Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category
I feel like I must start this post with a disclaimer…I am an avid Harry Potter fan. I spent my childhood attending midnight book releases at Barnes and Noble and sitting in lines for hours to see movie premieres. I recently cleaned out my closet and found more than 10 Harry Potter shirts…and forced myself to donate the one that really didn’t fit. It wasn’t easy. With all of this in mind, it’s hard to write a non-biased review of a new addition to a series I already love, but here goes nothing.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
I’ll start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself into the Harry Potter world once again. These are characters I know and love, and some of my issues with the plot were easy to ignore when I had the chance to read these old names on new pages.
The script picks up right where the books finish, opening with the Potter and Granger-Weasley families shepherding their children onto the Hogwarts Express. From there, we’re taken on an adventure across time, literally, starring Harry’s moody and petulant son, Albus. A member of Slytherin, Albus has been convinced by Delphi Diggory, cousin of Cedric Diggory, that Cedric’s life needs to be saved in order to get some of the blood off of Harry’s hands (um, what?). In order to carry out this death wish, Albus, Delphi, and Scorpio (Malfoy’s son) break into the Ministry of Magic to steal one of the only remaining Time Turners from Hermione, the Minister of Magic. From here, the story takes on the qualities of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The trio travel back in time three times, suffering the consequences that occur when a small change in the past drastically changes the future: Voldemort World, Cedric the Death Eater, and Ron and Hermione’s tragic lost love. Albus and Scorpious must find a way to fix the future with the help of our original favorite trio, while facing a new and incredibly dangerous enemy, one who was a friend.
While each separate adventure had its own bit of fun, I found the idea of the plot to be a little contrived. I know that this is a script, and therefore has a different life when it’s not being performed on a stage (as it is intended), but the idea of Cedric becoming a Death Eater because he was humiliated by his loss at the Triwizard Tournament seemed ludicrous to me. I also really hated the idea that Ron and Hermione would have remained friends just because they didn’t have a fight at the Yule Ball. At times it felt like this play was created purely to help us wade in a bit of nostalgia, bringing back old characters we loved and loved to hate and giving them a moment to shine again. The worst of which was Ron Weasley: we all love Ron because he’s a bit of a doofus. However, Ron’s character in this script was a complete joke. He was turned into an idiot with terrible timing, a feeble demeanor, and sub par dad jokes. After seven novels, I felt like Ron was not a static character. As he faced each challenge with Harry and Hermione, he grew to become a more skilled and capable wizard. Now he feels like the version of Ron we met on the Hogwarts Express as an 11-year-old, in other words, a buffoon. Not my favorite.
Some of the altered futures however, were amazing to imagine. When Umbridge shows up in Scorpio’s face, demanding he stop fooling around in the lake and help her celebrate Voldemort Day, I was giddy. Yes, that meant the tragic death of everyone we loved from the original series, but the world was so dark and fascinating. The Nazi-esque Death Eaters chanting “For Voldemort and Valor!” To one another was pretty exciting. I’m not a Slytherin myself, but I enjoyed the new version of Hogwarts, complete with muggle murder dungeons and Dementors as castle guests.
In the unaltered reality, I loved Hermione in all of her glory. She felt like the star of the play, and after the horrible race issues surrounding the casting of her role, I felt even more pride for how amazing her character is. Hermione is the new Minister of Magic. She’s powerful, but kind, skilled but humble, and a caring boss. She understands the seriousness of the situation and uses collaboration to save the day. She is by far the best character of the series, and luckily HPATCC doesn’t change that.
Finally, and most importantly, I loved that this play was still filled with magic. It is no easy feat to put on a show filled with magic spells, disappearing humans, flying wizards, and characters walking around stage with their exact replicas, and yet, HPATCC does it all. Reading the script, even with its flaws, made me want to see the show even more than I already did. From what I’ve heard, it is a truly magical experience.
One advantage of having an English teacher in the family is that MrsMowry reads everything, and I can follow her recommendations.
This particular recommendation, however, was echoed by the engineer, making it a very strong recommendation, indeed. Since he’s only recently begun to read, I had no idea he had actually finished a book, much less formed an opinion of one.
The Night Circus is the debut novel of Erin Morgenstern. The book began as a project for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, and has proven to be a worthy effort, indeed. The book was published in 2011, and spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, peaking at # 2. Film rights have been sold, and a project is currently in development.
The circus arrives without warning.
The tale of a circus that is open from Nightfall to Dawn proves to be more than an amusement. More than a mystery. And the characters find that it’s more than they bargained for in Le Cirque des Reves (the circus of dreams).
Generally, I don’t like books about magic & fantasy. I’ve always felt that if reality can be altered to fit any of the author’s flights of fancy, then the result is always less than satisfying. I didn’t like Euripides when he used deus ex machina, and I don’t like books about magic. The Night Circus, however, proved to be a different kind of tale.
The book was more romance than magic, more mystery than fantasy. Set at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century (and do pay close attention to the dates that are cited at the beginning of every chapter!), the book follows the growth of two star-crossed young magicians who have been bound together by their mentors. What that binding means – and who it involves – is the mystery that propels the book forward.
One of my favorite revelations is in a discussion about why magical secrets are not revealed. The magician wisely reports that the magic will dissipate in the telling, and I believe truer words were never spoken!
If you haven’t read The Night Circus, you need to find a copy. You won’t regret it!
A perfect afternoon with my kindle, under the umbrella on Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach.
The Lady gave me a great Christmas gift in 2010. It changed the way I read.
It was a Kindle 3, with the ability to download and store more books then I need.
I am a voracious reader.
Prior to December 25, 2010, when I went on a business trip, I had to carry many paperbacks with me so that I had enough books to read while I was gone. If I was going to be out for several days … I carried several books. Four books was kind of my default. If I needed more than six books, I would take six and buy the rest at airports along the way.
But there was a better way.
With the kindle, I could buy books when I wanted, load them wirelessly, and read at my leisure.
I stopped buying paper books in 2011. I was not alone: Amazon.com is now the leading book retailer, and in 2014 they had a 65% share of electronic books.
I love my kindle. And then … one day, it wouldn’t wake up. I charged it. I searched for online solutions. I took it apart. I charged it again. Nothing worked. My kindle was not dead – the screen still had the screensaver – but it would not boot.
No kindle for my next trip.
Luckily, I had recently upgraded my smartphone, and part of my new package was Samsung tablet … and I quickly found a kindle app for that. I downloaded all of my books, and I was ready for my trip. Got to LAX, checked my bag … which had my tablet in it. I realized 3 minutes too late that my perfect plan for reading on my tablet was done for.
Plan B: I could read on my smartphone. Again, I had an app for that. And, come to find out, the smartphone automatically synced my titles in the Amazon cloud, so I always had an electronic bookmark in the book I was reading, whether I was reading on my tablet or the smartphone.
Come to find out, 5 year old technology (kindle 3) is sometimes not as good as new tech. My reading experience is now MUCH better, as I seamlessly move from smartphone to tablet & back again.
It’s good to learn new things … like how to read. Can’t imagine what I’ll learn next!
Sometimes, it’s good not to remember everything.
I had been reading a LOT of science fiction lately. I’d gotten into a groove, reading space opera after space opera on my Kindle. This genre has a lot of self-published books available, and those books are relatively cheap … and I have read many.
And then I realized that I was getting tired of the things you often find in self-published books. Formulaic writing. Redundancy. No editing.
Poor quality , in other words. You get what you pay for, and I wasn’t paying much for these books.
So, that itch had come to a natural end, and it was time to move on.
Amazon, in all of its wisdom, sent me an email (that I had requested!) about a new release from Robert Galbraith, called The Silkworm. It wasn’t as cheap as the self-published books, but I did remember liking the protagonist, the elegantly named Cormoran Strike.
I bought the book.
And, oh my goodness, what an incredible difference to be reading a work by a great author with skillful editing. LOVED this book.
I was about 1/3 of the way into it when I remembered that this book was written under a pseudonym. Robert Galbraith is actually JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. I am pleased to report that I did not remember that until I was totally in love with this book. I recommend it to you heartily.
The book is decidedly NOT youth fiction. It’s a murder mystery, and the victim suffered a grisly demise. Gore is there. Sexual deviancy is there. But … not in a flamboyant way, and not in a fashion that called unnecessary attention to the spectacle.
The book is surprisingly free of the street language and overt sexuality that typifies much of American fiction in this genre.
pick up a copy download the file and enjoy The Silkworm. If you didn’t follow my instruction to read the first novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, then do that as well … though both novels do stand on their own very well.
J. K. Rowling. Image by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty
The Cuckoo’s Calling
CJ Box is one of my favorite authors. Box is a native of Wyoming, and lives outside of Cheyenne with his wife and 3 daughters.
14 of his 18 novels feature Joe Pickett, a mystery-solving, accidental crime fighting Fish & Game Warden for the State of Wyoming. He loves nature, he loves solitude, he loves his family … and he’s got 3 daughters that he finds challenging.
No surprise there, right?
The latest novel is Stone Cold. Here’s where Joe and his wife Marybeth talk about their daughters:
“Oh,” she said, smiling wistfully, “life was so much easier when they were all my little chickens and I could keep an eye on them because they were close. Now Sheridan’s in another town, April’s going off the rails because of a cowboy, and Lucy wants to start dating. I feel like they’re drifting away from me.”
There were tears in her eyes, and Joe pulled her close. He said, “We’ve done all we can. You’re the greatest mother I’ve every been around – better than both of ours. Especially yours. They’ll be all right. You’ll be all right.”
“But I’ve lost control,” she said into his shoulder.
“That’s part of the deal, I think.” he said.
Indeed it is.
Little Girl is moving out today.
The nest is empty.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s not to say the transition isn’t emotional. That’s not to say Little Girl didn’t ask me to tell Velda, because she didn’t want to.
That’s OK, she still did what she needed to do. Velda … well, she’s OK.
And Velda’s already ordered the bedroom set that will go into our new guest room. I think we’ll all be OK.
Wall Street Journal: The Art of Getting Junior To Leave Home
50 Is The New 40: Is Empty Nest For Real?
I don’t generally like post-apocalyptic literature.
I don’t avoid it, necessarily, but I don’t seek it out.
I certainly don’t seek to read novels about zombies. On the other hand, I loved the 2009 movie Zombieland. It’s nice popcorn, and that’s a good thing to watch on cable. IMHO.
John Ringo is a prolific author that writes military sci-fi. He’s written several series that I have enjoyed: notably, the Posleen War series (dealing with the aftermath of an alien invasion), and the Empire of Man series (dealing with a fighting force marooned on a planet that has to fight to get home).
My favorite series, though, is the Paladin of Shadows series, which features a James Bond/Rambo type hero that saves the US from a nuclear attack … and then fulfills a lot of contemporary fantasies in the 2006 novel, Kildar. The hero, Mike Jenkins, avenges 9/11 by single-handedly ending another terrorist plot, rescuing the victims and avenging their pain by killing the plot leader, a prominent terrorist leader in the Mideast.
His new series may just become my new favorite, however. It follows a family as they work to survive a zombie apocalypse. A disease is created by some unknown group; the result of that disease is an infected population that attacks anything that moves.
There is no known cure to the disease, and it is a blood born pathogen, so a bite by a zombie creates another zombie. The zombies aren’t dead, so we’re not dealing with Thriller zombies … but a feral, biting human attacking other humans is zombie enough for me.
The first novel, Under A Graveyard Sky, starts with two brothers that actually have a plan for what they’ll do if society is going to crash. They’ve got code words, even. Suddenly, you’ve got one brother working to save his corporate bosses, while the other brother is working to save his wife and their two teen-aged daughters while sailing up the Hudson River to avoid the crazed attackers that are taking over Manhattan.
The second novel follows the family as they decide to make a difference, and work to rebuild society.
I’m not a fan of post apocalyptic literature … but do love a great read.
I’m not a fan of military literature … but do love a great read.
That’s what you get here. Both of these books are page turners. They are laugh out loud funny at times. Ringo’s dialogue from female teenagers is spot on. His dialogue from arrogant, self-entitled jerks is spot on.
The action in these novels just doesn’t stop. Get yourself a glass of your favorite bourbon, put some rock ‘n roll on the stereo, and settle in. This is a good ride.
The third novel, Islands of Rage and Hope, is due in August. Can’t wait!
John Ringo’s Official Website
If you love our National Parks (I do) and you are an avid reader (I am), it’s inevitable that you will find Nevada Barr’s series of novels. Anna Pigeon is the heroine, and she is a park ranger.
The novels – with the 18th installment expected April 1st – is not only a best-selling series, it’s also available for sale at select National Park gift shops!
The charm of the books is that Ms. Barr weaves the unique character of her setting into the plot of each novel. Her love of nature is clear – she worked as a law enforcement ranger for several summers, so she does know something about the life of a ranger.
The current issues that impact the Park are endemic to each of her novels. With Borderline, the setting is the Big Bend National Park. The multi-layered plot is firmly focused on a central issue of that Park: border security.
And murder. Anna Pigeon is always surrounded by murder. She must be the unluckiest ranger in the country, because where she goes, the body count grows. In this particular case, there are 4 dead quickly and Pigeon’s river rafting group of 6 is running for their lives – with a newborn infant in Anna’s care.
As this plot thickens, you’ve got everything from a wayward Mexican cow to a politically climbing mayor from Houston complicating things. Barr’s plots are a bit wacky and fun … and the tension always builds to a surprising conclusion.
The novels are a bit formulaic for my taste … and when the action slows just a touch, that can become annoying. When the action ramps up, though, Anna Pidgeon is the friend we’d all like to have in a tight spot. Like with many cop novels (because she is a law enforcement ranger, paramedic and all-around survivor), Pigeon is always up to every task. The good girl always wins.
And that’s a wonderful thing.
Big Bend National Park
This was a good week. Lee Child released his 18th Jack Reacher book, called Never Go Back.
The problem? I inhale his books when they come out. This one was read in 18 hours. I could have finished faster if I didn’t have to work, but somebody’s gotta pay for the book, y’know?
I recommend the series whole-heartedly. It’s great escapist reading.
Reacher is a unique character, to say the least. He’s a former Army MP who mustered out as a Major during the draw down of forces in the late 90s. Now, he goes where he wants when he wants, and he does so with no possessions. Well, he has the clothes on his back … which he replaces when they get dirty. He has a folding tooth-brush. He has an expired passport, and an ATM card.
And with that, he’s good to go.
The recent Tom Cruise movie, Jack Reacher, is endorsed by Child, but as a separate work of art (based on the novel, One Shot). Notably, the fictional Reacher is 6′-5″ tall and weighs 220+. If you know Tom Cruise, he’s not quite that size. So, enjoy the movie if you like, but you really need to grab a Reacher book and settle in for a great day of reading.
If you’re new to the series, then you have at least 18 great days ahead of you.
Art of Manliness: How To Read A Book
The Official Site of Lee Child and Jack Reacher
When I read Wool, I reported on the great strides that Hugh Howey made in creating a community of readers using social media (see the link below). Since then, Wool has gone to # 7 on the New York Times Bestseller List. That is amazing for a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel from an unknown author.
Mr. Howey has created a successful career using social media.
Wool has grown from a novella to a trilogy, now called the Silo Saga. And in Dust, Howey has written an ending that he’s seemingly uncomfortable with. Here’s the ending of the prologue:
“… I’ve got a feeling that nothing good will come of this.”
The entire trilogy is quite a good read, actually. It’s a unique vision of what might happen if America’s political intrigue goes out of control at the same time that weapons of mass destruction are loosed upon us. With the current political landscape of a very liberal President advocating we make war against a regime using WMDs … well, we can only pray that Howey’s work stays fictional.
The idea of saving anything was folly, a life especially. No life had ever been truly saved, not in the history of mankind. They were merely prolonged. Everything comes to an end.
Clearly, this book is coming from a dark place. An end is projected. An end is planned. The protagonists work to elude that tragic end against all odds. The villains of the piece – with a former US Senator leading the group – are finally shown to be mass murderers using an evil computer program to determine the fate of humanity. A dark place, indeed.
Howey moves the plot rather quickly through a complex climax and resolution: perhaps a bit too quickly for my taste. Still a good read, that I recommend if this genre is to your taste.
It’s in Howey’s A Note To The Reader, of all places, that he shows that he’s resolved his demons. By the way, the book’s Epilogue follows the Note. I missed it on my first time through … don’t miss his denouement. Here’s the conclusion of his Note:
This is not the end, of course. Every story we read, every film we watch, continues on in our imaginations if we allow it. Characters live another day. They grow old and die. New ones are born. Challenges crop up and are dealt with. There is sadness, joy, triumph, and failure. Where a story ends is nothing more than a snapshot in time, a brief flash of emotion, a pause. How and if it continues is up to us.
My only wish is that we leave room for hope. There is good and bad in all things. We find what we expect to find. We see what we expect to see. I have learned that if I tilt my head just right and squint, the world outside is beautiful. The future is bright. There are good things to come.
What do you see?
Read the entire trilogy – don’t start with Dust. All three books are available for your kindle, or in paperback, through Amazon. Support Mr. Howey’s independent efforts. He’s doing publishing in a new way, he’s entertaining and he’s making it work. That’s worth our support.
Wool: The Power Of Engaging
Indie Reader: Dust (Silo Saga)
Hugh C Howey: It’s The Reader, Stupid
The first edition, British Cover … which has very little to do with the book, IMHO.
The problem, of course, is that a new author won’t get the time of day from most publishers. Even when their name is Robert Galbraith.
But there was a publisher that was very interested in this book, as they knew Mr. Galbraith wasn’t really Mr. Galbraith.
The publisher was Little, Brown. Why were they interested? They knew the he was a she: Galbraith was actually JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series.
Now, understand from the beginning that I believe the Harry Potter books are Great Literature. They inspired a generation to read (yes, read). Colleges across the country still have clubs that try and emulate playing Quidditch on flying brooms. The Harry Potter series changed our world for the better … it made our youth a more literate group that read really thick books … 7 of them … to follow the exploits of the world’s favorite adolescent wizard.
So, heavy is the mantle of success on Ms. Rowling, as she now must find a new muse to inspire books that may not be as spectacular as the Harry Potter books (how could they be?), but the new books must be very good. Very, very good.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, released under the Galbraith pseudonym, got solid reviews and little notice. Supposedly, only about 1,500 printed editions of the book had sold 60 days after its release.
And then word leaked that this book was by JK Rowling.
Sales, of course, exploded and the book became the # 1 bestseller on Amazon.com. Incidentally, Rowling is adamant that she did NOT leak her authorship; it’s unknown who did that deed. The secret is now out, though, and I bought the book (or would that be I bought the .mobi for my kindle?).
Honestly, I probably would not have read this book as long as Rowling’s secret held. I do like murder mysteries, but often avoid the English authors working in this genre. Their prose is just different enough that it doesn’t scratch the itch for me.
The American Cover … which is at least representative of the main victim of the book. Better cover, IMHO.
On the other hand, I LOVE Lee Child’s books, and his Jack Reacher series is about a retired military policeman that’s now on his own solving crimes … just like Rowling’s Corcoran Strike in The Cuckoo’s Calling. I should like this book!
The title comes from “A Dirge” written by Christina Rosetti in 1865, which sets the tone for Galbraith/Rowling’s tragic character called Cuckoo by her friends:
Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying.
Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
You should have died at the apples’ dropping,
When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
And all winds go sighing
For sweet things dying.
The book’s prologue can now be seen to speak on multiple levels … Rowling’s efforts to shield her role and have the work evaluated independently of her fame complements the heroine’s celebrity:
Is demum miser est, cuius nobilitas miserias nobilitat.
Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous
– Lucius Accius, Telephus
The book is about a super model that committed suicide … according to the police. Cormoran Strike (another wonderful character name from Rowling!) is hired to investigate and see if a murder happened. This seems like Rowling should be right at home … the Potter books were mysteries, after all.
Like Potter, Strike is scarred when we meet him. Potter had the lightning bolt on his forehead; Strike lost a leg in Afghanistan. Rowling likes her heroes to be hurting!
My biggest quibble with the book is Rowling’s verbosity in the beginning. She never met a qualifier that she doesn’t want in print, apparently. The prose begins to sound untrue to the characters being described … to my American ears. Perhaps Brits want a different type of exposition in their crime novels, but I prefer mine a bit more hard boiled. Here’s what I’m talking about:
By nature methodical and thorough, Strike had been trained to investigate to a high and rigorous standard. First, allow the witness to tell their story in their own way: the untrammeled flow often reveled details, apparent inconsequentialities, that would later prove invaluable nuggets of evidence. Once the first gush of impression and recollection had been harvested, then it was time to solicit and arrange facts rigorously and precisely: people, places, property…
And here’s another:
The act of shopping for what he needed, and of setting up the bare necessities for himself, had lulled Strike back into the familiar soldierly state of doing what needed to be done, without question or complaint.
But then there are times that her love of language and a wonderful turn of phrase just takes over:
“She wuz depressed. Yeah, she wuz on stuff for it. Like me. Sometimes it jus’ takes you over. It’s an illness,” she said, although she made the words sound like “it’s uh nillness.”
Nillness, thought Strike, for a second distracted. He had slept badly. Nillness, that was where Lula Landry had gone, and where all of them, he and Rochelle included, were headed. Sometimes illness turned slowly to nillness, as was happening to Bristow’s mother … sometimes nillness rose to meet you out of nowhere, like a concrete road slamming your skull apart.
Once Rowling caught her stride, the book was great. The characters definitely grew on me … good thing. Rowling has already announced that the 2nd book in the series is already written:
“Yes, I intend to keep writing the series as Robert. I’ve just finished the sequel and we expect it to be published next year.”
Happy to recommend this nice mystery to you. It’s not going to change the world, but it is a great read with a surprising, satisfying ending – and an enticing denouement. The promise of more to come is icing on the cake!
The Times of London’s review
The Guardian’s review