Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review - The Viscount's Proposal

Original Title: The Viscount's Proposal
Series: The Regency Spies of London, #2
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Published: February 7th, 2017

Publisher: Waterfall Press


This is my third book by Melanie Dickerson, and though I’m willing to give her one more chance, reading Felicity’s story in the next installment of The Regency Spies of London, I think I won’t read anymore by this author. Perhaps it is me, but in two of the three books I read by her, the story was completely predictable (this one included), and although I’ve seen glowing, five star reviews, I can’t give it more than three. Let me explain myself.

In this book, we get to know more about Leorah Langdon, Nicholas’s sister from the first book. I was really eager to read more about her, as I loved her in A Spy’s Devotion, and I had great expectations on her love story, given that the man who would fall in love with her would have to be utterly special, as she wouldn’t accept any less than true passion, after witnessing her parents’ loveless marriage. She’s a strong-willed, spirited young woman. She knows when a rule is worth following, and when it is completely ridiculous or rooted in convention, and she enjoys being unconventional, which is a very modern-day way of thinking, considered out of place in a society like the Regency England one. On the other hand, we have our hero, Edward, lord Withingall, who is exactly the opposite of Leorah. He strictly follows conventions and obeys every rule, reads books about morals, and doesn’t allow himself to do anything that can distract him from his political dignity and career. He speaks his mind, and lives to overcome the scandal that has surrounded his family since his father was killed in a duel with his lover’s husband. He has the talent and the potential to become Prime Minister and doesn’t want anything to distract him from his goal. 

Their story is briefly insinuated in the previous book, when Leorah tells Julia some story to distract her about a man whose hat got ruined when she was riding in Hyde Park and didn’t see him coming; he called her “a reckless hoyden” then, and in this book, we get to know that man was actually Lord Withingall. Right from the start, their encounters are somewhat shocking for him, as she isn’t like any other girl he has ever met, always hearing her saying things that could be considered inappropriate, like calling him a pirate, or an undertaker, for always dressing in black clothes from head to toe, but that’s before they get both involved in the carriage accident in which both are discovered in a compromising position, and hence, gossip and scandal follows. 

There was a point in which I asked, “are they going to explain this any more times?”. I lost track of how many times the carriage accident was explained, over and over again, both by Leorah and Lord Witinghall. I understand that, to avoid a scandal, they kept clinging to their version of what happened, but I think that, after explaining it once, a simple sentence could sum up all the other hundred times they described it, like saying “so Leorah explained to him what had actually happened”, or something of the sort. But instead, we have to read, over and over again, how Leorah broke her wrist when her horse threw her from the saddle and Lord Withingall just happened to be passing by, how the carriage got overturned, how Pugh, the coachman, was killed, how Edward got his leg broken… And there’s a point in which enough is enough. The only moment I justify yet another explanation, because it is actually funny, is when Leorah uses it to provoke Miss Norbury, the woman Edward plans on marrying, because that’s how she is, she enjoys provoking people when they are so stuck to convention and rules, and seeing their reactions. But again, it is like the author tries to convince us, readers, that nothing actually happened in the accident, when in fact, we were there the whole time, and know exactly how things were.

Later on, Lord Withingall discovers that the accident was actually no accident. His carriage was sabotaged as an attempt to kill him. But again, the whole plot around it was absolutely predictable! There was no surprise, whatsoever. The culprits are exactly the suspected ones, and although I was expecting (I don’t know why) some sort of plot twist by the end to prove all of us wrong, there was no such a thing. Perhaps Pinegar’s motive was a surprise, but that it was him, the entire time? No. Villains do not hold any surprise on their identities, you know who they are, and although there is some sort of try into adding a little more suspense, it didn’t work. So, my question is, why trying to create intrigue, if the identities of the villains are revealed from the very first moment? Although they are not said right away, come one, people! It can be seen coming from miles away.

And please, although Rachel Becker wouldn’t say, it was more than obvious than her lover and father of her child was Felton Pinegar! If it would have been Hastings, that would have been a worthwhile plot twist, but no. Again, the author went down the obvious, predictable path.

Oh, and although the series is named The Regency Spies of London, this book has no spying at all, only politics. And there’s also some useless characters that come to the stage, but do absolutely nothing for the story, like Elizabeth Mayson, Felicity’s younger sister, and Miss Agnes Appleby, their aunt. They play no role in the story, they just come into some random scenes, but they don’t add anything new the plot (not in this book, at least, perhaps in the next one they will).

But leaving that aside, let’s go to the part I actually liked very much. Leorah and Edward’s love story is really beautiful, and I loved every minute of it. They are complete opposites, and what enchants Edward about Leorah is that she never feels intimidated by him, and every phrase that could scare away any other woman, for her is a motive of laughter. He sees that she wants her life to mean something, and wants to be loved and wanted utterly for herself. She won’t follow convention just because she has to, and she proved it when she refused his offer of marriage, out of duty. I loved her attitude:

I will not be frightened into making such an important decision simply because idle people have nothing better to do than gossip.” 

It is her unconventionality what makes Edward fall for her utterly and completely. She is unique in a world in which women are only allowed a number of things to do with their lives, being the most important one catching a wealthy husband, and behaving properly, being accomplished in only a few, useless things. But Leorah wants to make her life count, and she doesn’t fear spinsterhood. It’s love or nothing for her, and that’s why I like her. She’s bold and outspoken, and she defies lord Witinghall with her attitude. She’s everything he wouldn’t want in a wife, but discovers she’s worthy of being loved. 

Although short, I loved their brief visit to his castle, and how it was a metaphor of her:

And you don’t think I should change it—flatten those hills over there and make a formal garden?
Oh no. Certainly not. To change the natural landscape would be to take away the wild beauty of the place. Plant a few flowers if you like, but it would be a sin to change the wildness or the freedom of it.

Leorah is beautiful because she’s not formal, and her freedom and wildness are what there’s to love about her. Edward looks at her the entire time as they speak in the castle’s roof, knowing, once more, that he’s lost to her. She took him out of his strict world of rules and stern morals to give him a taste of freedom, and he learned to be a little more like her. His love changed him, and I like when that happens. Otherwise, it is pointless, or it isn’t love.

Their romance has a lot of Jane Austen on it, I recognized lots of things from her books. I never doubted if they would end up together, and there’s some things that bothered me, like his relationship with Miss Norbury. Clearly, he called on her to tell her that he wouldn’t be proposing, after all, but we don’t know for sure. And even by the end of the book, Leorah refused to believe Edward was in love with her, and kept telling to herself why she should care about him, because she actually didn’t… And it kept me rolling my eyes. It gets tiring, and, in my opinion, if there’s something a book shouldn’t be, is repetitive. 

So, in short, I liked this book, but not as much as I was hoping for, and although I will read the next book on the series, just to complete it, I don’t think I’ll read Melanie Dickerson again. If with more than one book, an author proves her stories predictable and somewhat repetitive, then it’s not for me. This one isn’t bad, but it could’ve been better.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review - The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter

Original Title: The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter
Series: -
Author: David Colbert
Published: 2001

Publisher: Ediciones B (Spanish edition)

I read this book when I was a kid, if I remember correctly, I would be around 12 years old. Back then everything that had Harry Potter related to it was a must read (and it still does, but that's another day's tale). And although this book wasn't authorized by J. K. Rowling, it contains an amazing, impeccable research. It covers from The Sorcerer's Stone to The Goblet of Fire, as it was written when those four were the only published books yet. I learned a lot of mythology and literature, from all over the world. But as someone who read Harry Potter as a child, it killed the magic a bit... It is like when the magician reveals his tricks. But still, very good. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review - The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Original Title: The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Series: Hogwarts Library
Author: Joan K. Rowling
Published: 2007

Publisher: Salamandra (Spanish edition)

J. K. Rowling wrote this, what is not to like about it? She proves, once more, what a genius and great writer she is, letting us be a part of this amazing Wizarding World, taking us not only to know the classic fairytales that are usually told to kids, but also meet Albus Dumbledore again, and read his personal notes on some of the tales, always funny and with his own personal style. Of course, do not forget, that we are able to read them because of Hermione Granger’s translation of the runes in which the original versions of the tales were written. And there’s also little mentions, here and there, of characters from the original saga, like Lucius Malfoy (and apparently, their hate and contempt towards muggle-borns can be tracked back for generations, to a man named Brutus Malfoy, who had no qualms about speaking his mind, honoring his name and his future descendants with his cruelty and terrible ideas about what, in his opinions, muggles deserved).

The book includes just five, short stories, and one of the best parts is that they do not feature mild, foolish heroines who wait to be rescued, nor all-powerful heroes in shining armors, but true, deep considerations and metaphors of human nature, which reminds me a quote from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.” (Sirius Black)

Stories like The Wizard and the Hopping Pot and The Warlock's Hairy Heart are those in which that can be seen very clearly, just like in The Tale of the Three Brothers, probably the most famous of Beedle’s tales, thanks to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The stories have those simple, even funny titles, but do not let them fool you. All them go deeper than they suggest, and the whole book, including Dumbledore’s notes, are full of Rowling’s clever, unique phrases she normally uses to tease us, and makes us laugh out loud, like with Beatrix Bloxam’s sweetened versions of the stories, I cracked up, and couldn’t stop! Rowling is a master for that kind of things! She has a subtle way to write humor as no author I’ve ever read, and I love her for that (and for many other things too).

Here, once again, our most beloved Joan does what she does best, and opens the door to this secret world to let us be a part of it in one of its most classic, everyday aspects, as it is bedtime stories. She’s my overall favorite author, and what her stories did in my life is not something I can easily explain. She’s a must-read. I don’t care how old you are, you MUST read J. K. Rowling’s work, or you will miss one of the best, most complex, magical, and wonderful worlds that were ever created!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Witch's Life for Me! - My experience as a proud Potterhead

Before starting this, I should warn you, this may contain spoilers from the whole Harry Potter saga, as it is my general appreciation of it. If I go book by book, I'll probably end up sinking in my own tears of love, joy, and all the emotions the meaning of this story brings up in me.

I don’t know how to start this. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, and my only answer is “just do it”, so I didn’t give it too much thought. You’re about to find lots and lots of feelings in this post. I’m writing this in the middle of a class in which I’m sitting, completely clueless, by the window, as it rains and my mind just slips away to this other, magical world, and how badly I want to be there instead of here. Just like in my entire elementary school, high school, and college. While the professor rattles on and on about something I’m not really listening, my mind wanders far, far away from here, in an amazing world where there’s dragons, wands, magic, and a boy who lived.

I couldn’t have a blog about books, and not have a space in it for the story that has shaped me, that has been with me since… well, forever. I can’t precise how old I was when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, because Harry has always been with me. He has been my constant companion for more years than I can properly count, and that is why, I realized, I’m never going to be able to write reviews on the Harry Potter saga. Literally, never. There’s not enough words in this world to help me to express the thousand times I’ve read each book, the tears (of joy and pain) I shed with every page, and how their true magic filled my life when I most needed it (and still does).

My copies in Spanish of the first three books, read a few too many times
The reason I haven’t been sharing new reviews with you is, simply, because I’ve spent the last few weeks lost in the Wizarding World, re reading, once again, the seven books about Harry Potter’s amazing life. They are more than just stories. They are the perfect example of how, when you read, the power of what’s written goes in both directions. Every time I open one of these incredible adventures, there I am, at twelve, thirteen, fourteen years-old… Going with Harry, Ron and Hermione through the halls of Hogwarts, playing Quidditch for the House Cup, laughing with them as they make up predictions for Professor Trelawney’s class, brewing potions in the dungeons, having dinner in the Great Hall, hanging out in the Gryffindor common room –although I’m a Ravenclaw–… I can’t count the endless times I imagined myself with the Sorting Hat on my head, or trying wands at Ollivander’s…

You need to know, I was a very lonely child at the time I first met Harry. At school, I didn’t have many friends, I was laughed at, and bullied every day, and that left some scars that even today haven’t completely faded. I hated going to school, but I knew, in my heart, something that was always my silver lining. Harry Potter was at home, on my shelf, waiting for me, to take me to his magical world. A world where he was also bullied, lonely (last picked in gym class? Yes, Harry, me too, my entire life), and with no hope of having real friends. I feel I must mention that I used to attend a Christian school, and saying Harry’s name in there wasn’t exactly easy. Many will understand this, as the books were said to be holders of dark magic, and were condemned in many places, so, I couldn’t share Harry in school, as everyone seemed to believe it was the same as summoning the devil. Which means that I was even lonelier, unable to share what I loved so much and made me so happy. Luckily my parents saw the difference, and I could have a truly magical childhood.

I swear I’m trying, but I just can’t do justice to how much the Wizarding World means to me, and what a big part of my life it is. I can’t number the times we discussed the story over dinner, how many conversations kept me and my siblings up late, laughing at Fred and George’s pranks (giving Ron an Acid Pop? Fireworks all over Hogwarts? Just priceless), analyzing Vold… sorry, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s motivations, coming up with theories about what could happen next… Even now, late night conversations about this story still happen, bringing up, for example, how much I see myself in Hermione’s quick answers in class and love for books; how sad I felt when Cedric died so unfairly, when he never hurt anyone; of how much I wanted to visit the Hufflepuff common room (the only one we never saw); how much I hated Cho Chang, but loved her Patronus… And of course, something I never thought I could feel, but I did: 

Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.

Thinking over and over again, I realized of my deep hate for villains like Bellatrix Lestrange and Dolores Umbridge. But, even before knowing Dumbledore’s words, I’ve already felt this. Tom Riddle, even being the darkest mastermind and head villain of this story, NEVER inspired in me anything but sadness and compassion. He never cared about love, and thought power could fill him, gaining, instead, a terrible fear for the unknown. He’s an utterly brilliant character, for the simple fact (and many others, too), that he was scary, powerful, and put an entire world to their knees, but even so, I pitied him. How could I possibly feel that with such a character? It is indisputably the creation of a genius. 

Damn, I told myself there would be no tears, and here they are, streaming down my cheeks… I have a million stories that were born from reading Harry Potter. They are as infinite as if, looking at the sky, you’d try to count the stars. I could talk about so many moments! The Quidditch matches, the Yule ball, the visits to Hagrid’s hut… And the characters! There’s some things I don’t think I’ll ever get over or forgive. Like the deaths in Deathly Hallows, that they ripped my heart out. Or Severus Snape, who, through his story, taught me that heartbreak can make you even stronger. My heart is full of feelings that will never abandon me. Ever. 

Books four, five, six and seven. You can see how years have passed, as the last ones are not so torn apart by the many times they were read.
Whoever says “it is just a story” it is a giant liar. If it was just a story, I wouldn’t have lived what I lived (because that’s what it is: a world that is alive), I wouldn’t have felt each loss as if it was mine, like I was the one losing a friend instead of them, feeling the hole in my chest, and the tears welling up my eyes. I feel this story was written to fall into my hands, it was a world I needed to find. I think that one of the best parts in this experience was to be allowed to enter a world inserted in ours, but ruled by secrecy, not open for everyone; that wonderful feeling of knowing something not everyone knows, being a part of the secret, and knowing that perhaps I could handle myself better there than here. 

And the movies…! I will never forget the excitement and pure happiness of the first one, and I still get goosebumps with that mysterious, music-box like melody that vibrates in my life like the sound of a gong, overwhelming in its pure simplicity, and the promise of a secret, wonderful magic.

J. K. Rowling, wherever you are, I have no idea if you will ever read this, but if you ever do, know that you are my hero, and my inspiration. You must have heard this hundreds of times, but you have touched and shaped SO MANY lives, and I’m proud to be able to count myself among the first generation of readers of your world-changing story. You, not only with Harry, Ron and Hermione, but also with your strength, tenacity and perseverance when you were at your worst, are an inspiration to all of us, who feel like giving up more times that we can count. You and your story reminds us, over and over again, why keeping fighting to the very end is worthy. You made me believe in magic, and taught me how love is the most powerful magic in any world. You gave me hope when I most needed it, and when I felt lonelier than ever, you opened the doors of Hogwarts to take me to an experience that will forever live in my heart. You made me a writer. I decided that’s what I wanted to be because of you, and no story I’ve ever read (and I read many) is like yours. Harry has a place in my life, and heart, that nothing will ever take away.

Even when I think about what to write next, in this, my most important post, all I can think of saying is thank you. Thank you to the boy with the round glasses, for all those wonderful, magical moments, for making me laugh, and for teaching me to be strong, get up, shake the dust, and keep fighting. For making me nostalgic for a place I’ve never really been to, but still feels like home. Thank you, Harry, and J. K. Rowling, for all those years in which you waited for a lonely, bullied little girl, in this far corner of the world, that got home with tears in her cheeks after another horrible day at school, and let her disappear in the pages of a world where no one could follow her, and that she came to understand as a privilege, and made her smile at her worst. 

I wish I could read Harry Potter for the first time again. After all, he was my first fictional crush. But it is wonderful to see how, even years later, the magic hasn’t faded, and never will. I feel it every time I open one of my worn-out copies of the seven books, and I love that feeling that comes when I smile and think “this isn’t the last time I’ll read it.”. The truth is that this long, wordy post isn’t enough, because Harry Potter means more than I can properly express. I tried to get close to that meaning, and even after all this, I feel I left lots of things out. 

Years may pass, and I will still be reading, and crying, and laughing, with every page of this story. I will be forever grateful, and proud to call myself a Potterhead. And if in the future someone asks “After all this time?”, my answer will be the one word in which J. K. Rowling summed up the greatest courage, and the most powerful love:

“Yes. Always.