Monday, December 22, 2014

It's About Time: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I know I'm about 18 years too late, but this month I finally read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time. One of my flute students let me borrow her copy after we had a great conversation about magical realism and fantasy.

For some reason, I tend not to enjoy reading fantasy, even though I want to. (Same goes for science fiction, come to think of it.) But anyone who reads this site knows I love magical realism. What is it about fantasy that I can't stand, but allows me to enjoy the fantastical elements of magical realism? I'm not sure. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly where the line between the two is drawn. Anyhow, my student made such a compelling case about Harry Potter that I pushed my fears aside and gave it a try.

You guys. I hate reading about witches, wizards, trolls, things like that. Sports events, too. All of those things are present in this book, but it isn't described in so much detail that I lost interest. Somehow, everything I don't like about fantasy novels worked here. The book feels much more based in reality than I expected it to, and as my student pointed out, it helps that the reader learns more about the wizarding world as our young protagonist does. We're in this with him together.

I liked that Harry is a somewhat normal kid, in many ways. He has a mischievous streak. He makes mistakes. He disobeys his elders when he thinks he knows better. Snape was interesting to me, too; he hates the Potters so deeply, but that doesn't get in the way of doing the right thing. I'm looking forward to seeing how his character develops.

Is everything that comes out of Dumbledore's mouth quotable? Some of my favorites:
  • "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."
  • "Ah, music . . . A magic far beyond all we do here!'
  • "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."
The ending wraps up well enough to be able to set the series aside for a bit, which is nice. I'm hooked, though, and I'll definitely be reading on!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kidlit Review: Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki

Title: Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
Author: Chieri Uegaki
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Publisher: Kids Can Press

August 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
Memories of time spent in Japan visiting her grandfather, a professional violinist, inspire Hana to play her violin in her school talent show, even though she's only had a few lessons. Hana spends every spare moment practicing, despite unsupportive comments from her brothers, and finds a way to face her own performance anxiety the day of the show.

The illustrations are stunning, and I especially appreciated Leng's attention to accurate details: the violin and the bow are shown in the correct hands, music notes are properly drawn. Uegaki's use of language is beautifully descriptive: "From his study, the clear, bright notes would drift upstairs, through the shoji screen doors to where Hana slept on sweet-smelling tatami mats, and coax her awake as gently as sunshine."

If you've ever heard a beginning violinist, you know just how terrible it can sound — all the scratches and squeaks. Instead of performing a classical piece she isn't ready for yet, Hana uses her imagination to play the best of her ability. She uses her violin to make simple but wonderful connections between music and the world around her, and shares that with her audience.

This sweet, inspiring picture book would make a great gift for younger children just starting out in music lessons, regardless of instrument.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Title: The Strange Library
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Ted Goossen
Illustrator: Chip Kidd
Publisher: Knopf

December 2, 2014

I purchased a copy of this book.

Find it on:

Let me start out by commenting on the physical book itself. It has thick pages and opens in an odd way:


The top flap made a nice built-in bookmark. The inside is pretty interesting, too. It's set in Typewriter. The font size gradually changes up until the end, and there are also some variations in color throughout. The book is generously full of full-page color illustrations.

The Strange Library is "a fantastical illustrated short novel about a lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man who plot their escape from the nightmarish library."

"So you'll stay and read?"

 Holy moly, I've read pretty much everything by Murakami and as I was I reading, I was thinking, "this is one weird, creepy story." Yet there's still a lightness about it. How does he do that?! It's exactly the kind of offbeat writing you expect from Murakami.

Although this a quick read, it made me think. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but there is an entire scene that starkly (and at the same time, gently) criticizes the culture of obedience. And the very last page, which I almost didn't notice at all, socked me in the gut and made me want to re-read the whole thing. . .but I can't. I'm not ready yet, because of the way that final page changed my entire perspective.

Quite a meaty read for a short story.

Friday, December 12, 2014

#AMonthofFaves: Picking Favorites

There were a lot of great posts this second week of A Month of Favorites, but my favorite by far was:

5 Most Useful Blogging Tools

by Valeria at A Touch of Book Madness

This is such a helpful list! I learned about two sites I knew nothing about: Piktochart for creating infographics, and Asana for getting organized. Lately I've been feeling like my notes and reminders for the blog are scattered around in too many places, so I'm going to be spending a chunk of time learning more about Asana in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 5 Most Useful Books in My Music Studio

Today's prompt for A Month of Favorites is 5 Most Useful Digital Lifehacks or 5 Fave [insert something non-bookish here]. I decided to do a mash-up of the two and keep it bookish.

1. The Simple Flute [review] by Michel Debost
When I have a teaching issue (or even a playing issue) related to the flute, this is where I turn first. Everything about the book's organization makes it an easy and quick reference. Debost explains through text and musical examples.

2. Lyric Preludes in Romantic Style by William Gillock
These 24 short pieces for the piano cover all major and minor key signatures. They're imaginative, fun, and impressive, and perfect for intermediate to late-intermediate piano students. My students love playing these, and to be honest, I enjoy playing them, too.

This is by far the best technique book I've found for lever (non-pedal) harp. The organization makes pedagogical sense, the layout is clean and easy to read, and the exercises are far more musically interesting than you'd expect in this type of book. I love that it's spiral bound, so it lays flat on the music stand.

4. The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston
This book is about how students practice, what works and what doesn't, and how to practice efficiently. I continue to refer to it often because Johnston outlines a bunch of musical games and tricks to keep practicing engaging and interesting. These games have proven time and time again to work well with my students (no matter their instrument).

5. The A to Z of Foreign Musical Terms by Christine Ammer
My university flute professor required all of her students to purchase this when we studied with her, and I'm so thankful for that because I use it all.the.time. It's an incredibly slim dictionary, yet every time I've had to look up a musical term, regardless of how rare the term seems, I've found the answer within this book. It's a magical music dictionary!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#AMonthofFaves: A Year in Books Timeline

The month I read the most:
Definitely August: a whopping 15 books!

The month I read the least:
October was a major slump: I only read 3 books.

The month I read my longest book:
February. This surprised me. I didn't realize Fangirl [review] was about 450 pages long!

The month I tried a new genre:
In June I gave fantasy a try with Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane [review].

The month I read the book I liked least for the year:
January. Out of the books I finished rather than set aside, Hands Free Mama [review] was probably my least favorite.

The month I finished a series:
In August I finished up the The Last Policeman series [review] by Ben Winters.

The month I read something I've been wanting to read for a long time:
A three-way tie: In October I read To Kill a Mockingbird, in November The Giver, and in December Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014

1. J. K. Rowling - Yes, yes, I know. I'm so late to the game. I read Harry Potter for the first time this year. This past week, actually. I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series.

2. John Green - I liked The Fault in Our Stars [review] well enough to want to read more by him, and the comments section of my review gave me plenty of suggestions as to what to read next.

3. Maggie Shipstead - Astonish Me [review] was such a great reading experience. I'll have to check out Seating Arrangements sometime soon.

4. Neil Gaiman - I don't prefer to read fantasy, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane [review] makes me feel more open-minded about it in the future. I'm glad this was my first Gaiman read.

5. Rebecca Rasmussen - When I read Evergreen [review], I was impressed by Rasmussen's descriptive setting and her characters. Very satisfying read, and I've heard positive things about The Bird Sisters, as well.

6. Christina Baker KlineThe Way Life Should Be [review] hit me at the perfect time; I was craving a lighter, comfort-type read. Then I learned Kline has plenty of backlist to choose from, too!

7. Mary Doria Russell - Ahhhh The Sparrow [review]. Just phenomenal. I loved it so much I'm almost scared to read more by Mary Doria Russell. My expectations are that high.

8. Caitlin Moran - I know a lot of readers had encountered Moran's writing through her memoir, How to Be a Woman, but she was new to me with How to Build a Girl [review]. Love her boldness!

9. Gene Luen Yang - I blew through my first Yang graphic novel, American Born Chinese [review]. I've heard only enthusiastic comments about Boxers and Saints, so next time I'm on a graphic novel kick, I'll have to remember to reach for it.

10. Mary Roach - On the nonfiction front, I finally got around to reading Mary Roach this year, with Packing For Mars [review]. All of her titles sound fascinating, and her writing style is completely engaging.

Who was your favorite new-to-you author in 2014?