Tag Archives: reading

Year of the Series

30 Nov

*sweeping arm gesture*

I noticed last year that my bookshelf full of unread books (pictured formerly here, although it’s changed considerably since then) featured a lot of books that were part of a series – notably, a lot of first books of a series. When choosing what to read, I found myself often thinking that I shouldn’t start a series, especially one that I didn’t own beyond book 1, because I had too many other books. I shouldn’t start a path that would take me further from finishing those shelves.


Actual photographic evidence of my shelves.

But as time went by, I collected many first books. And at a certain point, that logic became ridiculous. I’ll never finish all of the books I own, so I might as well enjoy what I’m reading and start a series or two.

So I started calling 2017 (as you might have guessed by the title of this post) The Year Of The Series *sweeping hand gesture*. I didn’t exclusively read serieses, but I made more of an effort to do so.

And boy, am I glad I did. Some amazing highlights from the year:

  • Re-read the entire Harry Potter series, all in a row – which I realized I had never done in one go, let alone as an adult. No words.
  • I’m most of the way through A Series of Unfortunate Events (currently at book 10). I had read the first three as a kid, but didn’t get it. As an adult, you realize it’s not about the story, but about the narration – and it is hilarious and intriguing. Things are finally coming together. I’m enthralled.
  • More Dresden Files. I’ll follow Harry anywhere. I try to spread these out so I’ll always have another one to return to; this year I read books 5-7. Maybe I can squeeze in book 8 before the end of the year.
  • The Iron Druid Chronicles. The first one reminded me of Dresden Lite, and it was just a blast. I got the second one as a surgery recovery present, and while it wasn’t quite as good, it was still fun to return to the characters.

This Year Of The Series, there have also been some clunkers.

  • The Family Trade. I still don’t know what the point of this book was. She spent the whole time coming up with careful plans in case things happened in certain ways. Some of them happened. Most didn’t.
  • A Spell for Chameleon. I literally threw this book across the room when I finished it (and scared Elad in the process) because it was the most sexist pieces of garbage I have ever read. My review gives more detail, but I also highly recommend listening to the episode of I Don’t Even Own A Television in which they discuss the book. Yuck.
  • Phoenix & Ashes, book 3 of the Elemental Masters series. I like Mercedes Lackey, and I enjoyed the first two of the series when I was in college. I don’t know if I grew up, or if book 3 is just worse. Or maybe both?

I’ve also had some fun reading bigger books. I tend to avoid bigger books for carrying comfort purposes, but I’ve been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events on my Kindle – so I can take the Kindle with me, and read something else larger at home. Versatility!

In short, I like books. I like reading them. I may overthink reading them. But I still like it.


Receiving a Random Act of Kindness

3 Apr

Today, something amazing happened.

A few months ago, I signed up to be a beta tester for a site called GiftOn (and if you want to be a beta tester too, you definitely should sign up right now!). It’s a fun concept – people share stories of the best gifts they’ve gotten/received, and users can search for gift ideas by occasion, relationship, type of gift, interests, etc. I’ve submitted two stories so far, and one was a story about taking my boon companion for a bookish birthday:

“My friend and I are huge bookworms. We’ve bonded over books and spent many a happy day wandering bookstores (and lamenting the fact that we can’t afford everything on our to-read list). So for her birthday, I came up with the present I would want to be given myself.

I gave her a homemade coupon for a day out, in which I took us out for a meal (most likely brunch) and then we went to a bookstore – and whatever book she wanted was on me! She loved it and we had a great day together.

This had the bonus of being a shared experience sort of gift as well as having a physical reminder of our fun day out. We both loved it!”

I submitted this story a few weeks ago and got some nice reactions and comments, then gradually forgot about it.

Until today.

Today, the site’s founder (who is a lovely person I networked with on The Job Hunt) sent me an excited email with a subject line I would have rejected as spam from someone I didn’t know: “Surprise gift for you!!! $100 cash for books!!!

I furrowed my brow and immediately opened the email. She was almost as thrilled to write the email as I was to read it – someone had read my story and sent her this note:

“I probably can’t afford her whole to-read list, but I’d like to anonymously offer Allie $100 for her to buy at least a few of the books off her list.”

I sat there blinking for some time, then made some half-choked noises and looked up to see who I could stare at open-mouthed while pointing at my phone. (I did end up interrupting my coworker from dialing in to her conference call. NO REGRETS.)

I can’t get over this. I don’t know who this person is, but they made my entire day. I’ve never been on the receiving end of a Random Act of Kindness quite like this, and it made a grey Chicago day into a snuggly one with the thought of new books.

So, whoever you are – thank you!!! I can’t wait to spend the gift card (which will have a carefully-marked sticky note on it labeled “FOR BOOKS”) at local bookstores that I always want to support but can rarely afford.

I better get reading! There are new books out there waiting to be discovered!


My shelves runneth over. But only a little.

An Open Letter to Lord Voldemort

24 Jan

(Writer’s note: despite the current political climate, I am not in fact referring to anyone other than the fictional character from the Harry Potter books. Seriously. Also, this contains spoilers if you’re one of about twelve people who hasn’t read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)

Dear Lord Voldemort,

I have a bone to pick with you. Well, to be honest, I have some larger issues with your actions and policies, as I am not in favor of a dark wizard overlord spreading fear and death across the land. But there’s something else that’s been bothering me, and I think you need to know. And how else do we learn, if not from our mistakes?

I noticed and laughed about this issue when I first read the book series in which you feature prominently (I assume since good wizards don’t like to say your name, you don’t like hearing your enemy’s name spoken aloud either). Now that I am rereading the series as an adult, I thought I might pick up on some crucial detail I had overlooked as a teenager.

But no. Your mistake still stands.

Let me elaborate.

In The Boy Who Lived and the Goblet of Fire (you’re welcome), you concoct an elaborate scheme to gain access to The Boy Who Lived away from the magical protection of his family at home and of Albus Dumbledore at Hogwarts. This involved the following:

  • Freeing your faithful servant from the oversight of his father
  • Keeping the father under the Imperius Curse and forcing him to continue to work as though nothing were wrong for many months
  • Attacking an advanced Auror
  • Brewing an immense amount of the Polyjuice Potion (an enormously complicated potion to make, as we know thanks to The Boy Who Lived and the Chamber of Secrets)
  • Breaking into the offices of a potential (and suspicious) enemy to get ingredients for this potion for 10 months
  • Keeping the previously mentioned advanced Auror alive but subdued
  • Risking detection throughout the entire school year because of faithful servant’s proximity to your strongest enemy, Albus Dumbledore
  • Tricking an ancient magical object into believing four schools were competing in the Triwizard Tournament to make The Boy Who Lived’s name appear
  • Guiding The Boy Who Lived through not one, not two, but three tasks without appearing to actually do so (which all presented their own difficulties, but this list is getting long)
  • Enchanting the Triwizard Cup to become a portkey right under Albus Dumbledore’s nose
  • Overall, waiting a full year and dealing with many magical trials and subterfuge.

Look, the idea to get Harry to touch the Triwizard Cup and be transported straight to you is a good one. It’s an easy way to get him out of Hogwarts.

But that’s all you had to do – just get him to touch a portkey.

You could have saved yourself one hell of a lot of trouble if you simplified this plan. Your faithful servant might still have had to replace the Auror, to get someone seemingly trustworthy near The Boy Who Lived.

But the Triwizard Cup? Completely unnecessary extravagance.


So extravagant.

Once The Boy Who Lived began to trust your faithful servant, all he would have had to do was offer him a cup of tea. Or a key. Or an old boot, for goodness’ sake.

“Potter, come to my office. Here, have a boot.” WHOOSH. Done.

I mean, we all know that kid can’t keep his hands off of anything. He started writing in your old diary, a strange magical object that he found in a toilet, because he was curious. He fell into Dumbledore’s Pensieve full of his private thoughts literally because it was SHINY.

But maybe Portkeys don’t work inside of Hogwarts, and that’s why it had to be outside in the Quidditch pitch. But again, this seems easy to simplify.

“Potter, come with me. I saw something odd out of my window and we need to investigate. Oh look, there’s a Galleon on the ground over there. All yours, kid.” WHOOSH. Done.

Perhaps you didn’t want your faithful servant and The Boy Who Lived going for a suspicious walk together. But the kid goes to Hogsmeade at every opportunity. If your Portkey worked in the Quidditch pitch, it must be able to work at Hogsmeade.

“Hey Potter, look – there’s a letter on the ground with your name on it.” WHOOSH. Done. (You wouldn’t even have needed to replace Moody at this point. Anyone in Hogsmeade could have left that laying around.)

I understand you have a flair for the dramatic. (And that works for you; it’s hard to be an evil overlord if you don’t let people know about it.) So perhaps his disappearance HAD to be in front of a big crowd. Fine. Your servant literally told The Boy Who Lived what he should do to get through the dragons in the first task and knew he would be summoning his Firebolt. He could offer to carry it down to the first task and enchant it then.

“Accio Firebolt!” WHOOSH. Done.

Before I recently reread the book, I assumed there was some explanation as to why the Portkey had to be placed in the final task of the Triwizard Tournament. Perhaps creating a Portkey is a noticeable magical disturbance, but there were so many spells and enchantments and creatures in the third task that it would go unnoticed. But that’s not even on the table. Here’s what you say to the Death Eaters when you recount your entire plan, Bond villain-style:

“So how could I take him? Why…by using Bertha Jorkins’s information, of course. Use my one faithful Death Eater, stationed at Hogwarts, to ensure that the boy’s name was entered into the Goblet of Fire. Use my Death Eater to ensure that the boy won the tournament – that he touched the Triwizard Cup first – the cup which my Death Eater had turned into a Portkey, which would bring him here, beyond the reach of Dumbledore’s help and protection, and into my waiting arms.” (p. 657)

Voldy, this is overkill. (Although, since you didn’t kill him, I guess it’s underkill?) I understand that you just had to use this kid instead of literally any other enemy you have; it’s very you. But the whole Triwizard Tournament? This is just poor planning.

All in all, I think you should know that your penchant for easily recognizable dramatic plots might get you into trouble someday. Like, if you’re going to, I don’t know, hide pieces of your very soul, maybe just pick an old sock somewhere.

If you want to hold on to your magical empire, play hard to get a little bit.



SO dramatic.

Rereading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as an Adult

3 Jan

I decided to make 2017 the Year of the Series *sweeping hand gesture*, in part because I realized I’ve never read all of the Harry Potter books together as a set. I’ve read each one individually anywhere between two and fourteen million times, but never as a set and not really as an adult. So I began to wonder, would the books hold up? Would Adult Allie find them as fun, wonderful, and, well, magical?

Adult Allie found out the answer, at least for Book 1: it’s not as good as I remembered – it’s BETTER. (And this is saying something, considering the level of Young Allie’s obsession.)

It helps that rereading Sorcerer’s Stone came in the form of the Illustrated Edition, with absolutely gorgeous artwork from Jim Kay. Next time you find yourself at a bookstore, flip through a few pages. It is worth ogling.

But I couldn’t help noticing things a little differently as an adult. For example (please note, if you are one of approximately seven people left on earth who hasn’t read this book, please skip due to spoilers):

  • The Mirror of Erised is so much more dangerous than I realized as a kid. I mean, of course I wanted things as a kid, but they fell more along the lines of “a Furby” or “summer”. As an adult, I think about what I might see in the Mirror and how easily a person could waste away staring into its depths.
  • Where do hand-me-down wands come from? A recurring theme of the book series is that the wand chooses the wizard, and wizards are significantly more powerful when using their correct wand. But if Ron is using his older brother Charlie’s wand, why did Charlie get a new wand – and thus have an old wand for Ron to use?
  • Hagrid kind of has an alcohol problem. I mean, he drinks A LOT. After he and Harry go to Gringotts and he feels sick from the carriage ride, he sneaks in a quick day drink while Harry gets measured for his robes. Not to mention he lets slip the trick of getting past Fluffy to a MYSTERIOUS STRANGER entirely due to alcohol.
  • I know this comes more into play throughout several of the later books, but it is incredible to me that Ron doesn’t have more of an inferiority complex between his brothers and Harry. For goodness’ sake, when he exits the Hogwarts Express, his own little sister – who hasn’t seen him in almost a year – is pointing out Harry Potter instead of Ron. I commend Ron immeasurably for not flipping over his cart right then and there.
  • I find Malfoy less of a villain and more of a pathetic kid. It’s so interesting how I just want to laugh at him instead of punch him now. I think that means I grew up!
  • When Harry and Hermione bring Norbert up to the roof so Charlie’s friends can take him, they risk expulsion (and they do get caught and lose enormous amounts of points from Gryffindor). But why couldn’t Hagrid take Norbert to the roof, thus saving Harry and his friends the trouble? Harry and Hermione used the invisibility cloak, so it could be argued that Hagrid wouldn’t have fit under it – but he wouldn’t need it. Hagrid ain’t no student, so he wouldn’t get in trouble.
  • No wonder J.K. Rowling started writing mysteries after this – she is a masterful mystery writer, even though this is considered a Fantasy book. Just look at the Gringotts break-in. Harry realizes it’s so obvious that Quirrell had tried to steal the Stone just after they met at the Leaky Cauldron, but think of all the other people he met at the Leaky Cauldron and throughout Diagon Alley that day. You hardly even remember!
  • Let’s all remember the time Fred and George Weasley hit Voldemort in the face with snowballs.


And finally, I’d like to wish for us all to be more like Dumbledore in this book: wiser than we let on, humbled by ourselves and those around us, and never taking ourselves too seriously.

A Year in Books

31 Dec

This year, I tackled a book challenge with an awesome friend of mine. The challenge wasn’t by number of books (I did the 50 book challenge in 2013 – I made it, but I was super stressed); instead it was by categories. Look how I did!


Overall, this was a fun new way to think about my bookshelves. I really enjoyed filling in the categories and finding books that interested me at the same time.

Some highlights:

  • The Mistborn trilogy (a book with more than 500 pages, a book with magic, and a trilogy). The first book had been sitting on my shelf for a year or two before I decided to try it out, and I think without the challenge I would have been missing out on it for another several years to come. I wrote a previous blog post about feeling emotionally invested in this series, and the ending of the trilogy found me sobbing. Incredible.
  • A Wrinkle in Time (a book from your childhood). I had started it with my mom when I was a kid and never finished it – even though when we started reading it, she flipped ahead to the end and gasped because she remembered the ending from when she was a kid, but could never remember which book it was. Loved having an excuse to get back to it and find out what that ending was.
  • Neverwhere (a book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet). I have a distinct memory of staring intently at the pages while sitting at the kitchen table of my old apartment when I had finished dinner but couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it too.
  • You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) (a funny book). Charming!
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (a book that became a movie). Just fun.

I never planned on finishing the entire challenge, since it asked for 50 books and I had no intention of reading that many. But I think 36 is a pretty solid number and I’m proud of it. I had plans for some of the categories, and I’m a little bummed I didn’t get to them. Some unfinished business:

  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book: All The Light We Cannot See
  • A book based on a true story: 1776
  • A book written by an author with your same initials: The Dragon Queen (happened to see it sitting on my shelf, written by a fellow AB)
  • A book you started but never finished: Dune (a friend of mine has a theory that everyone reads less than 100 pages of it and gives up, then years later reads it and loves it – I’ve done step one…)

And there were a few categories I had no aim to fulfill:

  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t. I read every book I was supposed to in school. (I guess I could have read a book other classes read that I never did, but still. I was a good student.)
  • A book that scares you. I have a book I’m scared of because it’s a massive hardcover (The Crimson Petal and the White). I’m less scared of the content and more scared of the shoulder pain I’ll have from carrying it around in my purse.
  • A book with bad reviews. Life is too short, man.

I also had an excellent encounter this year for which I can thank this challenge. I read Every Day Is A Holiday, and thought I could finagle it into the “a book with antonyms in the title” category, but it was debatable. The author is self-published and mentioned in the book (which was a very fun read) that he enjoyed receiving emails from readers. So I emailed him for his opinion and we had a lively debate in which I presented my case Supreme Court-style, and as judge, he ruled against me. He pointed out that “every day” is not “everyday” and that I might as well try to argue “each ice cream flavor is different” is comprised of antonyms. Fair point, George. Fair point. Into “a book set in a different country” for you.

Overall, this was a fun year of reading. May 2017 bring good books for us all. (And some other nice things too, please.)

Read ‘Til You Cry. Or Laugh. Or Whatever.

2 Dec

Those of you who know me might have a teeny tiny suspicion that I like to read books. I may or may not have an overflowing bookshelf of books I have purchased and haven’t read yet (which I’ve calculated would take me four years to read straight through). I may or may not have active GoodReads, LibraryThing, and PaperbackSwap accounts. I may or may not have a pin that declares I am not a bookworm, I am a book dragon. I may or may not pick my purse based on the size of my book. I may or may not have purchased a Kindle for my six months spent in Israel and considered it a lifesaver.


Just maybe.

I’m currently reading the third book of the Mistborn trilogy – The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson. Each of the three books has had a similar trajectory for me. The beginning is interesting, but not thrilling. The middle starts to get more interesting. About two-thirds of the way through, I have a physical gut reaction to a plot twist. And then I cannot put down the book until the end.

The plot twist has gotten a more severe reaction from me each time. In the first book, I genuinely didn’t believe that it had happened and was convinced something else was about to be revealed. In the second book, I actually gasped and quietly said “No!” out loud. In the third book, I read it just before bedtime and literally lost sleep because I kept thinking about it and muttering “whyyyyyy” into my pillow.

I generally take it as a good sign for a book when it can elicit a physical reaction. Some books that made me cry include Watership Down by Richard Adams and The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs in hope, and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in sadness (DAMMIT RUE). Books that have given me chills include The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Books that still make me smile fondly include Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

So, what books have made you react outside of your head? I love a good recommendation.

Just maybe.


One final thought with which to leave you. (Thanks for sending, Shelby!)