January books

I really do mean to update this more regularly. I finished three books in January. 🙂

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I read The Winter of the Witch on eBook but the cover is stunning!

1. The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

This is one of my mother-in-law’s most beloved books and she lent me her treasured copy in the fall. I waited until it was good and cold and began it on January 1st. What a pleasure it was to read! We trace a family through several generations in England. The descriptions are delicious, and although I made a wee bit of fun of the author for all the wooden scrubbed tables she mentions (do you all have any other kind of table over in England? seems unlikely), I also totally want a wooden scrubbed table and to be the kind of person who has half a roast chicken in the fridge at all times. I will be seeking more of her books in future when I want a good cozy novel to sink into, for sure.

2. The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

This was the third and final book in a fantasy series that I began in 2017. It was just released and I was SO excited. These books trace Vasya, a magically talented girl in medieval Russia. The books deal a lot with the meeting of folk traditions/pagan beliefs and Christianity — a topic I love to explore. They are also completely engrossing. I laughed with David about “fantasy book food,” a concept all of us who read fantasy are familiar with. Would I actually enjoy a stew of wild mushrooms, scented grasses, and pond fish cooked over a fire? Almost definitely not, but when I read about it in a fantasy novel I get mighty hungry. I definitely recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy books, empowered girls, and the meeting place of magic and religion.

3. The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

My brother gave me this book for Christmas, in our great tradition of unwrapped books as gifts to each other. It is a psychological thriller (I think this is the right term, it’s hard to say) set in Norway. I could almost literally not put it down. David even snapped a photo of me reading it while drying my hair.* It’s hard to tell much about the book without risking giving it away, but it begins with a wealthy mother and interior designer who takes in a little boy from her daughter’s swim class. The book switches perspectives from Cecilia (the mother & interior designer) to Tobias (the little boy) and journal entries from Anni (who we learn more about as the book goes on). It is creepy and fascinating. (A note : there are some scenes with sexual violence, so it might not be the best choice if you’re looking to avoid those.)

I’m part-way through several books at work, including The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. So far I am really impressed with her work. She is a pediatrician who began incorporating her understanding of ACEs into her practice. I’ll write up a full review when I finish it!

Happy February reading, everyone! 🙂

* This isn’t the first time I’ve done this though. I hate drying my hair and often try to read while doing so. I’ve also been known to read while getting dressed, while cooking, and while walking (while reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis I walked straight into a huge cement block next to a construction site and went flying over it, getting identical scrapes in both shins and a bonus scrape on my chin! And no, I wasn’t a child at the time…or a teenager…or drunk. I was a graduate student and it was the middle of the day.

Thoughts on Harry Potter and Hogwarts Express Day

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I made this post two years ago on an old blog, but today is Hogwarts Express Day once again so I am reposting it. In the last two years, my friends Lindsey and Peter and I have made a tradition of releasing a “family cookbook” each year on Hogwarts Express Day. I’m the coordinator of this project, so I’ve been hard at work editing the book for a few weeks and just released it to the two of them early this morning. I love how traditions in my own life are growing and developing as I get older! Anyway, here’s what I wrote on September the first, 2014:

Today is a holiday that very few people actually observe or even have heard of. My best friends and I, however, are all about it. Today is Hogwarts Express Day, the day on which the Hogwarts Express takes students to Hogwarts each fall. As dedicated fans of the series can tell you, each year a scarlet steam engine picks up all Hogwarts students at Platform 9 ¾, Kings Cross Station, London at precisely 11 o’clock in the morning. The long train ride through the English and then Scottish countryside is a chance for students to catch up and eat sweets from the trolley as they approach the castle.

My boyfriend-turned-best-friend, Peter, and I, began observing Hogwarts Express Day when we were first dating. We would “create a feast” – usually including a frozen pizza, some fancified leftovers, Harry Potter themed candy, and always pear jelly beans, and watch the first movie in the series. Several times, I have observed it by myself, and several times with my mom, Peter, or David. Today I am celebrating in Bloomington with David – we have some great food lined up (that will produce the week’s lunches in leftovers!), a Harry Potter shrine that I created in the living room, and soundtrack music is playing. I’m donning my Hermione t-shirt (“Keep Calm and Try Not to Get Killed, or Worse, Expelled”) and a pumpkin-orange cardigan. In a few hours we’ll be curled up on the couch, sipping pumpkin ale and watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s faces as they see the Great Hall for the first time.

Obviously, I love Harry Potter. It is a book series that I have been reading and growing with since the age of 8. I got the last few books at midnight-release parties and saw the final film at midnight with Peter. My best friend and her girlfriend took me and David to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to LeakyCon, an amazing Harry Potter convention, as an early wedding present. I volunteer on the side with The Harry Potter Alliance, a pretty awesome nonprofit. But my love of Harry Potter is so much more than a childhood comfort or a crazy obsession. It is a really meaningful thing.

For me, Harry Potter was a consistent friend through the inconsistency of my adolescence. Teenage years are rocky for everyone, but for me, they had an especially rough edge: my father, with whom I was quite close, was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13 and died when I was 20. Through those years, I read and reread my Harry Potter books until they fell apart. I identified with Harry’s pain and loneliness. Once my father passed, I watched the films and read the books literally every day for months. I raged with Harry when Sirius Black died, I wept while he looked at old wizarding photos of his dead parents, and I held his hand when he visited his parents’ stone in the cemetery in Godric’s Hollow. Harry Potter was both an escape to a fantasy land where my geeky enthusiasm was valued and a really true and honest exploration of the struggles I myself was facing. It brought me together with many people, including my best friends Lindsey and Peter – both of whom used Harry Potter in similar ways in their childhoods and adolescences.

I wept when I got on the ‘Hogwarts Express’ at the theme park in Orlando for the first time, and again when I saw the castle. These amusement park rides represent real homes that really exist inside my heart and mind, and seeing them brought to life was overwhelming. I know that I always have a safe place to turn in this world of fantasy, magic, friendship, grief, and good triumphing over evil. I always have role models for whichever ‘hat’ I am wearing: Harry when I need to be strong in the face of my pain, and I need to make the choice of what’s right. Hermione when I need to buckle down and study or make a careful decision. Molly Weasley when I am finding a nurturing, mothering part of myself. The list goes on.

So Happy Hogwarts Express Day, everyone! Take some time to think about what this amazing series means to you, and enjoy a Butterbeer or a Chocolate Frog. You deserve it!