Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed child - book coverI haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.

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2015 Year in Review Recommendations

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” – Abraham Lincoln

It’s that time of year again so here are my favorite books I got to read and review/preview in 2015 (there are more than last year, but I don’t think I loved any of them as much as I did The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August last year).

 

book cover - orhan's inheritanceOrhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which continues to be largely ignored and which is front and center in this novel.

 

 

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna Northbook cover - the life and death of sophie stark

This is a book that’s all about perspective, perception, and presentation. The narrative structure and how it ties together in the end underscores the novel’s themes.

 

book cover - dead wakeDead Wake by Erik Larsson

I’m a sucker for just about anything Erik Larsson writes but when I saw that he was live tweeting the events as they had happened 100 years earlier, I had to read the whole story.

 

book cover - cinderbook cover - winterThe Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

 

book cover - scarlet

book cover - cress

 

 

Technically I read Cinder last year and wasn’t overly impressed with Scarlet earlier this year but the final two installments in this series—Cress and Winter—more than make up for earlier weaknesses.

 

 

girl from the train - book cover

 

The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

I enjoyed this sentimental tale of reconnection in the years after World War II and learned about one of the programs that relocated German orphans in the wake of that war.

 

book cover - the shiningThe Shining by Stephen King

Not big on horror as a genre, I was surprised by just how much I loved The Shining—so much more psychological than I expected.

 

 

The Virgin’s Daughter and The Virgin’s Spy by Laura Andersenbook cover - virgin's daughtervirgin's spy - book cover

The first two books in The Tudor Legacy spin-off series that continues in the alternative history universe Laura Andersen created with her Boleyn Trilogy. Eager to see how it continues in 2016.

 

 

career of evil - book coverCareer of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)

The third in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil gets deeper into the characters of Cormoran and Robin and their personal histories.

 

 

medicis daughter - book coverMédicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

If you like novels about the Tudor Court, this novel of the Valois Court in France shows the English weren’t the only ones whose court intrigues and religious turmoil could turn deadly.

Book Review – Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

career of evil - book cover I’ve been waiting for the release of the latest Cormoran Strike novel, Career of Evil, since finishing The Silkworm. Written by J.K. Rowling under her pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, I have not been alone and was soon as she announces when the next one will be released, I’ll be preordering that one as well. This third novel in the Cormoran Strike series provides an intriguing introspective character study of the series’ two main characters as well as delivering a seductive and deliberate game of cat and mouse.

Like the previous installment in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil picks up several months after The Silkworm’s conclusion. Cormoran’s business is in decent shape thanks to the high profile successes with the Lula Landry and Owen Quine murders. His secretary-assistant-deputy-detective Robin Ellacot is approaching the rescheduled date for her wedding and is taking a more active role in the agency after having completed a number of courses in everything from counter-surveillance to self-defense. But none of those courses could prepare her for receiving a package containing the dismembered leg of an unknown woman upon arriving to work one morning. Cormoran has a few ideas of men from his past as far as possible suspects go—yes, he can think of at least three men who he believes are capable and willing to send body parts to his office. Continue reading

2014 Year in Review Recommendations

“If I like a book, I tend to read the author’s entire collection. But I choose mainly through personal recommendations, general word of mouth and book reviews.” — Randa Abdel-Fattah

This year I decided to do a year-in-review type of thing and post list of my favorite books that I reviewed or had a chance to preview. I don’t think I’ll get into the books I’d recommend staying away from (but if you’re curious, leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll get back to you with the dirt). So, in case you missed them the first time around, here are some of the best books I was lucky enough to read in 2014.

9780316399616_p0_v1_s260x420 The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

This is one of those books most people are going to either love or loathe. I happened to love it. Of the family and friends I recommended it to who also read it, they found it a very good book though not necessarily for the same reasons I did.

 

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson9780670012091_p0_v1_s260x420

I know so many people who have read and loved Speak so this book being good should come as no surprise to any of them. Its portrayal of living with someone suffering from PTSD is gritty and gut wrenching.

 


9781596439092_p0_v2_s260x420 The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu

Perhaps one of the best demonstrations of not just how the high school rumor mill works but done in a way that doesn’t simultaneously have an attitude of “what can you do.” It manages to hold out a beacon of hope to those suffering who can’t imagine things getting better.

 

The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)9780316206877_p0_v19_s260x420

51m4P63APoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Every once in a while I go through phases when I remember my childhood love of murder mysteries (I grew up on reruns of Murder, She Wrote and Columbo and watched oh so many seasons of Law & Order over the years). I’m glad to know I have a reliable series where I can look forward to pre-ordering new releases and get my mystery fix.

 

Virgin by Radhika Sanghani9780425276310_p0_v4_s260x420

This wasn’t some phenomenal work of capital “L” Literature but it made me laugh so many times, I can’t help including it on my list.

 

9781595141880_p0_v1_s260x420 Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

So I was a little late to hearing about this one but the narrative style and the content have both stuck with me. It’s one of those YA books that make me feel less guilty about taking my chances with the genre so frequently.

Book Review – The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

9780316206877_p0_v19_s260x420I’ve been in the mood for mysteries lately so it seemed like the perfect time to tackle The Silkworm, the second in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym used by J.K. Rowling). As usual, I wasn’t disappointed. Now that the main characters are pretty well established, the reader gets to see a little bit more of their backstories as a high profile case unfolds.

Picking up several months after Strike’s success with the Lula Landry case, he and his assistant, Robin, are busy with a string of new lucrative clients, allowing him to almost completely pay off the debts he owes. But as much as he appreciates the long list of wealthy, cheated-on lovers and spouses, the routine surveillance is getting old. Then Leonora Quine appears asking him to find her eccentric writer husband who has a knack for disappearing and showing up days later in a hotel with some woman. As Strike begins interviewing Quine’s publishing acquaintances, he learns that the writer’s latest book, Bombyx Mori, has caused an uproar and there are an increasing number of people Quine could be intentionally (or unsuccessfully) avoiding. Continue reading

Book Review – The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

51m4P63APoL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Like most of the world, I hadn’t heard of a book called The Cuckoo’s Calling or a writer named Robert Galbraith until a story broke that Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling. I’d like to pretend that I would have read The Cuckoo’s Calling whether I’d known it was really written by Rowling or not but I doubt I ever would have heard of it to read. I’m glad that I have read it, and I look forward to The Silkworm later this month. The murder mystery/thriller genre is one that I only venture into once in a while but I usually enjoy it thoroughly and The Cuckoo’s Calling was no exception.

Cormoran Strike is going through a rough patch. His private detective business is deeply in debt and his longtime on-again, off-again relationship is almost definitely off for good. But his prospects look a little more promising when the older brother of a childhood friend shows up begging Strike to investigate the presumed suicide of his sister, who happened to have been a prominent model.

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Book Review – The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

book cover - casual vacancy

The world wondered what J.K. Rowling would write in the wake of the Harry Potter phenomenon. She responded with The Casual Vacancy, about as great a departure from the magically engaging boy wizard as one can get. There were many with high expectations going into this novel and I’m sure many were “disappointed,” though perhaps “shocked” would be a better word for it (Rowling shows she is not afraid to use profane language that would probably have gotten students banned from Hogwarts). While the difference in tone, subject matter, and style are initially jarring to anyone so familiar with the series that made her famous, Rowling’s command of these characters along with her management of so many interconnected issues and perspectives, demonstrate her depth and skill as a writer better than the Harry Potter series.

The delicate balance of power in the small town of Pagford is violently upset with the untimely death of Barry Fairbrother. As several citizens vie for the vacant seat on the parish council, their lives and motivations are examined, as well as those of their family and friends. The central issues at stake are the fate of a low-income housing area known as The Fields and an addiction treatment facility, Bellchapel. Delicate maneuvering decades earlier left many in the small town feeling betrayed and resentful. With an open seat and crucial council votes approaching, an opportunity to act on the long festering grudge may be at hand. But even as members of the town consider a move towards the way things were, the realities of modern life refuse to be ignored as the town council’s website and message board become the target of upsetting anonymous posts.

Rowling’s presentation of the town and its citizens is unsettling in an ingenious way. A multitude of voices and perspectives blindside the reader, forcing attention to be paid as the relationships between characters and their places in the town are demonstrated gradually. The reader becomes an outsider who must work for understanding. It is also not easy to latch onto any of the characters. They all have their endearing moments of weakness as well as their thoughts or actions that inspire disgust and disdain.

Setting the politics of the novel aside, what the story really boils down to, at least, for me, is interpersonal relationships, primarily those between parents and their children. Though the chasm between the handful of teenagers and their equally self-involved parents is obvious, Rowling shows that with age and maturity, those relationships don’t necessarily change. The way that she is able to demonstrate the pervasive inability and/or reluctance to communicate, to sympathize, to admit the truth, is incredible. It is both enlightening and depressing which only goes to show how realistic her writing and genuine her insights are. The tragedy of The Casual Vacancy is that those who are held accountable aren’t always the only ones involved in events that transpire. Everyone is, in his or her own way, accountable and people are defined by how and whether or not they take responsibility.

A controversial follow up to the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy can be harder to immerse yourself in initially, but is brutally honest in the depth to which it captures modern issues and modern living, marking definitively that Rowling can leave the fantasy world behind when reality needs to be confronted.