Tag Archives: adult

Book Review: Pacing Keeps A Darker Shade of Magic Shy of Five Stars

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Click to visit a really cool website by the publisher with links to order, reviews, an excerpt, trailer, quiz, playlist, information about the Londons, and more.

V. E. (Victoria) Schwab is an author recommended to me by several friends in several groups, someone who has come across my radar independently as well with her intriguing blurbs, and someone whom Rick Riordan has reviewed well. Entering her worlds was nearly inevitable, but this was my first foray into her stories. In the Shades of Magic series, four parallel worlds meet in London, and Kell, one of the last Antari, can travel across the parallel worlds via blood magic. Magic in these worlds is an entity of itself, one Kell sees as a friend and partner and one that Holland, another of the last Antari and a citizen of hungry White London, sees as an entity to be subjugated.

Some spoilers. Proceed with caution.

Having unwittingly smuggled a dangerous artifact out of White London, Kell plunges out of an attack in Red London to Grey London, where he crashes into Lila, who does what she does best. I was annoyed that our two protagonists, Kell and Lila Bard, a wanted, masked thief from Grey London—our London—don’t meet until the 130th page. Each is enjoyable company individually, and I happily would have spent a full novel with either one, but I was sure (and correct) that the plot would pick up pace when the thief and the smuggler met.

There’s much to love in A Darker Shade of Magic: a unique and intriguing and well-explained magic and worlds, political strife, and several enjoyable characters—not only Kell, powerfully magical but caught between being an adopted prince and a slave to the royal family; but also Lila, who wants to be a pirate captain, who plays at being selfish but who hides a good heart that sometimes gets the better of her and gets her in trouble; Rhy, the trusting, charming, and flirtatious prince; and Holland, whose story is tragic but who is callous enough to almost erase the pity that I want to feel for him—really, in White London almost everyone is tragic and callous both.

What drags off of the five-star pedestal for me is the pacing. I’ve already said that I thought the plot was off to a slow start. While I enjoyed the world-building, and I enjoyed getting to know the protagonists individually, on the whole it reads as if Schwab was more interested in the world-building than the plot, that the plot was more of an afterthought. And when the plot came, it seemed hurried. I thought we might spend a book in each London, a trilogy transporting the artifact from Grey to Red to White to Black London. We did not. The whole of the plot that I thought was coming happened in this one book; the artifact was taken safely out of play and those who had sought to use it and sought to sew chaos with it were defeated. Because I didn’t have the buildup that I expected for it, the whole of the final battle and arguably the whole last third or so of the book where the protagonists were discovering why they had come into contact with this artifact at all seemed more anticlimactic than I expect it was meant to be; it seemed rushed and I wasn’t allowed to savor its twists and turns as I might have wanted to do.

For all that, the plot seems to have been wrapped up well. I see a few ghosts that might come back to haunt the protagonists, but I wouldn’t have given them much thought, save that I know that there are three books. I have very little idea what might be in store for the next two books, no real idea of what other big bads there might be to fight.

I am willing to give Schwab I think at least a second book. There’s enough to like, and enough I’d still like to learn about the worlds and their magic and their histories. And I want to see Lila become the pirate queen that she deserves to be—and I think that she will be.

****

Schwab, V. E. Shades of Magic, Book 1: A Darker Shade of Magic. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty-MacMillan, 2015.

This review is not endorsed by V. E. Schwab, Tor, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, or MacMillan.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The Search: One Long-Awaited Answer Tangled in Many Threads

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This link will take you to the hardcover collection of all three parts of this trilogy.

Some minor spoilers ahead.

After the close of the television show, the team responsible for Avatar: The Last Airbender and a few fans (Gene Luen Yang of American Born Chinese among them) began a series of comics that follow Team Avatar beyond the television show and help to bridge the 70 year gap between Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. There are currently five trilogies: The Promise, The Search, The Rift, Smoke and Shadow, and North and South. The television series ends with Zuko’s agonized and angry question “Where is my mother?” This second trilogy sets out to answer that question.

Finding graphic novels that appeal to and are appropriate for younger audiences can be difficult (though hopefully getting easier as we booksellers realize the demand and make concerted efforts to point out and to stock graphic novels for children). These are shelved with the adult graphic novels in Barnes & Noble, but there is nothing in these first two trilogies at least that is any more adult than what is in the television series, even though in The Search there are family dramas, madness, and politics. Often, I don’t think we give kids enough credit.  Really I think these stories have more appeal for the 7-17 age range than they do for most adults—at least than for those adults not already familiar with the television series and invested in the characters and the world.

This particular trilogy deals more with the personal stories of the characters than the larger world-building of The Promise.

Four years back now, I read the first part of this trilogy and was apparently impressed. It’s only now that I’ve gone back and read the three parts together (over the course of eight days).

The Search does quite a bit of bouncing backwards and forwards in time. The past plotlines are done in more of a monochrome (red for those that happen within the Fire Nation and blue for those that happen among the Water Tribe). Still, bouncing between the past and the present was distracting.

I see why doing so was if not necessary then certainly expedient, but I would have preferred I think to have one or several longer periods of backstory (some scenes in the present were 4 or so pages) than so many often abruptly interrupted storylines. I would have been quite happy spending two parts of this trilogy learning Ursa’s story and only one part having Zuko discover it and reconnect with his mother. I wonder if the creators underestimated the level of investment that fans would have in Ursa’s story separate from that of Team Avatar—which would frankly surprise me; they set us up for this level of interest, and surely this story was told partially in answer to scads of fans asking the same question that Zuko had done because Zuko had done.

I actually think that this story may suffer from too many storylines. Exciting as they all are individually, especially with the jumps between times, it was a lot to keep track of: Zuko’s quest with Team Avatar plus his sister, Azula’s madness, the letter given to Azula by Ozai that raises questions about the Fire Lord line of succession, then Ursa’s first lover and childhood home, her marriage and subterfuge and exile, her second marriage and new life, plus the story of Water Tribe siblings living in a haunted forest in the Fire Nation to try to find a spirit who can give new faces but tangling with its massive Wolf Spirit pet instead. The theme of reuniting families and restoring old lives runs through all, but in 228 pages of comic it’s all too much. In a 500 page novel, absolutely, but this isn’t a 500 page novel.

Now, all that said, I do want it noted that I read these online, and the format was a scrolling one rather than a facing page layout. That perhaps made some difference.

***

Yang, Gene Luen and Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search: Parts 1-3. Ed. Dave Marshall. Illus. Gurihiru. Dark Horse, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, Dark Horse Comics, or anyone involved with the graphic novel series or the television series. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Family is Central to A Place at the Table

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Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, excerpts, and reading guide.

This review includes a fairly detailed summary of the plot.  I leave the plot twist out though.

I’ve had an ARC of Susan Rebecca White’s book for years now. Sorry, Susan. But I’m glad that I waited this long to read it, because maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much before I’d matured some more.

This is a heartbreaking story of pain and trauma, of otherness, of love and marriage and ultimately of survival, finding oneself, forgiveness, family, and accepting one’s roots and backstory.

This story follows three primary characters, whose lives all intersect over a cookbook and a shared love of food and a bright and cozy kitchen. It begins in 1929 in Emancipation Township, a black community in the rural, Jim Crow South. There we’re introduced to young siblings Alice and James Stone, close enough to believe that they are able to read one another’s thoughts. After refusing to play the meek black man, James is forced to flee North Carolina.

Leaving the Stones, we join Bobby Banks, a pastor’s son, white, probably upper-middle class, in 1970 Decatur, Georgia. His Meemaw lives in a neighborhood that is now mostly African American. He tries to befriend one of the neighborhood girls, but his brother’s racist language thwarts that. Later in 1977, he finds himself friends with a displaced Yankee, his equal on the track team. The two of them find themselves more than friends when alcohol, a late night, and a sleepover coincide, and Bobby begins a life in exile from his family, first with his Meemaw and later, in 1981, in New York City, where we stay with him through 1991. Bobby during his early years in New York finds himself working at the restaurant, a once-renowned haunt of writers and bohemians, where Alice Stone was once the well-known and –loved chef. He returns the restaurant to its gentrified-Southern roots and gains fame for himself. His time in New York coincides with the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s, and he loses his lover and partner to the disease.

Alice’s editor and friend has a niece, Amelia, living in upper-middle class Connecticut. She marries a Southerner from Georgia, who as they begin their life as empty-nesters in 1990, turns emotionally abusive towards her. She struggles with her desire to make her marriage successful and the fear for her own safety.

Individually, each character’s story of hardship and survival is fascinating.

If I was not necessarily eager to return to this book between minutes I was able to read, neither did I want to stay away, with which as much heartache as was in the book and knowing that I tend to avoid reading about characters in deep pain, I think must mean that these characters were well-developed and compelling.

For all that Alice is the glue that holds these stories together (it’s Alice’s restaurant that takes in Bobby, and Alice’s editor’s niece), it’s Bobby with whom we spend the most time, and whose story is explored most fully. As the true tale unwinds, Bobby, though, seems the outside observer, and the story seems more fully Alice’s and Amelia’s and James’. That was a little jarring, but Alice, Amelia, and James’ story makes up in emotional wallop what it lacks in page count.

What all these characters share—apart from a love of good food and cooking—is an exile from family, a crumbling of the idyllic family, and a longing for the return to home (Alice’s cookbook is Homegrown). Alice’s family is broken when James is forced to flee, and James’ worldview is shattered when he realizes himself to be part-white before being forced to flee his home. Bobby is kicked out of his family home after he is discovered kissing a boy. On his grandmother’s advice, he like James before him, leaves the hostile South altogether for the rumored, liberal paradise of New York City. Amelia has never spent time in New York—her family never visited, though they were nearby—but when her own marriage falls apart and with her children out of the house, she finds herself seeking comfort from her aunt, who lives there. Alice and Bobby both cling to their Southern roots through the food that they eat and prepare for others, even as they make new lives for themselves in New York. Amelia discovers her own Southern roots.

None of the characters return to the South but each of them is awarded some measure of reconciliation with their families. So it seems that family is the root to which White argues that one should return and with which one must reconcile to be fully known to oneself.

***1/2

White, Susan Rebecca. A Place at the Table. New York: Touchstone-Simon & Schuster, 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Rebecca White, Touchstone, or Simon & Schuster, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review of an ARC by a reader.

In the interest of full disclosure, Miss White is an alumna of the graduate program at my alma mater.

Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2016

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It’s awards season again, and I’ve read next to none of the winners or honorees this year. The only book that won any medal that I have yet found postings for is Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat, one of this year’s Caldecott award honorees, which I gave four stars.

But I always believe in honoring the books that I’ve read and have awarded five stars.

Only the bolded books on this last were eligible for this year’s awards… and there are only five of them, all of them picture books.

Of the books that I rated five stars that were published in 2016, really, only Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet? had any chance at any of the awards–I would have thought that a possible competitor for a Caldecott.

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

MIDDLE GRADE-YOUNG READERS (AGES 8-12)

TEENS (AGES 13-19)

ADULTS (AGES 20+)

Book Review: Sheep Investigate Humanity and a Murder in Three Bags Full

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9780767927055Set in rural Ireland in the 1990s, I never would have suspected this to be a German work. Admittedly, I’m not overly familiar with German crime novels or rural Ireland in the 1990s, but I had always suspected this to be an Irish import because there are a few puns here that I assume work better in English than in German—Miss Maple a nod to Miss Marple but named for the syrup that she steals from George’s pancakes; Ramses the Ram—but also because of the intimate portrayal of the setting.

This is a book I read and enjoyed ages back now—probably in 2007, almost a decade ago (isn’t that terrifying). It’s traveled with me since, but it’s only now that I returned to it, caught between books and not wanting to get sucked into anything too gripping and confined only to what I could reach without displacing my cat.

And I enjoyed it at least as much. It was almost good that that long time had passed because I’d forgotten important details like the identity of the murderer—though I was surprised what details I found myself however vaguely remembering.

Told mainly from the perspective of a flock of sheep whose reclusive shepherd is found dead in their pasture on page 1, this novel winds its way through the sordid histories of a small and insular town—romantic rivalries, past and present sins, rumors of drug runners among them—as well as the sheep’s own histories and prejudices and superstitions. The sheep in their sheepiness only comprehend so much of the human stories. Their misunderstanding, partial understanding, and incomprehension give the human reader time to reflect on the actions and beliefs of the human characters and all human characters by extension, to see them with an outsider’s eye as sometimes confusing or incomprehensible, while laughing at ourselves and at the sheep.

The depth of Swann’s immersion into sheepy thinking and culture was perhaps one of the more impressive aspects for me of the story.

The story rollicks between quaint and racy all while alluding to famous works of literature from Agatha Christie to Shakespeare to Emily Brontë.

For example, “A play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king!” the sheep cry—or no, they don’t, but like Hamlet they concoct a play in the hopes that their dramatics might bring about a confession or an arrest—“justice” they actually do bleat repeatedly throughout the novel. Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in all of Glennkill, concocts a play wherein Zora as George dies spectacularly, Maple plays the killer, and Mopple the Whale brings forth the clues to the killer’s identity that the sheep hope that the humans might understand.

I was amused this time around to discover that the sheep in the corner is not only a flip book illustration set but a barometer of the level of danger the sheep feel at any given point in the text.

I’m not sure how well I can judge this book as a crime novel or a mystery; I read so few books in that genre, but as a work of fiction, I do really enjoy it. It’s so wonderfully different, and it kept me guessing, and it kept me thinking both about the plot and about humanity and reality.

****

Swann, Leonie. Three Bags Full. Trans. Anthea Bell. New York: Doubleday/Flying Dolphin-Doubleday, 2006. First published 2005 by Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag-Random.

This review is not endorsed by Leonie Swann, Anthea Bell, Doubleday, Doubleday/Flying Dolphin, Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, or Random House.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

It seems that Penguin Random is now the US publisher.

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Book Review: Reconstructing Delphi: Cursed Child SPOILERS

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DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SCRIPT AND DON’T WANT SPOILERS.

I’m deciding to let others take on some of the more moral issues of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I’m going to zero in on what bothered me perhaps more than anything else, whatever that says about me, and then how I think it could have been made more palatable to me.

So let’s get to it: Delphi. Now, I have always sort of laughed away the possibility of a Voldemort lovechild, believing it only slightly more likely to be made canon than the fan-favorite Dobby/giant squid pairing but in that same category, though admittedly if such a child existed, I would have expected it to be Bella’s. Bellatrix was not covert about her attraction to Voldemort, but as others have pointed out, the very idea that Voldemort—who is too inhuman to have died prior to the destruction of all seven of his horcruxes, whose greatest weakness is his incomprehension of love, specifically parental love—could desire a woman, desire a child, or frankly not be impotent with his soul in so many pieces is… a stretch of the imagination. But far be it for me to explain the effects of creating horcruxes and splitting one’s soul through Dark magic to J. K. Rowling.

Still, I was rereading my own fanfiction and as Draco said of the possibility that Bellatrix and Voldemort could ever have produced a child, “That is not an image I need planted in my head!” (Coincidentally, that chapter is not my favorite, but quoting without citing seemed wrong.)

The play claims that Delphi was born “before the Battle of Hogwarts,” (4.11), and I’d assumed that that meant just shortly before, but reading the Wikia article on Delphi now I’m realizing that I suppose it’s not that explicit and that potentially Rowling has agreed with us. Which sort of assuages one of my major problems with Delphi: that we—the fans—determined when Bellatrix would have been pregnant if pregnant she ever was, and it’s not when I thought that Rowling in this play claims that she was.

Bellatrix didn’t show up to see her own nephew—her only nephew and the only of her sisters’ children that she would want to lay claim to whatsoever—perform his first deed for Voldemort, kill his first person, even though other Death Eaters—much less important and less potent Death Eaters—were present. And I wasn’t the only one who thought that was odd. If she were ever to have been homebound and kept from missions because she was carrying Voldemort’s child–or anyone else’s child—that would have been the time.

I’m realizing now that some of the fault here might be that I want details that were not explicit in the text, but might be manifest in a production of the play. I want Draco to react to—to be gobsmacked by the news that his cousin is Voldemort’s daughter—and that his cousin kidnaps and threatens to kill his son, whom he clearly cares about (who wouldn’t? Bless the little cinnamon bun). I frankly want him to acknowledge that he knew that he had a cousin by Bellatrix—if in fact he did, and I think that the possibility that he didn’t if she had a child would be small.

Especially if she was born right before the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry and co. saw Draco in Malfoy Manor with his parents and his aunt—not described as visibly pregnant so presumably no longer so—during the Easter holidays (Easter 1998 was April 12, and the Battle of Hogwarts was May 1-2).

And especially if she was Voldemort’s because while I realize that Voldemort and Bellatrix might have had Delphi whisked away to live with the Rowles quite quickly after her birth, possibly before Draco would have had the chance to meet his cousin, I don’t find it likely. Voldemort doesn’t understand love or parental love and is confident in his horcruxes; he has no need of a child. Bellatrix, though, I think would hold onto her—unless Voldemort asked her not to maybe and maybe if she stood in the way of Bellatrix’s duties to Voldemort, but I expect that Bellatrix would want and cherish that child and be loath to send her away.

This is why I suspect that Bellatrix would have had with her in Malfoy Manor before the Battle of Hogwarts while Draco was home.

All this to say that I don’t like that Delphi is canonized embodiment of the Voldemort-Bellatrix lovechild trope and I don’t like how readily Draco accepts the possibility nor how blithely.

What I would have liked—and what I choose to believe because sometimes no canon is enough to sink a theory—is if Delphi is told by Rodolphus that she is Voldemort and Bellatrix’s lovechild. I don’t care if it is though I don’t want it to be true. I want her to be Scorpius’ foil, a rumored child of Voldemort who chose to accept and believe the rumor and to act accordingly.

I could easily see Rodolphus wanting to distance himself from any child of Bellatrix’s—whether it was his or no. There doesn’t seem to have been much love in their relationship, and maybe Bellatrix didn’t turn out to be what he had expected. Maybe he was grieving his wife or grieving the love that he never received from her and saw the child as a reminder of her and found it easier to disentangle himself from them both.

Snape could fly so this is not the proof that Harry and co. seem to believe it is that Delphi is Voldemort’s daughter. The Parseltongue is harder to excuse as a red herring, but Harry can speak Parseltongue, and surely it’s not only the direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin who can speak the language if they and Harry are the only ones that we’ve met.

I’m grasping at straws perhaps plus ignoring what I suppose I must call canon I know, but for me it is just so much easier for me to accept the whole story of The Cursed Child if I believe that Delphi only believes herself to be Voldemort’s daughter, that she is really Roldophus’ maybe. I’m perfectly willing to believe that she was Bellatrix’s out of wedlock, but not Voldemort’s.  And armed with that head canon, The Cursed Child just works better for me as an addition to the seven canon novels and the Potterverse.

***

Thorne, Jack.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Based on a story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne.  New York: Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc, or anyone involved in the production of the play or script.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Caution and Plea for Open-Mindedness: SPOILER-FREE

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9781338099133_default_pdpThe majority of the reviews that I’m seeing for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have been negative or underwhelmed—and I sort of want to echo these same feelings, but every time that I try to do so—well, I can moan along with the best, and I can parcel out what exactly didn’t work for me and why, but I feel badly doing so and here’s why: Can you imagine living up to our expectations? We—me, and the majority of the fans that I’ve seen react negatively—are the ones who never really left Hogwarts. We took J. K. Rowling at her word when she said that Hogwarts would always be there to welcome us home. We wept along with Trelawney when she moaned that Hogwarts was her home—because she was echoing our own feelings as we watched a monster destroy the place we loved—and because she is played by Emma Thompson, and that woman is a masterful actress. If we didn’t write fanfiction, we read it, and we had our favorites, and we had personal theories on every minor detail and pet theories on which we couldn’t be swayed and which we’d defend loudly and ardently to anyone (mine, for example, is that there is corruption at some level within St. Mungo’s, and Alice Longbottom is conscious enough to recognize it and has been trying to tell Neville for years through her bubble gum wrappers; I even got to write and publish the essay on it in a book of scholarly and not-so-scholarly articles by fans).

I think we remained more deeply entrenched in the world and engaged more fully with the characters these past nine years perhaps than has J. K. Rowling.

And J. K. Rowling approved but did not actually pen this script. I have to think that John Tiffany and Jack Thorne are fans themselves—the sort of fans that we are—and that they have pet theories too, ones that they won’t put aside despite evidence within the canon.

J. K. Rowling has never discouraged fanfiction.

In some ways the only thing that this play is truly guilty of is that we expect it to live up to the original canon when it is really a fan piece that happens to have been granted a nod by the author—and of not being our fan piece.

The story is and feels like fanfiction—canonized fanfiction—and because so many fan theories and fan ideas—even the ones we held onto only as jokes—were given the nod, it feels a bit like being pandered to—or stolen from when I think—I hope that J. K. Rowling’s idea was to validate some of our theories—though I wish she’d been more selective, and I wish that she had more carefully read over the work and seen that some of the ideas just don’t jive with the already established seven canon novels. But we’ve had more than nine years to mull over, tinker with, and hone these theories—and some of those ideas have been better handled or better written in other texts than this. And again, after all the effort we put into perfecting these ideas to see canon ideas that don’t match our own is off-putting.

So there’s that. But then, there are problems that I had, even as a fan piece, with plot elements and with the writing itself at times—things that have nothing to do with whether or not it was a good addition to the canon and more to do with whether I like the elements within the text, elements I would judge if this were a standalone and not a new piece in the Harry Potter world. There are already boundless articles online detailing some of the problems that this text has: that the badass Hermione Granger’s success seems so dependent upon the approval of one or any man (as written by Kadeen Griffiths for Bustle in “How Hermione Granger Is Portrayed in ‘Harry Potter & The Cursed Child’ Is Offensive to the Fans and the Character”), perhaps an attempt at inclusion of POC gone awry by mishandling in both Hermione (played by Noma Dumezweni) and Rose Weasley (played by Cherrelle Skeete) and the off-screen inclusion of Padma and Panju Weasley (“What The Hell Is A Panju?” And Other Questions I, A Brown Potterhead, Have For J.K. Rowling” published by Krupa Gohil on Buzzfeed). Without going into why it is difficult to reconcile this text with the canon or why I would have handled certain elements differently, these are perhaps its largest flaws.

That and some of the stage directions forget that they are stage directions. Yes, you could darken a character’s eyes with contacts but what I think the stage direction means is that the character is terrified and that—well, if your actor can widen his pupils, fantastic, but don’t command him to do so; let the actor, act. Moreover, unless the play is being filmed and filmed with an intense zoom lens, such a detail won’t be seen. Some stage directions are written as if they can tell the audience how to react too. Without magic you can’t force a whole audience to react in a certain way, certainly not by telling them to do so. Sometimes the novelist snuck into the play. And what sort of stage direction is “And time stops. And then it turns over, thinks a bit”?  What does that even mean?

Expect another more nitpicky review where I will pick apart the things I liked and disliked, but I wanted to answer all the negativity, and I liked the idea of a spoiler-free and a spoiler-filled review.  (Here is that review.)

I’ve already begun a reread.

***

Thorne, Jack.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Based on a story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne.  New York: Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc, or anyone involved in the production of the play or script.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: Fahrenheit 451: A Fiery Critique of Modern Entertainment

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16280156After having read a lot of light, modern, conversational Riordan, I was craving something with more depth and more flowery flare. I floundered for a while and asked everyone I knew for suggestions of writers who have a mastery of language to rival Patrick Rothfuss’. In the end, I picked up this old favorite: Fahrenheit 451.

I can’t tell you when I read Fahrenheit 451. It might’ve been almost a decade ago. I didn’t remember as much of the plot as I thought that I had, though I remembered a great bit of the sentiment.

Ray Bradbury’s writing (I’ve already mentioned) has left a deep scar on my heart and mind. His poetic prose and command of language and meter is something to which I aspire and which I greatly admire.

This book was especially impacting to read now—now in the wake of all that is happening in the world and all that I fear may soon happen in the world.

It’s amazing how prophetic some science-fictions/future dystopias can be.

Guy Montag is a firefighter in a future America. Instead of fighting fires, he sets them; he sets fires to books and to the homes of those who are found in possession of books. Books are a source of chaos. Books foment rebelliousness. Books are a toxin to the world that has been sedated and made happy by noise and glitter and flash and distraction. Interaction has been replaced by walls—television screens that are as large as a wall, and of which a person is intended to have four, so that they can be fully immersed in the programming, which also can be set to include a viewer’s name, to further the immersive escapism.

The world outside of the walls is about to go to war, but the newscasters are quick to gloss over the fact, and quick to dismiss the possibility of loss or hurt.

Montag’s been long curious about the nature of the oppression of which he is a part. He has been sneaking books home and hiding them. But it takes a series of encounters with a girl who seems more awake and more alive than anyone he’s ever met to convince him to act upon those secret curiosities and begin to read. A few lines and a desire for real conversation after that girl dies quickly spirals him into the world of secret bibliophiles and thinkers, concerned with preserving the knowledge of the ages and the culture of the past beyond themselves.

I sort of remembered this book ending hopefully, and I suppose in a way it does, but the city as been bombed, and the fringe society of scholars and bibliophiles and thinkers are heading back to the city to see if they can help.

Bradbury never says what becomes of the society, but leaves it with only those few heroes and a bombed ruin, death and loss and pain that most Americans didn’t see coming because they were too distracted by the escape and the light and the sound.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about where this love and fascination with distraction and noise is present today. If I say much else, I’m writing a very different blog post.

Suffice it to say, this is a book that I’m glad that I read in high school, and I’m glad that I read it now.

Bradbury’s vivid prose is escapism of a different kind because it makes me think instead of distracting me from thinking.

There were a few passages that I found significant enough to mark both in high school and again this past June—and this was I think the first book in 2016 to make me get a pencil to mark its passages.  Because they seemed so significant both times, I want to share them here:

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up. That way lies melancholy.” (61)

“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” (83)

“Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. […] Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” (86)

This book has a special place in my heart too for the reverential way that it talks about writers and book; I am something of a bibliophile or I probably wouldn’t have this blog.

*****

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey-Random, 1953.

This review is not endorsed by Ray Bradbury, his estate, Del Rey Book, Random House Publishing Group, or Simon & Schuster, who seems to have acquired the current rights, because sometimes publishing is weird.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: The Dark Is Rising: The Dark, the Light, and Christianity

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1513207I found Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence—wow—fourteen years ago? It was around the same time as that I was devouring J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Diana Wynne JonesChronicles of Chrestomanci, after Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

That list alone should give you some idea of the genre and the intended audience—or an appropriate audience.

I don’t think I began to really understand its complexities and nuances until maybe four years ago (at the latest). I had always sort of imagined the Dark and the Light as synonymous with the Christian symbolism with which I was most familiar. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV Ps. 119:105) and “[…] the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall man prevail” (ESV 1 Sam. 2:9). I think it was the last book that I was reading, Silver on the Tree, when I realized that Cooper’s Light and Dark has very little to do with Christian ideology (and I think that I’d read one of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series not long before, which is I think heavily influenced by Christian mythology, and seeing the two book series in contrast may have helped to make this revelation so jarring.)

God—the Judeo-Christian God, that is—or any other god for that matter, except perhaps Herne the Hunter, who might according to some theories have evolved from one of several pre-Christian gods—really doesn’t enter into Cooper’s story at all—as much as this book in the series happens around Christmas and the protagonist, Will Stanton, is raised in a Christian household. In Christian ideology, man cannot succeed, cannot be saved apart from God. In Cooper’s mythology, the Old Ones of the Light and the masters of the Dark are more than men, almost gods, and they rely on their own power and on men for success.  That is the starkest divide between Cooper’s mythology and Christian mythology—the source of might and of salvation and the reliance of men on God or gods on men.

Perhaps had I been raised outside of the Christian faith, I would have more fully understood Cooper’s ideas of the Dark and the Light sooner, maybe even when I first read them in middle school.

For all that I’m talking about this now, realize that as a child, I missed the nuance, I missed the replacement of God or any god with more-than-men-but-not-gods. I don’t discourage Christian parents from sharing this story with their children by any means. It’s an excellent story about the conflict of Good and Evil and demonstrates the perfectly human powers of teamwork, phileo love, persistence, and sacrifice needed to combat Evil, and it gives to Evil both a human face and an otherworldly face that I think is congruent with Christian beliefs.

That, again, being said: You may need to be ready to one day have this discussion with your child. They may like me be rocked to find on a reread that the book series that they loved as a child seems now like not the same series.

But this is a beautiful book series, excellently written, neither too poetic nor too prosaic. This book has been a favorite Christmas story for a long time.  I enjoyed rereading it, and I will do so again, probably come next Christmastime.

*****

Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book 2: The Dark Is Rising. New York: Aladdin-Simon & Schuster, 1973.

This review is not endorsed by Susan Cooper, Aladdin Paperbacks, or Simon & Schuster.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.