World Book Day: celebrating the reading highlights of the year so far

 

We all know there’s a “day” for everything: garlic, bread, talking like a pirate…the list goes on. It just so happens that today is World Book Day. Yeah, I was unaware this was a thing too. However, it gives me the perfect excuse to talk about my favorite reads of 2019 so far.

It’s been a stellar start to my reading year. I’ve managed to read a lot more than expected, considering how busy my life gets. I also have started getting ARCs to read and discuss, which my nerdy reader self is incredibly excited for. Some of the books below are ARCs, meaning they aren’t available to purchase yet. However, I highly recommend either pre-ordering them or grabbing them when you see them on shelves. Everything in this post is fantastic!

The Oddmire Book 1: Changeling by William Ritter

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I can’t rave about this book enough. Intended for a slightly younger crowd, it is still highly enjoyable for adults. Read my post explaining what makes it so special here.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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I’d heard about this book constantly for a while before deciding to pick it up. I didn’t think it could possibly live up to all the hype. Trust me, it does. Here’s what I had to say about that.

For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More by Graham Tarrant

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The only thing I don’t like about the book is the ridiculously long title. The book itself is absolutely engrossing. If you’re a reader (and I assume you are if you take the time to read book blogs), this is one to read.

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

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I was already a fan of Heilig after reading The Girl From Everywhere, but this book is above and beyond. A hardcore main character in a fantasy book who has a mental illnes? Yes please!

No Country for Old Gnomes (The Tales of Pell #2) by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

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This book is hilarious. I laughed so hard at parts, it was dangerous (gothic sweaters!). Pick it up.

Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

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This was fantastic! The world is so well-realized, and the characters so interesting, adding phoenixes just served to elevate this author even further in my opinion. You can read my review of it here.

There you have it, the best books I’ve read so far this year. There are so many others that I’m looking forward to, as well as the unexpected gems I’m sure to come across. Help me find more to add to my very long tbr list: what are your favorites so far?

The Oddmire book 1: Changeling by William Ritter- ARC Review

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Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are. (taken from Amazon)

                                        Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This will be available to purchase on July 16th.

After reading and loving William Ritter’s adult series, the first of which is titled Jackaby, I was desperate to get my hands on this book as soon as possible. And I am so, so glad that I was able to! It’s fantastic. There isn’t a single thing that could possibly have been improved.

I love that the main characters are twins, but each has a very distinct personality. While both boys were great characters, I have a soft spot for Tinn. His sweet, anxious nature reminds me very much of my oldest child. I also loved their mom, who goes charging in to the Oddmire after her boys, exactly as any caring mom would do.

The main characters are easy to relate to, and the storyline is wonderful. There are fantastical creatures aplenty (Hinkypunks! How cool is that?), danger around every turn, and a subtle, but sweet message about being who you are- no matter what.

I could go into all the reasons a parent or teacher should love this book: it talks about feeling like you don’t belong, conquering your fears, and that those differences are gifts.  Each twin sees good things in the other that the other hasn’t realized about himself, which is something that I think a lot of people do; they tend to think everyone else has everything figured out. I could talk about how the book doesn’t talk down to its intended age group, how it showcases the power of love.

Or I could just talk about how amazingly fun this book is! I’ll be buying a copy for my son, and I encourage every child (or child-at-heart) who enjoys a good fantasy to pick this book up.

O.W.Ls Readathon 2019

I admit: like a large part of the population, I’m a Harry Potter fan. Actually, at this point, I’m afraid I’m moving toward being a Harry Potter hipster (“I liked Harry Potter before JK Rowling started in on the constant retconning”). Either way, I’m participating in the O.W.Ls readathon for the first time this year. For those who don’t know what that is, here’s a link to the official video: video.

I’m taking the O.W.Ls required to work toward a career as a librarian. Seriously, it sounds wonderful. Here are the books I’m planning on reading to fulfill each subject requirement. I’m a huge mood reader, though, so these are all subject to change:

Ancient Runes- A Retelling: Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie Mclemore-

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The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.
But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts. (taken from Amazon)

I’m in the middle of reading this one right now. It seems to be a mash-up of Snow White and Rose Red and Swan Lake. Despite loving the tale of Swan Lake, I’m really not enjoying this book so far. It’s told from multiple points of view, but the chapters are so short that there’s really no time to get to know these characters and I’m struggling to connect with the story. Here’s hoping it improves.

Arithmancy- Work Written by Multiple Authors: The Big Book of Classic Fantasy edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

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From the fairy tales we first heard as children, fantasy stories have always been with us. They illuminate the odd and the uncanny, the wondrous and the fantastic: all the things we know are lurking just out of sight–on the other side of the looking-glass, beyond the music of the impossibly haunting violin, through the dark trees of the forest. Other worlds, talking animals, fairies, goblins, demons, tricksters, and mystics: these are the elements that populate a rich literary tradition that spans the globe.
In this collection, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer explore the stories that shaped our modern idea of “fantasy.” There are the expected pillars of the genre: the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Mary Shelley, Christina Rossetti, Nikolai Gogol, Franz Kafka, L. Frank Baum, Robert E. Howard, and J. R. R. Tolkien. But it’s the unexpected treasures from Asian, Eastern European, Scandinavian, and Native American traditions–including fourteen stories never before available in English–that show that the urge to imagine surreal circumstances, bizarre creatures, and strange new worlds is truly a universal phenomenon. A work composed both of careful scholarship and fantastic fun, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is essential reading for anyone who’s never forgotten the stories that first inspired feelings of astonishment and wonder. (taken from Amazon)

I’m also currently reading this book, since I tend to read two or three books at the same time. I’m odd that way. My fantasy and fairy tale- loving self is fascinated by this book so far.

Defense Against the Dark Arts- Reducto! A book starting with “R”: The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare

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All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping. (taken from Amazon)

The Shadowhunter books are guilty pleasures for me. I think we can all agree that the writing isn’t necessarily the most incredible ever, but the world is a lot of fun. This book releases on the ninth and I’m really hoping to be able to read it a.s.ap.

History of Magic- Published at Least Ten Years Ago: The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation

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The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation:  This will be a reread for me, and it won’t be the first time I’ve reread this amazing book. It’s National Poetry Month, though, so I figure that gives me the perfect excuse to dive right back into the fearless, creative writing that defined the Beat Generation.

Transfiguration: Sprayed Edges or Red Cover- Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

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You can’t get much redder than this gorgeous cover. I recently posted a review on this book, which you can check out here. This book was beautiful but very, very sad.

There you have it! Are any of you participating in this year’s O.W.Ls readathon? What career have you chosen? Oh, in case you were wondering: I’m a Ravenclaw.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee- ARC Review

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with this copy, in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available for purchase on April 16th.

Lenny Spink is the sister of a giant. Her little brother, Davey, suffers from a rare form of gigantism and is taunted by other kids and turned away from school because of his size. To escape their cruel reality, Lenny and Davey obsess over the entries in their monthly installment of Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia set. Lenny vows to become a beetle expert, while Davey decides he will run away to Canada and build a log cabin. But as Davey’s disease progresses, the siblings’ richly imagined world becomes harder to cling to in this deeply moving and original novel about grief, family, and wonder. (taken from Amazon)

Melancholy, but never overdone, this beautiful book is perfectly written. It’s told from Lenny’s point of view as she and her brother Davey turn to an encyclopedia set to help them navigate the things they don’t understand and can’t control. This book is a thoughtful commentary on dealing with grief.

I can tell that this will be considered a classic in its type- keeping company with A Monster Calls and Bridge to Terabithia. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. This book will stay with me and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it made into a movie a few years down the line.

I love that it’s written for children because so often we try to protect kids from the big things, not realizing that these things affect them too. The language is simple, but never condescending. It doesn’t hold back, but it also doesn’t attempt to oversell, if that makes sense.  I tell you what, though: plan on getting a mysterious case of teary eye toward the end!

The List by Patricia Forde

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In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. 

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself. (taken from Goodreads)

I have mixed feelings about this book. I really can’t say why (maybe it’s the feel I got from the cover?), but I expected a lighthearted, sweet story. That does not describe this book at all. Really, it feels like 1984 or The Giver, but written for a younger demographic. It’s much more serious and thought provoking than I thought it would be.

I did like the way this book brought to the fore how powerful words can be. Noa, the leader of the city of Ark, knows that words can be deceitful and dangerous, so he restricts the words that are allowed. It’s your typical dystopian novel in many respects: art and music are forbidden, and every aspect of life is tightly controlled. Letta, the main character, has to decide whether she will fall in line, or risk everything for the possibility of a different future.

I was surprised at some of the harshness of this book. If your child reads this, expect to have some deep conversations about it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. I think kids can handle a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for. That being said, I did tell my ten year old to expect some heavy subject matter should he choose to read this. As of yet, he hasn’t.

The characters seemed to be developed just enough to not be one dimensional, but not much beyond that. I felt that the pacing of this book was a little off. The beginning went very slowly for me, while the ending seemed rushed. Some things were a little heavy-handed, such as the names (Ark; Noa). I think that makes it seem as though I disliked the book, but I didn’t. I thought it was a solid addition to the dystopian fiction genre. It’s just nothing new.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Middle-grade Gems, as Told by My Fifth Grader

My ten year old is an advanced reader who loves books. He can read anything, ability-wise (although Shakespeare might take a while), but he does have specific tastes. I thought it would be fun to write a blog post, talking specifically about his current favorites.

Randoms by David Liss

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Zeke Reynolds comes from a long line of proud science fiction geeks. He knows his games, comics, movies, and TV shows like Captain Kirk knows the starship Enterprise. So it’s a dream come true when he learns the science fiction he loves so much is based on reality—and that he’s been selected to spend a year on a massive space station. To evaluate humanity’s worthiness, the Confederation of United Planets has hand picked three of Earth’s most talented young people—and then there’s Zeke. He’s the random.

Unfortunately, Zeke finds life in space more challenging than he’d hoped. When he saves his transport ship from a treacherous enemy attack, he’s labeled a war criminal. Now despised by the Confederation, rejected by his fellow humans, and pursued by a ruthless enemy, Zeke befriends the alien randoms: rejected by their own species, but loyal to each other. But their presence in the Confederation may not be so random after all, and as the danger increases, Zack’s knowledge of science fiction might be the only thing that can save himself, his friends, and Earth itself. (Taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “It’s a good sci-fi for readers my age, and slightly older. It’s good for geeky nerds out there because it’s got a lot of funny references to sci-fi. There’s even some Serenity in there [I’m a huge Firefly fan]. Overall, it’s a really good book with great characters. Although it’s a more serious sci-fi, it has a lot of fun points and the characters are easy to relate to. The main character doesn’t really have that much going for him. I like how down-to-earth it is, even though it’s in space. ”

Gamer Army by Trent Reedy

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After Rogan Webber levels up yet again on his favorite video game, Laser Viper, the world-famous creator of the game invites him to join the five best players in the country for an exclusive tournament. The gamers are flown to the tech mogul’s headquarters, where they stay in luxury dorms and test out cutting edge virtual-reality gaming equipment, doing digital battle as powerful fighting robots. It’s the ultimate gaming experience. (taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “Best points: First of all, I liked the fact that it was a different setting that most sci-fi books that I’ve read. Everyone is living in virtual reality.
Secondly, I like how the characters evolved throughout the book, especially the main character.
Third, the action scenes were really cool and exhilarating.
Overall, Gamer Army is a fast-paced combo for both video game fans and action fans.”

Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan

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They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers, with their dark cloaksand shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied. . . (taken from Amazon)

His opinion: “I thought that the first Ranger’s Apprentice book wasn’t going to be that good when I saw how old it was, but once I read the book, I really liked it. The characters are nicely done and the action’s good. I like how accurate it is to medieval times while still having its own fantasy style. My favorite character is Will. He’s a great archer, and he’s fun and mischievous, and I like that. I like that they keep introducing new villains.”
Honorable Mentions:

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The Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann

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The Zodiac Legacy series by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong

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The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage

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The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

These are my fifth grader’s current favorites. I’m curious how this will change over the course of the year. I might have to interview him again in around six months.

Do you have young readers? Have they read any of these? What are their favorites?

A Trip Down Memory Lane

This time of year, I tend to feel a little nostalgic. I think that’s true for most people. For me, my childhood memories are threaded through with books. I remember walking to the library with my mom and siblings, pulling a wagon to bring books home in. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

A few picture books stand out to me as favorites then, some that I’ve managed to hold on to or replace, so that my kids can enjoy them too. Here are a few of my absolute favorite children’s books:

St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. How can any kid not love these illustrations? They’re absolutely gorgeous. Combine that with the superb writing, and you feel like you’re traveling with George of Merry England to save the day (although, I did always kind of root for the dragon).

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The Kitchen Knight, also by Margaret Hodges with pictures by Trina Schart Hyman. What can I say? My love of fairy tales and fantasy started young and I’ve never outgrown it. I’ve been trying to get my hands on this book for years, but I haven’t managed it yet. It’s my very own quest, just slightly less fraught with peril. Ha ha!

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Jimmy’s Boa Bounces Back by Trina Hakes Noble illustrated by Steven Kellog. This isn’t the first Jimmy’s Boa book (that one is The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash), but I absolutely loved this book. It’s hilarious, how ridiculously everything escalates. It’s fun for both children and their parents, which is important because I can guarantee your little one will ask to have this one read over and over.

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Alphabears by Kathleen Hague illustrated by Michael Hague. This book helped me learn my alphabet. The little blurbs next to each letter are so sweet, and the entire book feels like a hug. There’s really no other way to describe it. This book remains one of my favorites, because I’m weird and I love children’s books.

Alphabears: An ABC Book: Hague, Kathleen
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. There are many “If you Give a…” books, but this is the only one I like. It’s so stinking cute! I have to admit that I relate to it more, now that I’m a permanently exhausted parent.

Pecos Bill, written and Illustrated by Steven Kellog. When I was young, I’d read this book while listening to Robin Williams read it on cassette. It’s not the same without hearing his silly antics bring an equally silly legend to life. I’ve looked for it on cd, but haven’t had any luck.

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Last, but certainly not least, is East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer. Another fairy tale, I know, I know, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this fantastic book. The story is magical and the illustrations are beautiful. I always laugh a little thinking about how gorgeous this book is, because Mercer Mayer is more well known for his cute Little Critter books (which I also recommend, of course).  The great thing about this book is, the hero is a heroine.

Anyway, these are some of the books that are on my mind as I think back on all the literary adventures I was able to enjoy as a kid. What are some of your childhood favorites?

Combating the Post-Potter Slump

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Do you ever get into that post-book slump? The kind that only happens after you’ve gotten so invested in a book that you can’t possibly just move on to another book? That seems to happen a lot with the Harry Potter books. They’re fantastic, which leaves only a few options:

1. Immediately grab the first book and start reading the series again.
2. Mourn the end of an excellent series and vow to never read again,

OR

3. Find another book or series that sucks you in, thus continuing the painful and wonderful cycle that bookworms everywhere happily go through.

While there are many lists with great suggestions to end post-Potter book burnout, here are a few of mine:

*The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. This is a fun series. While it’s obviously been at least influenced by JK Rowling, it’s a creative world and storyline in its own right. The main character, Callum Hunt, is admitted to the Magisterium, a school for magic. There’s the similarity, but that’s about where it ends, though. This is a fast-paced romp created by the minds that have written the Shadowhunter books, and The Cruel Prince, respectively. While a little darker (think HP #7, instead of #1), my ten year old had no problem reading them.

*The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians book #1) by Rick Riordan. A good chunk of this book takes place at Camp Half-Blood, where the children of the Greek gods learn to use their powers. While this is absolutely a great series to read after Harry Potter, my son much prefers the Red Pyramid, also by Rick Riordan. That involves Egyptian mythology which both of us find more interesting, and features that sort of friendship that JK Rowling wrote so well.

*Ragesong: Awakening by J.R. Simmons (Ragesong series #1).  Jake has been chosen to save a world he’s had no knowledge of. Joined by two changelings, and a girl named Sam, Jake must use his unique musical ability to harness the power of Ragesong and hopefully save the day. This book is a great adventure (plus-changelings!), and, while intended for around twelve years old or so, it’s well suited for as young as third or fourth grade, based on reading ability.

*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I love this book! It’s set in a magical world, and a grand adventure. While it obviously has many Christian parallels, which has led to wonderful conversations in our house, it’s well written and you can take as much or as little from it as you like.

Now, here are a couple suggestions that are a little more off-beat:

*School for Pyschics by K.C. Archer. This is an adult novel, not one intended for the younger of the Harry Potter fan base. I’d almost call it the Harry Potter starring millennials, but it hasn’t ripped off Harry Potter in any way. It’s completely unique. Teddy thinks she’s an excellent con-woman, able to read people and use it to bilk them, and that’s it. Until she makes a few bad choices, learns that she is in fact, psychic, and agrees to go to the School for Psychics as a way to avoid a more unpleasant fate. There, she gets caught up in a sinister plot. It’s great to see more twenty-somethings represented in literature, and it’s a new take of the “school for magic” idea.

*Last, but certainly not least: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I know this books seems to have zero business being in this post, but bear with me for a minute and I’ll give my reasoning. I’m not going to describe the plot because it’s pretty much a given that you know something about this book. The reason I’ve added this as a good follow-up to Harry Potter is the friendships between D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. That, combined with the shenanigans they constantly manage to get themselves into, and the more nefarious schemes, makes this a book worth reading. That it’s amazingly well written, and has stood the test of time, makes Dumas’ book one that everyone should read. Give this a chance. You won’t be sorry.

What would you suggest to combat the post-Potter blues? Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Incidentally, I’m a Ravenclaw.