Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Loved the Order of the Phoenix film.

Am re-reading Half-Blood Prince.

And on Saturday, it will all be over.

Yes, I am a geek. No, I don't care.

Here are my thoughts and predictions on Book 7, trying to fill my hours before I can wait in line for the midnight release of the book.

Dumbledore: Alive or Dead?

Dead. Definitely dead. But not entirely gone. No, I don’t believe he’ll be Gandalf, rising into a new life. He’ll be more like Obi-Wan, providing moments of help along the way. How will he do it? I expect to see Dumbledore’s help through one of his 3 “P”s: portrait, pensieve, and/or phoenix.

Snape: Good or Evil?

Good. Not that he and Harry will ever share a summer cottage together (as Dumbledore said, “Some wounds go too deep for the healing”), but Severus Snape was not a Death Eater in disguise rejoicing at the opportunityto kill Dumbledore. Like Harry, I am Dumbledore’s man through and through. Unlike Harry, I don’t have a personal history of abuse from Snape, so I am free to see the clues to Snape’s behavior. His Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa Malfoy was not his first. Why did Dumbledore always trust Snape? Not merely because he has to believe the best in everyone. No, I believe when Snape left the Death Eaters (over Voldemort’s hunt for Lily Potter) that Dumbledore placed Snape under an Unbreakable Vow to follow his orders. It’s the only explanation I can see that explains Dumbledore’s unwavering trust. Dumbledore trusted Snape. That’s good enough for me.

Harry: Horcrux or Not?

Harry is a horcrux, unbeknownst to both him and Voldemort. The scar is the representation. (We all know that Avada Kedavra doesn’t leave a mark—the scar is a symbol of Voldemort’s unwitting transfer of part of his soul to Harry the night he tried to kill him.) When I first finished Book 6 and thought of this, I was devastated, believing that Harry would have to die to destroy the piece of Voldemort’s soul within him. Now I don’t think so. Both the ring and the diary—the two horcruxes that have been destroyed thus far—continue to exist, albeit in broken or blank form. Harry is a horcrux. He will have to destroy the piece of Voldemort within him. When he does, I predict that he won’t die—but he will lose his magic. That’s the great sacrifice. Harry will choose to give up the power behind his happiest memory—the moment Hagrid told him he was a wizard.

Who Is RAB?

The easier answer of all: Regulus Black. (Quite possibly Regulus Alphard Black, the middle name being found on the Black family tapestry at 12 Grimmauld Place.) How did he find the locket horcrux? I don’t know, but I think it was Kreacher who helped him retrieve it—maybe drinking that horrible potion that weakened Dumbledore is what sent Kreacher over the edge once and for all. And the real locket is almost certainly the one referred to in Book 5 as being in the Black family home. Is it still there? If not, than Harry will have to look to Kreacher and/or Mundugus to locate it.

People/Items/Oddities we’ll see again

Peter Pettigrew. He owes Harry a life debt. We’ll see the payoff in Book 7.

The arch where Sirius died. (Yes, Sirius too is definitely dead.) But the arch will return and may even provide Harry a means to see Sirius once more.

Bellatrix Lestrange. Neville isn’t finished with her yet. (And yes, it will be Neville who faces Bellatrix. As much as Harry wants her for what she did to Sirius, Neville wants her more. This one is Neville’s fight.)

Dumbledore’s famous “gleam of triumph”. When Voldemort used Harry’s blood to regenerate in Book 4, Dumbledore obviously thought that critically important. The power of blood, the power of Lily’s love . . . this is one I don’t have a prediction for. I don’t know how it will help Harry. But it will.

Mortality Rate

JK Rowling said while writing Book 7 that she had given a reprieve to a character she thought would die and killed two others she hadn’t previously planned on.

Who got the reprieve? I think it’s Snape.

Who got the axe? Hmm, this one is harder because there are so many vulnerable people. I hate the thought of it being Arthur or Molly Weasley, though it’s probable that at least one of them will die. Lupin is in the line of fire. Another teacher, a student . . . let’s face it, with Dumbledore’s death Rowling proved that no one is safe. I will go out on my hopeful limb and predict that the charmed circle (once three, now four) will survive: Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

After Voldemort

Rowling has said that she wrote the final chapter of Book 7 years ago and that it’s a wrap-up, a look into the future that tells everyone’s fate after the war. Here are my predictions:

Ron and Hermione marry (well, this one isn’t really hard—they’re obviously meant for each other. Rowling couldn’t be much clearer if they walked around with flashing neon lights proclaiming "Ron and Hermione Forever".) They will have a bunch of kids with lots and lots of bushy red hair.

Neville and Luna marry: this one is more wishful than supported by evidence, but I just love the thought of the children these two would produce. Believers in nargyls and the Rotfang Conspiracy, but not able to remember what those are from moment to moment :)

Hermione becomes the first Muggle-born Minister of Magic

Neville teaches Herbology at Hogwarts

Fred and George grow rich on Weasley Wizarding Wheezes

Harry marries Ginny, lives long and happily with her in the family he always wanted, and (this one is out on the shakiest of limbs) becomes Headmaster of Hogwarts in spite of the fact that he can no longer do magic


In the end, only Jo Rowling knows for certain the details of what happens, how, and why. But there is one certainty. If I were a gambling woman, I'd bet on it.

Voldemort dies.

For seven books, it's been a fight between good and evil. Though the costs are high, good will triumph. Between Luke and Anakin, the emperor was killed. Thanks to both Frodo and Gollum, the ring was destroyed. No matter how twisting and painful the path, Harry defeats Voldemort.

I can't wait.

The Good

1. Chichen Itza and Tulum: We had a personal tour guide for these two Mayan ruins. Helaman was recommended to us by friends and we loved every minute of our long day with him. No taking kids on a big tour bus--we traveled in a 15-person van that let everybody sit where nobody else could touch them. Helaman has been a tour guide for more than 20 years and he made the sites much more interesting than they might have been. Okay, he couldn't do anything about the heat (and really, what were those ancient Maya thinking building in a steaming hot jungle?) But his stories were fascinating, his sense of history and culture was impeccable, and he had lots of fun with the kids. After Chichen Itza, we lunched at a wonderful buffet restaurant (you'd never have suspected the beautiful courtyard and restaurant from the building's facade) and then it was off to Tulum. This was a Mayan port, protected by a coral reef. There was only one way in and out of the reef, and apparently the Maya watched the Spanish and Portugese wreck ship after ship on it for more than twenty years. Tulum definitely wins for best setting of ancient ruins--not quite so claustrophobic as the jungle.

2. Hilton Iguana Club: My two youngest adored this for-kids-only program. They spent two full days learning to golf and touring the hotel (including the presidential suite) and doing a treasure hunt and playing with water balloons and painting shirts and gathering sea shells to make a picture frame . . . we'd only planned to put them in for one day, but they had so much fun they insisted on going back. (Honestly, it was their idea. It had nothing at all to do with the fact that with them safely looked after I could spend hours lying by the pool reading without interruption.)

3. Dolphins: We swam with the dolphins while the youngest watched and my husband took pictures. It was spectacular. I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed it. We were in a group of six, me and my three kids and two teenage girls, and we got to spend time with the dolphins swimming around us and through our group, petting them and feeling their incredibly smooth skin. We got to feed them and kiss them and do the foot-push (where you lay in a deadman's float and the dolphin pushes at your feet and sends you skimming across the water.) I'm so glad I did it. I'm not much of a get-in-the-water person, but this was one of the highlights of my life.

4. Food and beverages delivered right to your poolside cabana. Need I say more?

5. Eating as a family. This doesn't happen often with my husband's work schedule. We enjoyed each other immensely, from teenager to 1st-grader. Those are the moments for which we go on vacation . . . those memories of laughter and jokes and funny faces that help us get through the day to day stuff of life.

The Bad

1. Xcaret: We wanted to enjoy this ecological park. We really did. It's a cool concept--lots of native flora and fauna, beaches, a reproduction Mayan village, an evening show. But it was just not our day. We did enjoy the underground river, though it took our youngest a while to relax in his life jacket and realize he wasn't in imminent danger of drowning. (I mostly floated on my back through these caverns while he rode on top of my stomach.) But things went rapidly downhill from there. The park is huge and spread out and it was virtually impossible to follow the paths to where you wanted to go. (I think they're like Hogwarts castle, with the constantly-changing staircases.) We missed our first dolphin appointment because there were two dolphin pools (but only one was on the map--apparently you don't need to speak Spanish to get around, you need to be telepathic.) It was miserably hot and humid and there was no way on earth we were going to stick around until late that night when the bus would return. So we took a taxi home and made a vow--Never Break the Sabbath Day Again.

2. Taxis: I'm not sure I really mean for this to be under bad. More under, hmmm, adventurous? Dangerous? Take your life in your hands? Every single taxi we rode in went like this: Driver in driver's seat; dad in front passenger seat with daughter on his lap; two big boys and mom in the back with little boy on mom's lap. No question of seat belts. Some drivers were more adventurous than others. But hey! We're here, aren't we? And frankly, after having been in Kenya last summer, I can confidently state that these were not the most dangerous roads we've been on.

3. Coming home: Always the worst part of a trip. There's the long hours of waiting at airports and flights and wishing you could just apparate wherever you wanted. Then there's laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. And housecleaning. And cooking. And, you know, little things like having to make your own bed. And knowing that the vacation long looked forward to is now in the past.

We'll just have to start planning our next one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


But only the good ones.

I just can't be bothered to write about the books I didn't think were great. I'll list titles at the end . . . because who knows what might grab someone else.

HONEYMOON IN PURDAH by Alison Wearing: Wearing is a Canadian woman who wants to visit Iran. Since it's the only place in the world she can't imagine traveling as a woman alone, she drags along her male roommate and, with a fake marriage license, the two of them spend several months in Iran as a honeymooning couple. This book made me wish I were that brave. They cross the border on a bus from Turkey and spend most of their time in small towns. They meet wonderful people who practically drag them off the streets to feed and house them. Wearing talks about the experience of being muffled in robes and veils and the religious strictures that the government imposes--but also talks about the corruption and tyranny of the last shah's regime. Mostly, I was left with a wonderful impression of the people and culture of Iran, so much more than we get in our news segments. Highly recommended.

THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini: My sister-in-law gave me this for my birthday and I'm so glad she did! About a boy's childhood in Afghanistan during the last days of the monarchy, through his exile with his father to the United States when the Russians took over, and about his moving return trip during the Taliban regime to try and rescue an orphaned boy in Kabul. It is a gritty novel, it is not easy to read, but I found it well worth it. Though there is evil in this book, there is also good and forgiveness and beauty. I'm about to start Hosseini's second novel.

NIGHT by Eli Wiesel: For book club. "A slim volume of terrifying power"--that's what it says on the cover. It's true. A book I think everyone should read at least once, about Wiesel's time in concentration camps as a teenage boy. I'm going to give it to my fourteen-year-old to read this year, since Wiesel was just a little older than he was when the Jews of his town were rounded up.

ASKING FOR THE MOON by Reginald Hill: I've become a big fan of Hill's mystery novels with Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. This is a collection of short stories featuring the pair, from their first encounter on the police force to their last adventure, some thirty years in the future when an astronaut is murdered during a moon landing. For Dalziel and Pascoe fans.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN HARRY POTTER 7? by Emerson Spartz: This is a collection of essays from the most well-known Harry Pottery website at mugglenet.com. With chapters like "Horcruxes", "Is Dumbledore Really Dead", and "Snape: Good or Evil", the book is a fun warm-up to the big even next week. Even contains a chart at the end with all the major and minor characters listed and giving odds of which of them will die. The only certainty they offer is this: It's a book about good and evil. Evil will not win. Voldemort will die. Everything else is up for grabs. I can't wait!

THE REBECCA NOTEBOOK by Daphne du Maurier: A volume of du Maurier's essays, including sketches of her childhood cousins, the boys for whom J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan; a remembrance of her father, actor Gerald du Maurier; and her love for the house she called Manderley in REBECCA. Also, as the title indicates, is a collection of her notes for REBECCA, the original outline for the novel, and the original opening she wrote. You can see how things changed as she wrote the novel and she gives background on the writing of it. A definite read for fans of du Maurier.

SABRIEL by Garth Nix: Straight from my 11-year-old's hands to mine. This first in a fantasy trilogy was recommended for my son by a friend of mine who's never steered me wrong before. (Thanks, Kate!) Sabriel's father has gone missing in the Old Kingdom, a place of magic and evil across a crumbling boundary wall from Sabriel's school. Now she must take up the tools of his trade: seven bells that have the power to control the dead and send them through the series of gates that will banish them completely from the human world. Necromancers and frozen princes and bewitched cats and a teenage girl trying to help her father--this book had it all.

OUT OF AFRICA by Karen Blixen: Took me right back to Kenya from the first paragraph. A wonderful picture of colonial East Africa after WWI. Maybe not as good for someone who hasn't been there, but having bought this book in the very sitting room of the house that was Karen Blixen's, I loved it.

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson: For book club. Loved it. Powerful YA novel about a girl who's just starting high school under a cloud and gradually stops speaking. Melinda wants to vanish, but she's got an art teacher who keeps trying to get her to make a tree. A devastatingly accurate picture of high school power structures and the sufferings of the individual. I liked it so much that I bought another one of Anderson's, CATALYST, about a senior girl who's life is falling apart--from the fire at a neighbor's house to her rejection from the only college she applied to. Definite reads for my daughter when she gets older.

IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY by Bill Bryson: The travel writer takes on Australia this time. How could you not love a book with this paragraph on just the third page? "This is a country that loses a prime minister and that is so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world's first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed. Clearly this is a place worth getting to know." He travels to every major city in Australia (there aren't many) and into the interior and along the empty coasts. He made me want to see it all, not just Sydney. Even though, as he says, "There are more things in Australia that will kill you than anywhere else."

Those that I read but don't particularly feel like talking about at length . . .

THE CUP OF GHOSTS by Paul Doherty

Sigh. I was hoping this plan would cut down on my wordiness about what I read. That didn't work out. Face it, I'm a complete and utter bore when it comes to books :)

Friday, July 06, 2007

7 Books Revisited

Apparently, I am a cheater. Fine, apparently my pre-justification of anthologies was not sufficient. I can live with that. And yes, I did count as one two books that are separate. I am suitably chastened. I'm also still a bit punch-drunk from the post-travel exhaustion haze and have decided that's a good state in which to do a new list. (I like lists when I'm having a hard time writing anything because they give a nice structure. Also why I like mystery novels.)

I call it 7 Books I Will Never Read Again and Wish I Hadn't Read in the First Place.

1. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner: Not a Faulkner fan. Or a Hemingway fan. Or a fan of much American literature of that period. This is the only book in my junior-year honors English class that I did not finish but instead resorted to Cliff Notes. Boring. Depressing. And hard to follow.

2. MOBY DICK by Herman Melville: I did actually read this one through for that same honors English class. Even the chapters on sperm oil and blubber. But again, not my type of ocean novel. (Do I have a type of ocean novel? Now I'm wondering. I suppose if I did it would involve a pirate an awful lot like Jack Sparrow or Will Turner.) Oddly, one of my favorite novels of the last few years is AHAB'S WIFE by Sena Jeter Naslund. Naslund takes a character who never appears in MOBY DICK and writes a fascinating novel that actually made me interested in Ahab as a person. No small feat.

3. THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dosteovsky: I read this because I love his novel CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. So I thought I'd like this one. I didn't. I have decided if I ever have a fit of Russian novel-reading insanity in the future, I will just re-read CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.

4. RED AZALEA by Anchee Min: We chose this for book club because it was on a library reading list and "it sounds interesting". It wasn't. About a young woman in China during the Cultural Revolution, I quickly tired of the in-depth discussion of her sexual affairs, with both men and women, and found the prose very hard going. Maybe it was the translation. But no translation could help the fact that I didn't like the girl at all. Which made me feel guilty, since the author was the girl in question. Fine. I admire her pluck and survival. I did not enjoy her recounting of her life. The first of only two book club books I haven't read to the end.

5. THE RED TENT by some woman I don't remember and I don't care enough to look up her name : The second book club book I didn't finish. We've decided "red" in the title is a sure killer for us. A great concept--telling the story of Jacob's daughter, Dinah, and her twelve brothers from her point of view--but poorly executed in my opinion. I thought Dinah was obnoxious and whiny and, although I'm hard to offend, about the time the sheep made an immoral appearance, I was out of there.

6. THE MURDER STONE by Charles Todd: I feel guilty about this one, because Charles Todd writes a great mystery series set in post-WWI England featuring an inspector haunted by the trenches. But it's a miracle I ever got to know and love Ian Rutledge, because this was the first Todd book I read and it's awful. Another one of those "sounds great" books that doesn't live up to its jacket copy. Its a standalone mystery with wooden characters, stilted dialogue, leaps of emotional logic that left me dizzy and an ending that I just flat-out could not believe. And it violates one of the great rules of mystery novels--it raises a critical question that's not only not answered, it's not even considered again. Fortunately, Inspector Rutledge is much more satisfying. I think Todd should stick to the series.

7. There are so many that could fill this last spot--probably most of them read in my teenage years and most of them so mercifully buried in my mind that I can't even recall titles. (Though it surely included titles along the line of HER DEADLY SECRET or LORD HAMILTON'S LOVER or YOU CHOOSE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN THIS DARK AND ROMANTIC TEENAGE ROMANCE.) But in honor of Harry Potter month, I'll go with the last book in a long-running YA series which I've blogged about before: THE SONS OF DESTINY by Darren Shan. The worst ending of a series I've ever read. I wish I had quit reading halfway through. It has so scarred me that I've been having nightmares this last week about reading the last Harry Potter book and hating it because it had nothing to do with what came before. But I trust Jo Rowling, my heart is in her hands, and I predict that HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS will help heal my series-ending wounds.

The family vacation to Cancun is history.

And can I just say, I didn't realize how bad a reputation I have for blithely ditching my children and going places alone until my own father emailed me from Kenya and said, "Who are you leaving the kids with?" Although my maternal qualities may be underdeveloped, this was one occasion where the entire family was present. For eight days. In adjoining hotel rooms. Meals, swimming, shopping, buses, bathrooms, airplanes . . . there we were, all six of us.

No wonder I'm so tired.

Traveling: My biggest worry was my youngest. Yes, he's almost six. No, he doesn't always act like it. And nothing makes me stress more than having a child melt down in public. As he's also prone to motion sickness (he's thrown up twice in the car in the last two months--thank you, Angie, for the bucket you gave me for my birthday), I was alert for any sign of trouble on the flight down. But he was a star. I tell you, give that kid a puzzle book or maze book, a pen, and he'll keep himself occupied for hours. Literally. Bless you, Highlights for Children :)

Hotel: We stayed at the Hilton Spa and Golf Resort on the south end of Cancun's hotel zone. The golfing might as well have been on another planet (honestly, who wants to golf in the full sun with 95% humidity?) but my husband and I did take advantage of a massage at the spa. Yes, we have a rough life. No, I do not apologize for it. The Hilton was beautiful, fabulous staff, great free breakfast every morning (there are perks to my husband's travel, one of which is that hotel chains throw themselves at him because he spends so much company money over the course of a year), and a the nicest pool I've ever seen. And I have seen some--Hawaii, Aruba, Dubai, Oman. The Cancun Hilton beats them all. It gradually descends to the beach in a series of rectangular shallow pools that cascade over blue tile steps (lots of fun to clamber up and down) until it gets to the half-circle shaped infinity pool. There's also a self-contained and very large children's pool that doesn't get deeper than two feet. Perfect for putting the two youngest in and not worrying. There's also a pool bar (which we took more advantage of than you would expect from a family that doesn't drink alcohol) and dozens of thatch-roofed cabanas with comfy lounge chairs underneath. The kicker of it all--the place never seemed to fill up. Certainly not the pool area, which was much quieter than our neighborhood pool ever is.

Food: My 8-year-old daughter's biggest fear about going to Mexico was that she would have to eat Mexican food. Hers are not adventurous taste buds. But in addition to the aforementioned breakfast (which included fresh fruit and a chocolate fountain--does breakfast get better?) we had wonderful meals, even outside the fairly enclosed element of the hotel. My favorite was the buffet near Chichen Itza. Everything from seafood paella to grilled tilapia. (And lots of fresh bread and spaghetti for the younger kids.) We also ate at places like Planet Hollywood and the Rainforest Cafe. Cancun is, after all, a big tourist town. But my favorite meal was at the beachfront Hilton restaurant called Mitachi. While the kids ate room service pizza (and the youngest broke a plate in the room which his 14-year-old brother had to clean up), my husband and I enjoyed Coconut shrimp Barbados style and warm rolls and New York filet and Chilean sea bass. With personal chocolate souffles to finish us off. Good thing the kids were with us so we couldn't eat like that every night.

Enough for today. Did I mention I still have mono? Had the blood test right before the trip and not only do I still have the active virus, I have it at the same level I had it in December. So apparently I haven't been lazy enough. I'm working to perfect that.

But one last tidbit for this entry: Our youngest boy learned a new favorite word in Mexico. He likes how it makes people laugh when he says it with just the right intonation and impish grin. We've trained him to use it as an answer.

Question: How was Mexico, youngest child?
Youngest child: Tequila!