Friday, December 14, 2007

reviews of a book we may never get to read

So, all of the Harry Potter books are done, finished, written, published.

The author wants to do something special to thank some of the people who helped her create and publish them. So she writes 5 Wizarding Fairy Tales and has them published in a special volume -- actually 7 special volumes -- that are actually handwritten by her and put together with handmade binding.

So, 6 special people are each given a copy of the book. As far as I know, these people have not been named. I figure someone at Bloomsbury, Arther Levine of Scholastic, and her daughter Jessica are among those who received a copy, but as Mr. Owl said, "The world may never know."

The 7th book was auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity.

To sum up, so far, what we've got is the world's most popular author wrote something original that millions of people would pay to buy a copy of (money that could go to charity) and instead only one copy will actually be available at any price.

So, they held the auction, and the winning bidder was . . .

I didn't know a website could buy a book. It's very strange. But it gets stranger.

Before I go on I must note that, if you click on the links below in this post, you will see SPOILERS! If you don't want to know what happens in these stories, on the off-chance that you might someday get to buy a copy for yourself, don't click on the links! You have been WARNED!

Because now Amazon is putting up high-resolution photos and [SPOILER WARNING] reviews of the book. As of this writing, they've written reviews of 2 of the 5 stories. Assuming that one of the remaining three is the tale of the three brothers and the Deathly Hallows items that is featured in her most recent Harry Potter novel, there are still 2 stories we know virtually nothing about.

I couldn't help myself. I read the reviews. It's like when I was a kid and I was given the opportunity to eat appitizers before dinner. And I'd fill up on all those yummy things, and then I wouldn't want to eat the even yummier dinner food. That's what I've done here. I've read the "reviews", which amounts to a well-written summary of the ENTIRE STORY, including the ending, and now I know the ending and it won't be nearly as exciting if Jo takes pity on us poor readers and decides to published a mass market version of this book.

I have to say this is one of the strangest siguations I've ever encountered. A website that sells books managed to spoil one for me, but it's one I might never get to read, so I don't know whether to be grateful or to grumble about it.

James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing

Sometime in November of this year, a website appeared containing a teaser about a story with the title James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing. The graphics were very Harry Potter-ish and there was even speculation that this might be advertising a new novel by the beloved author J.K. Rowling.

However, I turned out to be a rather ambitious fan fiction story by an American fan of the books. He originally wrote it for his children, and, being a web designer, decided to publish it for the world to read.

Once you get past the passwords (you can find out what the passwords are by checking out the article about the website on Wikipedia), you can read each chapter in PDF format. A new chapter goes up each day, starting December 1st, until the last chapter on December 21st.

I've been reading it, though I'm over a week behind now. It's okay. There are new characters and some old favorites. You can tell right off it was written by an American, and one who doesn't have the same sense of humor as J. K. Rowling. He's got some things confused, or maybe he just thinks things should be different at Hogwarts. Students of all different levels seem to be in classes with one another, instead of first years sharing classes only with other first years, for example.

But what I really think he's got wrong is he's brought back Cedric Diggory as a ghost. I thought that sounded like something that wouldn't happen in the Harry Potter universe, and my son confirmed it for me.

He was reading over my shoulder one day and caught enough words to see the identity of the ghost. He immediately said "Cedric wasn't afraid to die!" He understands the author's "rule" that you only become a ghost if you don't wish to pass on, either you are afraid of the great beyond or you want to stay here and haunt the living, as is the case with Moaning Myrtle. Cedric, brave Hufflepuff Triwizard champion that he was, does not fall into that category. I tried to find a quote from Rowling to reallyh confirm this -- I'm sure I remember her saying that Cedric wouldn't be coming back as a ghost -- but I couldn't find one.

It's fun to read about James -- Harry's son, not his father -- and his first year at Hogwarts, but it's not really how I envisioned it, somehow. Reading it did, more than anything, make me want to write my own Harry Potter fan fiction.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Father Tim is back!

If you don't know him, let me introduce you. Father Timothy Kavanaugh, of Mitford, North Carolina, is the main character in the Mitford Books by Jan Karon.

When we first meet him, in At Home in Mitford, he is about to turn 60. He is an Episcopalian priest in a small mountain town.

So what are the books about? They're about life. They're about the members of this small community and their trials, tribulations and triumphs, their loves, their losses, their lives. And even the food they eat. So many specific kinds of food are mentioned that the author eventually wrote a cookbook featuring the recipes for Esther Bolick's famous orange marmalade cake, Miss Sadie's apple pie, and Puny's cornbread, among others.

Early on in the first book, Father Tim meets Dooley Barlowe, a young boy who's had a hard life. Oldest of 5 siblings, his mother's alcoholism and father's desertion has led to the siblings being scattered hither and yon. Father Time agrees to take care of Dooley and enters into what eventually becomes a permanent parental relationship with this precious and spunky young person. A big part of the series revolves around the search for the other siblings, as well as a romance for Father Tim. Many lives are changed and we learn that life is not boring in this small town.

But the series ended with A Light from Heaven. There was a feeling of closure, and also of life still going on. You closed the book and you didn't want to say good-bye. Fortunately, the Mitford books are of the type that you can enjoy re-reading them, two or even three or four times.

I knew there was a second series planned called The Father Tim novels, but I thought it was going to be about his childhood. And it is, but the adult Father Tim we all know and love is in there, too. I'm only about one-quarter of the way through Home to Holly Springs, but I am very much enjoying the way we see Father Tim in the present alongside flashbacks to his childhood, growing up in a small Mississippi town called Holly Springs.

These books are in your library. If you haven't read them, you will enjoy them. I think there is something for everyone, men, women, those who love mystery (there's a bit of mystery and suspense sprinkled in), those who love romance, those who love books with great characters that are true to life.

And if you have read them, or are looking for a gift for someone who is a fan of these series, check out the cookbook mentioned above, or A Mitford Bedside Companion or A Continual Feast, Father Tim's notebook where he jots down quotes he finds meaningful. And there are even some children's books by the same author, picture books with beautiful illustrations, including at least one about Violet the cat. Whichever you choose, you're sure to enjoy your stay in Mitford.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


They're making robots in Japan.

The link will take you to a news story about some robots. You should watch both of the video clips, because they are apparently two (or maybe 3, or 4) completely different robots.

The one is a pair of identical robots called Asimo (Japanese for "legs"). They work in conjunction with one another and the video shows them serving drinks from a serving cart. They need a special customized tray to be able to move the drinks without dropping them, and the drinks have spill-proof tops like you get when you get coffee from a take-out coffee place.

The other set look like aliens. At least, their faces do, they have those big eyes you see on aliens. They don't seem to be the same as the others. These are doing even more imaginative and less useful tasks than the Honda ones. One of them plays the violin. The other looks like a girl robot. She doesn't have legs and the bottom part of her is made to look like she is wearing a floor-length skirt. She talks (in Japanese, so I don't know what she says) and then apparently signs her name on a card that is given to her.

I think they are making a big mistake. Though my husband might actually find a need for a robot that will bring him a drink (he's always asking me to pour him something to drink), I'd much prefer a robot that could do laundry, load (and unload) the dishwasher, make the kids' lunches, pick up stray socks, empty the trash, wash windows, bring me the phone, take my empty drink glass to the kitchen, etc. They've succeeded in making a mass-marketable robot that will vacuum your house, clean your pool, even clean your gutters. When are we going to get Rosie? I could use a robot housekeeper much more than I need a robot who can play the violin.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Elm Creek Quilt books

These books are a real treat. I haven't read all of them yet, but I just finished The Christmas Quilt, a nice short little novel just right for the season.

But let me back up and describe the series as a whole.

Each one has a bit of a mystery, or at least some suspense. You either find out some bit of the past that was previously unknown, or you are drawn along by the story, worried about how it will turn out. Frequently both.

The author has woven the modern world with the past in a very interesting way, so the books satisfy our yearning for something a bit old fashioned, but seem new and exciting at the same time.

The stories center around an older woman named Sylvia who returns to her childhood home after 50 years' absence. She intends to sell it and move back to wherever she's been living for the past 50 years -- she only comes back when they can't find another heir. But a younger woman in the town, Sarah, convinces her to start a quilt camp. The first book gives the reader a glimpse at why Sylvia has been gone so long and develops the relationship between the two women.

Subsequent novels deal with the past residents of Elm Creek Manor, Sylvia's family and ancestors, and the on-going relationships of it's current residents, who form a new kind of family, those not all related by blood but by a common bond of friendship and love.

I want to point out that I am not a quilter. Never made a quilte in my life. You don't have to be a quilter to enjoy these books. The small amount of quilting lingo that you'll need to understand to enjoy these books is woven into the story (Sarah, the younger main character, is a novice quilter at the beginning, so we learn along with her).

These books are like spending an evening with a close group of friends. They contain something for everything -- a bit of history, suspense and a bit of mystery, romance, friendship, family, and love.

If you're looking for a gift for a woman in your life, these might be a great choice. There are two volumes (An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler and An Elm Creek Quilts Album, in that order) that each contain 3 of the novels, so you might want to look for those if you're buying for someone who hasn't read any of them. There are also a couple of books with patterns in them, for the quilter on your list who has already read the books.