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Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey
by Bob McCabe
Published: October 25, 2011
Genres: Non-fiction
Format: Hardcover (531 pages)
Source: Purchased

"Harry Potter: Page to Screen" opens the doors to Hogwarts castle and the wizarding world of Harry Potter to reveal the complete behind-the-scenes secrets, techniques, and over-the-top artistry that brought J.K. Rowling's acclaimed novels to cinematic life. Developed in collaboration with the creative team behind the celebrated movie series, this deluxe, 500-plus page compendium features exclusive stories from the cast and crew, hundreds of never-before-seen photographs and concept illustrations sourced from the closed film sets, and rare memorabilia. As the definitive look at the magic that made cinematic history, "Page to Screen" is the ultimate collectible, perfect for Muggles everywhere.

Harry Potter Page to Screen was like reading a yearbook of your time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s sentimental, full of great stories to reminisce about and there are lots or gorgeous pictures. There’s actually quite a bit of text even though it looks like mostly pictures. It tells how they made the movie in a story format. There’s a lot of information that it goes over but the narrative ties it together and keeps it interesting.

My review is mostly notes on the random facts that I found interesting. I can’t say for sure, but even if you’ve watched and read every documentary on the making of Harry Potter, you will still find nuggets of interesting stuff in this book.

  • The Quidditch pitch was inspired by a medieval jousting tournament (Pg 47)
  • The shots on location for King’s Cross Station were actually filmed between platforms 4 & 5 (pg 56)
  • Rupert and Dan couldn’t do a scene without giggling so they had to be separated during the first movie. (I have boys this age. They always have to be seperated lol.) (pg 63)
  • Dan Radcliffe found it ironic that the forrest set was made of plaster trees and a wooden bottom. Me too, Dan :) (pg 84)
  • There was enough content to make the Goblet of Fire into two movies, but the director, Mike Newell, didn’t feel like there was enough story for two movies.
  • There are a ton of locations. The locations might even outnumber the characters and creatures featured in this book.
  • All the Harry Potter sets have some sort of basis on something that is real. Hogwarts castle was based on Oxford and cathedrals for example. (pg 339)
  • Hogsmeade Station was a location shot at Goathand Village. It’s a real heritage line that didn’t need many changes for the film and was built in 1865.
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About Bob McCabe

Bob McCabe is a noted author, film critic, broadcaster, and screenwriter. He has written over twenty books, including the celebrated Pythons’ Autobiography by the Pythons; Dreams and Nightmares: Terry Gilliam, the Brothers Grimm & Other Cautionary Tales of Hollywood; and The Rough Guide to Comedy Movies. He has written extensively for British periodicals such as Empire magazine, Sight & Sound, and the Sunday Times, and has appeared on numerous BBC film-related radio broadcasts. His screenwriting credits include Küssen verboten, baggern erlaubt and Out on a Limb. He lives in London.


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Nine Coaches Waiting
by Mary Stewart
Published: 1958
Genres: Mystery, Romance
Format: Paperback (342 pages)
Source: Library

A governess in a French chateau encounters an apparent plot against her young charge's life in this unforgettably haunting and beautifully written suspense novel.
When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. Philippe's uncle, Léon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant, his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma, though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda's innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.

The plot of Nine Coaches Waiting was way too similar to Jane Eyre. A single woman with a sad past comes to a creepy house with a weird owner to be a governess. She falls in love with the owner’s son instead of the owner so that’s different. Don’t let the cover fool you – it’s surprisingly modern (1950’s I would guess but it never says). It’s like a bad modern version of Jane Eyre set in Downton Abbey or something (mostly because the butler and the housekeeper are married. MR. CARSON, MRS. HUGHES IS THAT YOU??). Unlike Jane Eyre, we did get to know about and care about the kid that the main character is a governess to. I’m not totally sure if that’s a good thing though.

And in case I missed the blatant, but at least still indirect, similarities to Jane Eyre, it’s referred to outright with the subtly of a toddler who hasn’t gotten their way. (Just read Jane Eyre. It’s a million times better.) And after you’re done being annoyed with Jane Eyre references, there’s plenty of Cinderella ones to exhaust you.

There are quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I’m not sure this particular quote was meant to be funny since nothing else in the book is, but it made me laugh.

“Something will come of this. I hope it mayn’t be human gore.” – Dickens, Baranaby Rudge

I read it sarcastically like this “I hope there isn’t any gore coming up *wink*” It got my hopes up. I don’t even remember what happens in that chapter.

After it’s done being Jane Eyre 2.0, the rest of the book consists of a romance that I endured and a short thriller chase that was ok. It gets your blood pumping, but I’ve heard this before. The suspense is taken away because she starts eating in restaurants and being nice to people while she’s running for her life. O…..k

Maybe it’s because the main character was a little dense and it annoyed me how long it took for her to figure out that something might be going on with the kid she watched. This kid tells her that he has nightmares about people touching him and I almost threw the book. WHAT THE CRAP. I’m waiting for the main character to freak out but she doesn’t. She thinks it’s “quite horrible” and leaves it at that. It turns out that someone comes in at night and touches just his face but still!!!

To sum up: it’s a bad Jane Eyre rip-off with an un-thrilling thriller ending.

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About Mary Stewart

Lady Mary Stewart, born Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow, was a popular English novelist, and taught at the school of John Norquay elementary for 30 to 35 years.

She was one of the most widely read fiction writers of our time. The author of twenty novels, a volume of poetry, and three books for young readers, she was admired for both her contemporary stories of romantic suspense and her historical novels. Born in England, she lived for many years in Scotland, spending time between Edinburgh and the West Highlands.


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The Last Jedi
by Jason Fry
Series: Star Wars: Novelizations #8
Published: March 6, 2018
Genres: Star Wars
Format: Hardcover (317 pages)
Source: Purchased

Written with input from director Rian Johnson, this official adaptation of Star Wars: The Last Jedi expands on the film to include scenes from alternate versions of the script and other additional content.
From the ashes of the Empire has arisen another threat to the galaxy’s freedom: the ruthless First Order. Fortunately, new heroes have emerged to take up arms—and perhaps lay down their lives—for the cause. Rey, the orphan strong in the Force; Finn, the ex-stormtrooper who stands against his former masters; and Poe Dameron, the fearless X-wing pilot, have been drawn together to fight side-by-side with General Leia Organa and the Resistance. But the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke and his merciless enforcer Kylo Ren are adversaries with superior numbers and devastating firepower at their command. Against this enemy, the champions of light may finally be facing their extinction. Their only hope rests with a lost legend: Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.
Where the action of Star Wars: The Force Awakens ended, Star Wars: The Last Jedi begins, as the battle between light and dark climbs to astonishing new heights.
Featuring an 8-page color photo insert of thrilling images from the hit movie

I’m a big fan of the Star Wars movie novelizations. Even when they aren’t expanded, like The Last Jedi is, I always get something out of it that I missed in the movie like expanded motivations and insights. But this had whole new scenes which made it so much fun to read.

I liked the references in The Last Jedi to stuff that is only in the novelizations like a reference on page 8 to Luke’s nickname Wormie that come from the original trilogy novels. Star Wars books are a nerd’s playground where you can find all kinds of cool trivia stuff.

I learned from this book that Rose and her sister were twins. I also liked the foreshadowing of using Rose’s invention and more details to what it really was. Both of those things are in the movie, but everything kind of goes fast in the movie and there’s a lot to take in. Reading about it helped me wrap my brain around it a little more.

Some of the best insights into any character were for General Hux. Hux had an interesting background that was fun to learn about. It was Hux who decided to combine the methods of clone and Jedi training for the new stormtroopers. He reminds me of that guy that got Force choked in Episode IV. They both love technology and power and think the Force is unreliable and ancient history. One of my favorite things about Star Wars is the combination of advanced tech and a religion that the advanced tech can’t explain. It’s so fascinating to me.

More Admiral Ackbar? Yes please! I loved the way his thoughts were full of aquatic language like his pep talk to himself to have “stiff fins and sharp teeth (pg. 37)” and calling Hux a “vicious little squig (pg 39).” Ackbar also had great insight into Poe when he doesn’t obey Leia’s orders.

For all [Poe’s] skills as a pilot and his promise as a leader, he remained an impulsive youth, with too many impulsive-youth mistakes left to make. Such as thinking himself the predator when he was actually the prey.

-Jason Fry, The Last Jedi pg 43

There are some things that just can’t be done in a movie but are so much fun to read in a book. For example, BB-8 has an argument with Poe’s X-wing during the dreadnaught run while he’s trying to keep everything together. BB-8 was already cute, but getting into his exasperated and determined thoughts was delightful.

Rey has such a beautiful reaction to seeing an ocean for the first time and it was fascinating to me. “Rey’s brain had insisted on interpreting the water as a surface, and her stomach had rebelled at that surface’s refusal to be still. Now, surrounded by the sea, she realized that what she was seeing was just the uppermost layer of something deep, vast, and eternally in motion. (pg 56)”

The city of Canto Bight reminds me of the prequels. The people, the atmosphere. I like small things like that help tie the whole franchise together.

Captain Phasma is the new Boba Fett. Both are awesome minor characters that didn’t get nearly enough screen time. She’s in the book more, though. Yay!

Rey has her own dark side cave. Yoda told Luke to enter the cave. I wonder why Luke discouraged Rey from doing the same. What does the dark side cave show you? It showed Luke becoming Darth Vader and Rey being totally alone. Is it their greatest fear and thus their path to the dark side? I’m not sure but it’s interesting to think about. By the end, Rey learns to have faith in the Force instead of seeing it as a power to use for herself. I loved Rey’s development as a character

Another reason I wanted to read this book was to understand Luke and his motivations more. I loved this quote about Luke:

Once, Luke thought he would be the one who might end what was broken in Kylo. Later, he had blamed himself for the damage. Both thoughts had been vanity, he realized now. Whatever had broken in Kylo, it was far beyond Luke’s ability to fix.

-Jason Fry, The Last Jedi pg 297

This was always true. Even with Vader. When Luke rejected the Emperor, it wasn’t because he counted on Vader turning to the good side. It was because he believed in hope and love and didn’t believe your destiny was fixed. He believed that people could change but even then he knew it was Vader’s choice, not his. Luke accepted that either he would die or that Vader would help him but he accepted both outcomes and had faith in the Force as well. I think he showed that faith when he threw away his lightsaber rather than give up his integrity and then pleaded to Vader for help.

The question is, why would Luke, after such a life-changing experience about having hope and faith in people go against that with his nephew? A lot of time has passed between the original trilogy and the sequels. It’s more than possible that slowly over time he lost his way for whatever reason. But since we didn’t see how he changed, it feels so jarring to see Luke making such drastically different choices. I feel like Luke probably changed when he started following the old Jedi order. The old Jedi order, told to him through Obi-wan and Yoda (and it’s implied through the books he studied as well), was to kill the Sith. I think when he faced the same decision with Kylo that he did with Vader, he was tempted to do what Obi-wan and Yoda told him to do last time which was to kill him. With the quote above, I think it shows that Luke lost his way when he wanted to control Kylo Ren’s destiny (which is how Anakin lost his way, too). Luke went against his instincts and his own nature and I could see why he would feel a lot of shame in that. It made him relatable to me. How many times have I given up my integrity for something as small as doing what I think others want me to do?

Overall, I loved The Last Jedi. I think the movie suffered from a rushed pace which made it so character motivations and explanations were not very well developed. But with all the extra development that I read in the book and the slower pacing in the book as well, it’s really an amazing story. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Deleted Scenes vs. The Book What’s the same

Now to watch the deleted scenes and see how they compare to the book (oh yes I did). It’s like homework but I choose my assignments! It can’t get better than that! This is not a comprehensive list of all the deleted scenes that were also in the book, it’s just the ones I noticed. While the new scenes were enjoyable, I could see why they didn’t make it into the movie. They were fun to read, though.

The scene of Finn getting Poe’s patched jacket is in the book and is also a deleted scene. It’s fun to know, but if you’re observant you can see Finn’s patched jacket in the movie and you would probably guess that Poe fixed it for him.

The only extended scene I was sad to see go was the one with Luke talking about the Jedi teaching of maintaining balance and telling Rey not to act when raiders come to the island. The deleted scene in the movie feels rushed and the pace in the book is much better. It’s so cute and it shows Luke’s inner conflict trying to understand the teachings of the Jedi and whether he agrees with them or not.

The extended scene of trying to shut down the tracker with the stormtrooper that recognizes him is also in the book. I liked the faster pace of the final cut in the movie though.

There’s a deleted scene where Rose bites Hux and he yells to execute them. I’m kind of glad it wasn’t in the movie. Ew. But you can watch it if you really want.

What’s only in the book

There are definitely a lot of scenes in the book that weren’t even a deleted scene in the movie like an expanded conversation between Snoke and Kylo Ren. There’s also some expanded background on Snoke as well.

One of the best expanded scenes in the whole book is Kylo’s realization about his mother that keeps him from shooting. Read to find out! It’s awesome! (I won’t post it here because of spoilers but also because it needs some context to make sense.)

Should Holdo have told Poe the plan? Did he have a right to know? Part of why I wanted to read The Last Jedi novelization was to get some insight into this question. Based on the fact that secrecy was essential for the success of her plan she was probably right not to tell him (and the plan does fail because Poe blabs about it). But the morale of the people in the resistance hit rock bottom and it’s especially evident in the book. Why didn’t she try to improve morale? Poe might have had a point about that. On pg 129, Holdo and Poe have this conversation:

“I just want to know the plan,” Poe said helplessly. “I think we all do.”

“And at the appropriate time, you will,” Holdo said.

-Jason Fry, The Last Jedi pg 129

I watched the movie a couple of times and I couldn’t find this conversation anywhere. It might have helped Poe be patient. On the other hand, if he had been told that he would know the plan and he still made his own reckless plan, he would have looked like a jerk. It works in the book though, because he talks about not only his fear but the fear he sees in the rest of the crew and his actions seem less selfish if not still reckless and stupid.

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About Jason Fry

Jason Fry spent nearly 20 years as a journalist before striking out on his own as a full-time writer. Besides The Jupiter Pirates, he is the author or co-author of some two dozen books and short stories set in the Star Wars galaxy. A lifelong Mets fan, he is the co-writer of the blog Faith and Fear in Flushing with Greg Prince. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife and son and way too many Star Wars toys and baseball cards.


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Far from Agrabah
by Aisha Saeed
Published: April 2, 2019
Genres: Fairy Tale, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover (336 pages)
Source: For Review

This stunning original novel will tell an all-new story set in the world of the new film, featuring Aladdin and Jasmine. A magic carpet ride full of adventure, suspense, and wonder written by New York Times Bestselling author Aisha Saeed, this story will be a must-read for any Aladdin fans who find themselves drawn into and enchanted by the magical world of Agrabah and beyond.

I received this free book for review from Disney Books in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  This giveaway was also sponsored by Disney Books. Thank you!

I thought Far From Agrabah was a novelization of the new live-action Aladdin movie. It’s actually an expanded carpet ride where we get to see them fall in love and it starts in the middle of the plot of the movie. It just refers to their first meeting and we don’t see it in this story. Now I’m wondering if this story is even in the movie at all. If it’s not, you should definitely read this book because it’s a charming love story with a fairy tale adventure.

I read Aladdin: Far From Agrabah on my own adventure in Capitol Reef National Park!

The first thing I noticed when I read Far From Agrabah was there were fairy tales spread throughout the book. They are children stories from Agrabah kind of like Tales of Beedle the Bard for Harry Potter. They were interesting but it took a while to see why they were relevant to the story. My favorite one was about Zayn the Tenth that had a Beauty and the Beast type of beginning.

Jasmine and Aladdin felt like authentic characters in a magical setting. I could see the double meanings behind what Aladdin would say sometimes. Like when he comments that he should get one of those books. As a prince, it sounds conceited but as a poor boy it sounds wistful. Aladdin gives humble advice to help others and asks for Jasmine’s input. She’s flattered and surprised that someone sees her for her wisdom and not just her status. I could see why Jasmine starts to like him. And when his prince disguise comes off as strange she decides to think kindly of him anyway. In fact, Jasmine said my favorite quote in the whole book.

“Be careful not to judge others simply because their worldview is different from your own. Others have not lived your life, just as you have not lived theirs.”

-Aisha Saeed, Far From Agrabah pg 98

When Jasmine starts to realize who Aladdin really is, she has already seen his good heart on their adventure together and she decides to trust that he has a good reason for not being up front with who he really is.

Aladdin decides on their adventure to act with integrity even though he doesn’t have to. But that’s what’s great about reading books. You get to see the motivations and thoughts of the characters and this book did a great job with both Jasmine and Aladdin. I got to know them in ways that it’s hard to do in a movie.

And the end is when I saw the connection to the fairy tale. The sultan in the last fairy tale acts like Aladdin did. He shows integrity when he doesn’t need to.

This book added such depth to their romance and to the characters that I’m so excited to see the new Aladdin movie now!

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Enter for a chance to win this dazzling prize pack! One (1) winner receives:

  • a copy of Aladdin: Far from Agrabah,
  • a glittery cosmetics case and set of makeup brushes.

Giveaway open to US addresses only.

Prizing and samples provided by Disney Book Group.

To enter, use the rafflecopter entry form below. Please leave a comment if the rafflecopter form isn’t working for you. Ends April 24, 2019.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Aisha Saeed

Aisha Saeed is a New York Times bestselling author. She wrote WRITTEN IN THE STARS(Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015) which was listed as a best book of 2015 by Bank Street Books and a 2016 YALSA Quick Pick For Reluctant Readers. She is also the author of the middle grade novel AMAL UNBOUND (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) a Summer 2018 Indie Next Pick, An Amazon Best Book of the Month, has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus and is a Global Read Aloud for 2018. She also has a forthcoming picture book BILAL COOKS DAAL (Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads, 2019). Aisha is also a founding member of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. She has been featured on MTV, the Huffington Post, NBC, and the BBC, and her writings have appeared in publications including the journal ALAN and the Orlando Sentinel.

Aisha is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and three sons.


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by Nadine Brandes
Published: July 10, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover (448 pages)
Source: Purchased

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.
Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.
But what if death finds him first?
Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.
The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.
The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.
No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Fawkes starts out introducing us to Thomas who is slowly turning to stone on the day he needs to take an important test at St. Peter’s Color School which sounds just as amazing as Hogwarts.  The school teaches about how to use the magical power of each color. They learn how to talk to a certain color and then they can control all the brown items, for example, by talking to that color using a mask. How cool is that?! I have never read such a unique magic system.  I got this book in the July 2018 Unicorn Crate and the owner picked the theme Magic Systems to go with this book and it was perfect.

The July 2018 Magic Systems Unicorn Crate. Item List: shadow hunter rune earrings, red London candle by @theleakycandle, Harry Potter spell pencils, grisha art print by @stellabookishart, cork pencil pouch with daughter of smoke and bone quote, water bottle with ROAR quote, unicorn socks, mistborn postcard by @rocketpopinc, Fawkes by Nadine branded with a signed bookplate and author note

Not only does this book have the coolest magic system ever, it is also historical fiction about the Gunpowder Plot.  I loved the author’s note at the end that clarifies what was accurate and what was stretched.  I learned so much history just from reading this book.  The magic is obviously a huge fictional part of the story, but the conflict between the Igniters and the Keepers in Fawkes very much followed the Protestant/Catholic conflict of this time period in 17th century England.  The Igniters (Protestant) believed that you should be able to talk to more than one color and directly to white light (the source of all color magic). The Keepers (Catholic) thought that you should only talk to one color and not directly to white light.  White light is actually a character in the story and is a snarky God-like figure.  He was awesome.

The biggest conflict in the story comes from everyone blaming others for the stone plague.  The Igniters think that the Keepers caused it by hiding white light from everyone because white light can’t be controlled like the other colors can.  They believe Keepers just want control and power.  Keepers think that Igniters caused the plague because they started speaking directly to white light. A rogue Keeper named Luther even started the Igniter movement. The story is told in such a nuanced and interesting way that I couldn’t even begin to guess who was right or how they would even work this out.  There were so many cool plot twists that I couldn’t put this book down.

Thomas is so endearing.  He’s defined by honor and strives to keep it but he’s not always perfect at it.  He also desperately wants his color mask and he never stops seeking it.  And obviously he would like to get rid of the plague that is slowly turning him to stone.  I loved how well the author went into Thomas’ motivations.  It made him a fascinating character to follow.

Fawkes is an honest discussion of feminism, racism, and religion.  Well, sort of about religion.  It mostly deals with the historical conflict of war over religions, but Thomas goes on a personal journey of faith, too, by deciding what he believed about color magic.  My favorite quote in the book is Thomas’ reaction when someone is criticizing him for questioning the religion he was raised in:

“You’ve given me your truth. I have to find it for myself for it to become mine.  And curiosity is the first step.”

-Nadine Brandes, Fawkes pg 196

Thomas learns about racism, too.  He realizes that “my culture had affected my thinking without my consent. (pg 264).”  And the conflict between the Igniters and Keepers was full of prejudice and killing on both sides.  

I loved the romance between Emma and Thomas. Emma is a fierce character and no damsel in distress. They have a beautiful romance and the teach each other to be more tolerant.  In the author’s note, Nadine Brandes mentions a movie that the character of Emma was inspired by and I highly recommend watching it! The movie is based on a real person, too.  

I highlighted too many quotes about faith and tolerance and truth that I can’t share them all.  But my favorite quote is probably this one.

“It be those who dream of the impossible who end up defying the very word.”

-Nadine Brandes, Fawkes pg 412

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Discussion Questions

**Warning: Might contain spoilers for the book

I saw these discussion questions in the back of the book and I wanted to share them in my review.  

  1. Thomas felt incomplete because of his plague. Have you ever had an injury or an illness that made you feel that way?
  2. Thomas was caught between two sides–the Keepers who wanted to be free of oppression and the Igniters who wanted to be free to use color speech as they pleased.  In the end, Thomas realized he had to find the truth for himself.  What ways can you search for truth or seek the source of matters relevant to you today?
  3. When Thomas started figuring out his own stance on the war, he felt like he had to stay in the plot so as not to let everyone down.  Do you ever find yourself being swayed by pressure from others?
  4. Some people–like Catesby–are very passionate about their cause.  They are easy to follow and cheer for.  What are some pros and cons of a persuasive personality?
  5. Emma treated Thomas as a regular man–acknowledging his difference and accepting him as he was. Her treatment of him taught him to respond the same way to her when she revealed herself to him.  Is there someone in your life who is different or has a difference? How can you show them love as they are?
  6. Have you ever felt like you needed to hide your true self? Why?
  7. Sometimes we fear things we can’t control–like White Light. What do you think is a healthy approach to these fears?

About Nadine Brandes

Nadine once spent four days as a sea cook in the name of book research. She's the author of FAWKES and of the award-winning The Out of Time Series. Her inner fangirl perks up at the mention of soul-talk, Quidditch, bookstagram, and Oreos. When she's not busy writing novels about bold living, she's adventuring through Middle Earth or taste-testing a new chai. Nadine and her Auror husband are building a Tiny House on wheels. Current mission: paint the world in shalom.


Find me on Twitter @BooksATrueStory

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I made this list based on all the books I read in 2018 that I gave 5 stars.  I had a lot this year! You can check out my top books from 2011, 2012, 2013, 20142015, 2016, and 2017.  Because of my book box subscriptions, I read more new books that I loved this year than any year before!

New Releases
Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

This historical fiction novel used magic and the two different attitudes towards using it to give an interesting twist on the Protestant/Catholic dynamic from 17th century London. The idea of using the color of items in magic was so fascinating and unique. The characters were amazing. The back of the book showed you what really did happen around the gunpowder plot that is still remembered and celebrated on the 5th of November as Guy Fawkes day in England. I had no idea that this holiday even existed and learning about it’s origins in this compelling, page-turning novel was delightful.

 Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

This is the second book in the Strange the Dreamer duology. This book not only finishes off the duology in a stunning way, but it also ties together the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I didn’t like the ending of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but after reading this I changed my mind. The two series are now connected in such a clever and unexpected way that I love them both even more. This is the kind of 500+ page book that you could read in 2 days because you just can’t put it down. Laini Taylor writes the best romance and this is no exception.

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

I loved My Plain Jane much more than the first book in this series, My Lady Jane. It was fun, unexpected, hilarious and adorable. It was Ghostbusters meets Jane Eyre and I loved it.

Educated by Tara Westover

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

I read this book in one day. It’s a compelling and thought-provoking read. It was like Little House on the Prairie but they chose to live that way instead of having no choice like real pioneers did. The suffering they went through reminded me that I really am blessed with more than I realize. I walked away with renewed gratitude for education and medicine and family.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Jason Fry

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

The expanded scenes are mostly the cut scenes from the movie that you can watch on Blu-ray. But reading them integrated into the story was even better than watching the snippets on the bonus features. My favorite thing about novelizations is getting into the motivations and background of the characters. Hux is actually one of the characters you learn the most about in this book. Well, he was the most fascinating to me. You learn so much about all the characters. The book also has so much fun extras that just don’t work in a movie like BB-8 arguing with Poe’s X-wing. Yes it’s just as adorable as it sounds.

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Amazon | Goodreads | My Review

Why I liked it:

I had almost given up on this series because I didn’t like Scarlet. I’m glad I didn’t. Cress was a great character. I loved the plot and the pacing and the clever Rapunzel references in this sci-fi world.

Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue by Tom Angleberger

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

I’ve read this whole series and this is the only book from the series that I gave 5 stars. I liked the rest but they were more like 4 stars. I was blown away by the clever story and the brilliant Star Wars references in Princess Labelmaker.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

It was like Jane Austen meets fantasy and it was just as delightful, charming, and witty as that sounds. There’s magical beasts, romance, adventure, and social commentary on women and sexism.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

The world building is what shines in this book. But I also loved meeting the interesting characters and the adventure they get to go on. I also read this 500+ page book in two days.

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Amazon | Goodreads | My Review

Why I liked it:

I loved all the footnotes and insights to the inspiration behind the musical Hamilton in this book. This beautiful book has great photos, detailed footnotes throughout the lyrics, and everything you need to know about the making of Hamilton.  If you can’t see the musical on stage, this is the next best thing.  If you’ve seen it and miss it already, this will bring back all the good memories.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

This detailed biography was long but not boring. I learned so much about this time period in history, not just about Hamilton’s life, because Ron Chernow is amazing at giving context which is what I think contributes to the length of the book. He doesn’t just spew details and facts. He tells you why those facts are important and why you should care about them. It’s insanely well researched and accurate. Well worth the read.

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Amazon | Goodreads

Why I liked it:

This was one of my favorite books from the new canon. Thrawn was a character from the old Star Wars Legends books and it was one of the first ones I read as a teen. It’s great to see him back again. He’s a military genius and at the beginning of each chapter he gives out military advice that starts to apply to his life in unexpected ways and then I found myself thinking about how his advice applied to being a warrior in my own life…

Find me on Twitter @BooksATrueStory

The post Top 12 Books I Read in 2018 first appeared on Books: A true story

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Full Disclosure: This was a paid promotion for Mary Poppins Returns on behalf of Walt Disney Studios.  I received free promotional items in exchange for a review.  I was not told what to say in this review and all opinions expressed are my own.

I didn’t get to see Mary Poppins Returns in the theaters like I wanted to. We don’t make it to the movies very often as a whole family. So I was very excited to watch this movie with my kids. I wanted to get their reactions as much as mine for this review.

“Why the bath is so big?????!!!” My preschooler wanted to know as the kids were swimming underwater with dolphins. He wanted to know the answer so urgently that we had to pause the movie to answer him.

“It’s magic. From Mary Poppins.”

“Oh,” he replied and then laughed at all the bubbles and animals.

I think my kids’ favorite part was the end with the balloons. The preschooler especially laughed at that. They also said they wanted to go to the fair now. My older kids really liked the Topsy Turvy shop.

Mary Poppins Returns felt new and original but it very much followed the spirit of the first one especially when they want to take a bath the Mary Poppins way. It reminded me of Michael asking to clean the nursery again.

The first Mary Poppins movie was about helping the kids learn a little responsibility. This time, Mary had a different lesson. She wanted the kids to learn how to be kids again instead of being responsible all the time. There were a few times when Mary Poppins looked sad when she overheard things the kids said and the weight such young kids were carrying. 

I learned from IMDB that Emily Blunt read the books and her character is closer to the one in the books. The era of 1930 was also restored from the books. After the movie was over, I read the back of book 2 from the Mary Poppins series and I was surprised how many elements from just the summary are in the movies.

Book summary for Mary Poppins Comes Back, the second book in the Mary Poppins series.

The trip to the magical cartoon world on a bowl was also from the book, but the book was a little darker according to IMDB. I noticed that this movie did have a slightly darker tone. There was a villain and the kids are mourning the loss of their mother among other things.

I’m impressed how well Disney was able to balance the spirit of the first movie while trying to incorporate more of the book at the same time. I noticed lots of charming similarities between the two Mary Poppins movies:

  • The lamp lighters instead of chimney sweeps
  • Topsy Turvy lady (in the book Mr. Turvy and Miss Topsy are a couple) instead of tea on the ceiling
  • Magical animated bowl world instead of the magic animated world of a sidewalk painting (PS. if you look closely you can see the sidewalk painting from the first movie when Lin-Manuel Miranda’s character is putting the balloon on his bike at the end)
  • Taking a magical bath instead of magical tidying
  • Balloons at the end instead of kites
  • They both had a bad experience at the bank 

Watching the movie and learning more about the books it was based on makes me want to read the books with my kids now.  I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this post and that I got these beautiful editions of the books that we can read together as a family.

While the songs weren’t quite as catchy and easy to sing as the first movie, I did love the messages that the songs had. I hope with time and lots of rewatching, I’ll be as familiar with the new songs as I am with “Supercalafragalisticexpialidocious.” (I’m not even looking up how to spell that because there’s not a wrong way to spell it in my mind lol.) The songs are about how to deal with loss, how to find your way if you are lost, to not be fooled by how someone looks and to judge them by their actions instead.

Mary Poppins Returns is out today (March 19, 2019) on Blu-ray and digital. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should! I loved it.

Mary Poppins Returns Trailer
Mary Poppins Returns | Official Trailer - YouTube

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The post Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns first appeared on Books: A true story

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These questions came from The Perpetual Page Turner

I love doing end of year recaps.  You can read my end of year recaps for 201720162015, 201420132012 and 2011 too. :)

Cover photo is all of the books I own that I read in 2018. There are 32 books pictured. One book I sold. I read 8 ebooks and 9 library books last year that aren’t pictured for a total of the 50 books I read in 2018.

Reading Stats

Books read: 50 (same from 2017)

Pages read: 15,810 (-18 pages from 2017)

Average pages per book: 316 (-1 from 2017)

Books Re-Read in 2018: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I read both of these outloud to my son.

DNF Books for 2018: Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston and Lemon Tart by Josi S. Kilpack

Reviews written: 11

Books read written by women: 27

Books read written by men: 23

Most Read Genre: Sci-fi and Fantasy

Total Money Spent on Books:  $925.84 (+$103.20 from 2017)

My Year in Books on Goodreads

Shortest Book Read: ebook – The Queen’s Army by Marissa Meyer (23 pages) Physical book – The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey by Peter S. Beagle (170 pages)

Longest Book Read: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (818 pages)

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Book Awards
Best Book
  • Best Movie Adaption
  • Made Me Mad
  • Most Unique
  • Hidden Gem
  • Made Me Cry
  • Most Fun to Read
  • Most Vivid Setting
  • Favorite Couple
  • Most Shocking
  • Most Thought Provoking
  • Most Beautifully Written
  • Most Memorable Character
  • Most Thrilling
  • Best Out of Comfort Zone
  • Favorite Cover
  • Best Series
  • Made Most People Read
  • Most Surprising
  • Thought I Would Like More
  • Favorite New Author
Favorite Quote From A Book You Read In 2018

First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.

-Tara Westover, Educated pg 230
My Blogging Life

Favorite review that you wrote in 2018?

Writing reviews for classic novels is one of my favorite things to do so my review of Gulliver’s Travels was one of my favorites from last year. I enjoyed that book more than I thought I would.

Best non-review post you had on your blog?

I started blogging about my Evermore Park visits and I loved writing them!! My favorite of all my Evermore posts is probably my recap of the Lore season finale which you can read here.

Best moment of blogging life in 2018?

Blogging has been lagging a little for me (notice that I’m writing my 2018 recap posts in March). The thing I’m most proud of with my blogging is that I haven’t quit. I still enjoy doing it when I sit down and write a post. In fact, I could tell after writing all my Evermore Park posts that I do love writing and I want to commit to this blog again.

Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

I struggled with reading until I found a way to make it work with my busy schedule (I read multiple formats now to increase the time I have available to read). It took me a while to find that solution for reading and I think I’ll need to be patient as I find a solution that helps make blogging more accessible in my life. Blogging on an app is hard to do but I’m never on my laptop unless I’m paying bills or blogging. I’ll have to experiment until I find something that works. I have a feeling the solution actually lies in something analog like my bullet journal. Every time it feels like I need an app (my spending is out of control! Google budget apps) it turns out a spread in my bullet journal was all I needed. Maybe I will try to write notes as soon as I finish a book. I need to find a way to make blogging flexible. Wish me luck with that haha.

Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog 

My Gulliver’s Travels book review got the most hits in 2018 with 2000+ visitors. Almost all of my most popular posts are actually book reviews of classic novels.  My Orphan Keeper book review got the most comments with 4 comments. Most of my interaction actually happens on Instagram now.

Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

Unicorn Crate. I adore this book box so much. She sends the most amazing fantasy books, most of which I never would have heard of if it hadn’t been for the box. She sends such creative items with the book, too. They aren’t just junky items with random fandom things on it. I’ve gotten beautiful scarves, jewelry that matches the book, candles, a notebook, sticky notes, socks and more. My very favorite thing is that there is a unicorn item every month.

Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

I only had one challenge last year and it was to hit my Goodreads goal of 50 books.  And I did!  In years past, I’ve tried to read a 1000+ page book each year. I haven’t done that in a while because it’s hard to find 1000+ page books anymore. But my longest book in 2018 was Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and it was 818 pages.

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The post A Year of Reading 2018 first appeared on Books: A true story

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Here’s the fourth edition in my series of how much money I spend on books each year.  You can read my posts from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

Hardcover Books
  • $11.97 – Turtles All the Way Down
  • $20 – Obsidio
  • $30 – Canto Bight
  • $22 – Hand Lettering FINISH TITLE
  • $19 – The Last Jedi
  • $28.99 – Last Shot (Star Wars)
  • $16 – The Great and Only Barnum
  • $24 – Educated
  • $10 – Call of the Wild
  • $8 – Secrets of the National Parks
  • $8 – Guide to the National Parks
  • $17.09 – Shadow Scale

Total Hardcover: $215.05 (was $260.92 last year)

Average per Hardcover: $17.92 (was $17.39 last year)

Subscription Boxes

I put the list price for Subscription box books because I don’t know how much the book itself actually costs.


  • $18.99 – The Cruel Prince
  • $16.99 – The Hazel Wood
  • $18 – Heart of Iron
  • $19.99 – Ace of Shades
  • $10 – Catching Stars
  • $18 – Sky in the Deep

Unicorn Crate

  • $18 – Beyond a Darkened Shore
  • $16 – Norse Mythology
  • $18.99 – Sweet Black Waves
  • $16.99 – Fawkes
  • $18.99 – Dance of Thieves
  • $19.99 – Shadow of the Fox
  • $17.99 – The Light Between Worlds
  • $21.95 – The Last Unicorn – The Lost Journey
  • $18.99 – Amber & Dusk


  • $25 – My Plain Jane
  • $14 – Sanctuary
  • $19.99 – Muse of Nightmares
  • $17.99 – Grim Lovelies
  • $17.99 – Wren Hunt
  • $17.99 – Once a King

Total books from subscription boxes (estimated book only price): $364.83 (was $283.85 last year)

Total number of books from subscription boxes: 20 (4 more than last year. I got a few special edition boxes and some bonus books this year)

Average per book from subscription boxes: $18.24

Paperback Books
  • $6.22 – Astronaut Wives Club
  • $16 – The Light We Lost
  • $10 – Dune
  • $10 – The Handmaid’s Tale
  • $10 – Gilead
  • $16.81 – Natural History of Dragons
  • $11.87 – Seraphina

Total paperback: $80.90 (was $118.24 last year)

Average per book: $11.55 (was $9.85 last year)

  • $12.80 – The Humor Code
  • $2.99 – Cress
  • $2.99 – Winter
  • $2.99 – Berserker

Total ebooks: $21.77 (was $15.99 last year)

Average per book: $5.44 (was $5.33 last year)

Audible Membership (12 months): $243.29 (I bought two books for regular price and 3 extra credits once and used all my credits.)

Total Spent on Books Overall: $925.84

Number of books: 61

Average per book overall: $15.17

Notes: Last year I spent $822.64. I did get a few more books this year. I quit Owlcrate even though I’ve been a subscriber for years. I wasn’t liking the books or the items anymore. I joined Litjoy again after a long break and I’m very happy. I love Unicorn Crate. I’ve loved every book I’ve read so far (which is a little over half of all the books I’ve gotten) and I love that the items aren’t just trinkets with random fandoms on them. Same with Litjoy. They both do a good job having items that are inspired by the book instead of just the theme.

Find me on Twitter @BooksATrueStory

The post How Much I Spent on Books in 2018 first appeared on Books: A true story

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by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
Published: November 10, 2015
Genres: Fairy Tale, Retelling, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Format: eBook (827 pages)
Source: Purchased

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mark her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend--the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's national bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

Winter ended up being my favorite book in the whole series. Snow White is probably the hardest fairy tale character to connect to. She’s perfect and helpless. Winter spends a lot of time dusting, sweeping, cleaning rugs, organizing and washing laundry like Snow White does (but no forest animals in this version). But Winter pays such a high price for her goodness (literally going crazy) that I couldn’t help but admire her. She refuses to ever manipulate and control people even with “good” intentions because it’s never harmless. Making a fake happy life for someone is cruel in it’s own way. “For who am I to presume what is good for others? ( Location 3944)” In her place, I would have taken the easy way out and just controlled people’s minds and justified it. The fact that Winter refuses to do that shows a different kind of strength that was no less impressive because it wasn’t violent or physical. She ended up being my favorite character in the series. I loved how Cinder described her as quirky, caring, intelligent, humble but not ignorant (Location 4551). When we first meet Winter, it’s hard to tell what is real and what is hallucination. It made me connect with her immediately. And her connection and relationship with Jacin was beautiful. I could see why they loved each other and how they helped each other. They are my favorite couple by a mile in the whole series.

I didn’t know how Marissa Meyer was going to pull off the fairy tale connections but of course she did in the most clever ways. When Jacin asked for his knife back, I knew immediately that he was going to have to use it on Winter but even that scene didn’t go exactly like I expected. Cinder and her friends tell Winter not to leave or let anyone in. I chuckled when I realized that meant all of them were kind of like dwarves in that moment. The queen is obsessed with looks and with the people loving her. The queen is convinced that everything she’s done is for the good of the people and they are ungrateful and only love Winter because she is pretty. Then she accuses Winter of all the things she herself has done – conniving and manipulation. It’s all such excellent villain motivation and I loved it. There’s a glass tank and a kiss and even a “poisoned” apple. I’m still impressed with how much you could still see the fairy tale in this sci-fi world.

I loved the sarcastic humor. So much sarcastic goodness going on. From Jacin joking about the city’s solid foundation of “brainwashing and manipulation (Location 918)” to Scarlet’s comment on Cinder’s speech lacking in strategy and Iko’s relief that someone else noticed that, too. The most ironic humor was Cinder getting all the intel they needed from the queen’s propaganda.

I liked the development of Wolf’s character and the discussion of animal instincts and how instincts are not always violent. They can be protective, loving, and playful. I wouldn’t say I like Wolf, but I felt like I understood him by the end – even as Frankenstein Wolf.

I kind of wondered why the device that Jacin brought up to the Queen and the one Cinder thought Iko might have something to do with didn’t come up sooner, though. There was a lot of mind manipulation going on in the battle and something like that device would have been real handy. I couldn’t help but wonder why they wouldn’t develop either a weapon or a defense of some kind before going into such a one sided battle. They jumped in a little unprepared.

I liked the politics and the plot. Cinder talks about mercy and fair trials because killing “bad” guys just leads to more tyranny and mistrust. That was a powerful moment.

I loved this book so much. I’ll end my review with my favorite quote from the book:

“Broken isn’t the same as unfixable. (Location 6884)”

Book Review of Winter on a Post-it

I post reviews like this on Instagram.  Be sure to follow me there!

About Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer lives near Seattle with her husband and their three cats. She's a fan of most things geeky (Sailor Moon, Firefly, color-coordinating her bookshelf...) and will take any excuse to put on a costume. She may or may not be a cyborg.


Find me on Twitter @BooksATrueStory

The post Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer first appeared on Books: A true story

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