it's not really a big deal, but it bugs me a bit. :) {I did some poking around online and apparently in the HP world giants have a longer lifespan, so since Hagrid is half-giant, I guess maybe he ages more slowly than humans. Hm.}

Like the first film, I think this one is pretty accurate to the book. After the second book, it seems like the movies vary when it comes to how good the book-to-film adaptation is, though I still find them all really entertaining. Maybe it's because after these two, the next couple of movies had different directors?

I feel like Mrs. Weasley in the movie was a little more lenient about the boys rescuing Harry in the flying car. Instead of being angry she was sort of...bemused? Also, the scene with Harry eavesdropping on the Malfoys in Knockturn Alley doesn't even happen in the film, so what was the point of having Harry even go there?

The kids all look and sound so much older than they did in the first film! Especially Draco- he looks unusually tall in the scene in Flourish and Blotts, compared to the other kids (so much taller that I almost wonder if that scene was filmed later on in the production, after he hit a growth spurt or something?). Ron is the master of looks of terror and high-pitched sounds of fright. Ha. :) It seems like in every other scene in this movie, he looks horrified about something. Another thing I appreciate about the HP films is that they basically kept most of the same actors playing the students through the whole series. I love watching all of the classmates grow up through the films. :)

I liked the subtle little mention of Percy's girlfriend, Penelope Clearwater. She's focused on a bit more in the book, but in the film you see Percy walking down the hallway with a girl who he refers to as Penelope. (Is she even petrified in the film? I don't remember it happening...if it did, it must have been brushed over quickly.)

Having recently finished watching the first season of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, of course I recognized Phryne's aunt as Professor Sprout in this movie. :) The guy who plays Lockhart is perfect in that part. Apparently the first choice for Lockhart was Hugh Grant? Hm...that seems weird to me.

As with the first film, the end scene in the Chamber of Secrets is embellished a bit to make it more dramatic onscreen. :) And of course the absolute end, with Hermione and Hagrid coming back makes me all teary-eyed. I can hardly stand the idea of teddy-bear-ish Hagrid at Azkaban!

How do you feel about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Yarn Along

Reading: Murder at the Mikado, by Julianna Deering. I'm very reluctantly taking a break from rereading Harry Potter to read this book. (I received it to review a few weeks ago, so I needed to get a start on it.) I'm not very far in...I'm sure it'll be great, but I'm just really more in the mood for Harry Potter right now. :)

Knitting: A cowl from my most recent handspun. From this picture you can get an idea of how bright it is in certain sections. That bit of orange is particularly eye-burning, ha!

{Yarn Along is a weekly link up hosted by Ginny where you can share what you've been knitting and reading.}

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone {Book + Film}

So...I've officially started my summer of Harry Potter. One hat has been knitted, nearly two books have been read, and the first film has been watched. (And I'm listening to one of the soundtracks as I write this, to get me in even more of a HP mood.) Today it's time to talk about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

My main thought about the book and movie: they make me feel so nostalgic. Even though I've acquired a hardcover of this first book since I last reread the series, I decided to read my old paperback copy instead of the hardcover one. And I'm so glad I did. That little paperback with the yellowing pages and barely visible dog-ear folds (yes, I dog-eared my pages back then, but I would never do that now!) smells like my childhood. :)

I have so many memories connected to this series. I definitely grew up with Harry Potter...I read the first book when I was 8 or 9, and I was 16 when the last book came out.

Okay, on to the actual book. While it's not my favorite of the series, I still love it. There's a lot of world-building going on, and it makes me appreciate the magical world that J.K. Rowling created. Everything fits together so beautifully...and for me, personally, it's an easier world to slip into than say, the world of the Lord of the Rings. Maybe it's just because J.R.R. Tolkien was so obsessive with details, or maybe it's because the world of Harry Potter is still set in a real-life place and time.

I loved meeting all of the characters again, especially the Weasleys. Of course, there are many details in the books that get left out of the films, and it's so nice having that extra information and backstory. I love Rowling's writing style. I had forgotten how lovely and subtle the humor is. But most importantly, she doesn't dumb things down for children like so many writers tend to do. The Harry Potter books don't feel like "children's" books to me...they just have this timeless quality that appeals to all ages.

I loved rereading these lines that are so familiar to me. I would get to a part and be reminded of a specific line that was ingrained in my memory, and I would think, I wonder if that line is in this book or a later one? And then a few sentences later, there it would be. :)

While reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this time, I wasn't very focused on the plot about the stone and Fluffy and the suspicions about Snape. I was as a kid, and I know I'll probably be more invested in the main plot lines in the later books. (I will say that I definitely noticed some foreshadowing and little things that proved significant in later books.) But this time, with this book, I was just soaking in the familiar, cozy feeling of the story. The way that she describes the cushy arm chairs by the fire in the common room, and the food they eat at feasts, and the handknit sweaters from Mrs. Weasley. It feels so wonderfully homey and comfortable and English. :) Also, it made me so anxious for fall and winter, even more so than I already was.

I watched the film adaptation the evening after I finished reading the book. It made me think of the first time I ever saw the movie. Back in 2001 when it was released, my brother and I won tickets to go see it in theaters. A local radio station was giving away four tickets and a HP prize pack...all you had to do was call in and answer the question that they asked. I knew the answer but was too chicken to call in, and my younger brother didn't know the answer but was willing to call the station (the question was so simple...what was the name of Harry Potter's school?). Somehow he managed to get the line and we won! :) I was the only one in my family who ever read the books (though I tried to get my brother to...I remember giving him a quiz about it, which is probably what scared him away from reading them, ha), but we always went to see the films at the theater after that.

I jotted down some random thoughts while watching the movie, so here goes...

Dudley is the most obnoxious child ever! He's bad enough in the books, but somehow seeing it onscreen makes him even more horrible.

Speaking of children, Harry, Ron, and Hermione look so tiny in this movie! Especially when they're walking down hallways with older students...they just look impossibly small. And sometimes their acting is a bit cheesy, but that's okay. They're just kids, after all. Also, the CGI isn't the best, but it's not really distracting.

It seemed like it took so long for Hagrid to tell Harry about Voldemort and how his parents really died. I think in the book he explained all of that in the shack, but in the movie it takes forever. Hagrid is cast perfectly, as are all of the teachers and staff at Hogwarts. Actually, all of the casting is perfect. (Though I will always prefer Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Richard Harris just came across as a little too weak and feeble and he didn't really capture Dumbledore's sense of humor.)

Just like with the book, you can pick up on little things when you watch it knowing what to expect. You notice little clues, like with Snape and Quirrell at the Quidditch match. I also realized this time that the film ending is a lot more dramatic than the book ending. Instead of just turning red and blistering, the villain's face (not saying any names just in case anyone doesn't know the story) basically turns to dust and falls apart. I guess that's more exciting? :) Also, Harry is a bit more of a hero and defeats the villain entirely instead of just passing out halfway through the confrontation...

I always tear up a little at the end when Neville is awarded the ten points for standing up to his friends. I do love rooting for an underdog, and Neville is one of my favorites. I just love him. :)

I feel like this first film, of all of the films, is probably the most accurate to the book, and I appreciate that. But I still think you're missing out on so much if you just see the movie and never read the book!

Well, so much for a proper review...this was basically just a lot of rambling thoughts. How does one even go about reviewing something as classic and amazing as Harry Potter, anyway?

What do you think about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? What do you like (or dislike) about the book or the film? Is it one of your favorites or least favorites of the series?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Spinning: circus handspun.

This week I finished spinning eight ounces of Falkland wool from Spun Right Round (I love that shop).

It started out as this fiber. I don't usually choose colors that bright, but something about this colorway (called Circus) sucked me in right from the beginning. I decided to get two braids instead of one, so I'd have a bit more fiber to work with. The color repeats were the same, though one of them had more of a softer pink and the other had a brighter reddish pink...I decided to spin them together so any differences would be evened out.

After fractal spinning worked out so nicely with my mountain stream yarn, I decided to try it again. I was hoping it would balance out the brightness of this fiber. It did to some extent, but since the color repeats were a bit shorter and because the colors are so bright, it didn't work out quite as I expected it to. Anyway, I still love how the yarn turned out.

The bobbins with my wheel aren't really big, so I had to split the yarn into two skeins when the bobbin filled up. The first skein was 148 yards, the second was 186 yards, and Andean plying the leftover singles gave me 50 extra yards. So around 384 yards total, and it's somewhere around a DK weight.

I was planning on using it for a small shawl, something like this one. But with the way the colors mingled up, I thought it might be better to knit it into something a bit more narrow. So I finally decided on a cowl I've been wanting to knit with handspun for a while now: Totally Biased. I've already started on it, and it is bright, but I think it'll be fine.