Sunday, July 31, 2016

So, How Is It? "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child"

HP_CursedChild200It's after midnight and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is finally out. And we after months of waiting and speculation we have an answer to the question everyone's been asking: does it live up to the hype. Is it good?

Obviously it's subjective, but to me? It's fantastic.  At first, this being a script, the reading was a little awkward (my experience reading scripts extends only to college Shakespeare) but just like watching a great movie with subtitles, once you get in the rhythm of it you stop noticing anything but the story that's unfolding before your eyes. 

Ah yes, the story.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child may have been written with two other people (Jack Thorne and JohnTiffany) but to me it felt like vintage J.K. Rowling.  I won't give any spoilers here because everyone deserves to enjoy a first look at every magical scene and act themselves, but In broad strokes: there are parallels between the parents and their offspring, but also some very important differences.  This new generation of Hogwarts students will find unlikely allies and unsuspected foes.  And yes,  we do get to spend some time revisiting the old friends and powerful words of wisdom that made us love Harry, Ron, and Hermione through seven books and 4,191 pages.

A little more about reading a script in book form--personally, I loved seeing the stage directions.  It makes me even more insanely jealous of everyone who gets to see the play because when I read the details of what the audience will experience I could picture it in my head.  And it was amazing.  I can only cross my fingers that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will make it to Seattle at some point so I can see it for real.  In recent weeks I've said that I was curious to see how this story fit with the books and now I know: absolutely beautifully.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Weekend Reading

WWIn this edition of Weekend Reading, the story behind Monet's famous Water Lilies painting, a ballyhooed debut, and a miracle child (maybe).

Chris Schluep: It's going to be an artist's retreat kind of weekend for me. I have Mad Enchantment, by Ross King, which is about Monet and his paintings of water lilies. I also have a book called You Must Change Your Life by Rachel Corbett, about the relationship between the sculptor, Auguste Rodin, and poet, Rainier Mari Rilke. Finally, I have a book called John Aubrey, My Own Life, which was written by Ruth Scurr. It's published by the New York Review of Books, which I have a literary crush on. John Aubrey lived in England in the 1600s. He didn't write an autobiography (I don't think), so Ruth Scurr has written one for him. It's an interesting concept, and Aubrey apparently left behind a lot of material that he did write—the book describes him this way: "He saw himself more as collector than writer: a collector of fragments of fact that would otherwise be lost because no one else would trouble themselves to write them down and pass them on to the next generation."

Jon Foro: Should I read The Nix? I generally have a bad attitude when people tell me what to do, and there is a lot of buzz around this must-read. (Literally: Nathan Hill appeared on the Buzz Panel at this year's Book Expo America.) As far as I understand, a nix is a shapeshifter in Nordic mythology, in this case a white horse that steals children, so that sounds spooky. And John Irving calls this book "mother-son psychodrama with ghosts and politics." Okay, I'll do what I'm told.

Erin Kodicek: I'm going to read Emma Donoghue's The Wonder, about a nurse who is summoned to a remote Irish village to witness a supposed miracle--a child who has somehow survived for months without food or water. I'm a fan of Donoghue, but this selection might also have something to do with a certain unwelcome house guest I noticed skittering at lightning speed behind my stove this morning. The giant house spider, which I've decided to name Hank, I first mistook for someone's escaped pet tarantula. Evidently it too can go for months without sustenance. And so, between chapters, I will also be house hunting.

Adrian Liang: I'm starting Alan Moore's new novel, Jerusalem. It's 1312 (!) pages, and I fully expect his ideas to match the immensity of the page count. We'll see. In a completely different genre, I'm enjoying Sandra Brown's new sexy thriller, Sting, which has a smart heroine, a hard-to-pin-down hero (is he really even a hero?), and twists and turns galore.


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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "Now What Do We Do to Fix This Thing?"

Amazon Book Review: Writings on the WallYou probably know Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his six NBA titles with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, six MVP awards, and the Skyhook, his unstoppable, inimitable shot that made him the league's all-time leading scorer. You might not know him as writer whose work spans commentary for CNN, TIME, and the Washington Post, as well as a children's book and a Sherlock Holmes mystery among other titles. You might also not know that since his days as a transcendent center with John Wooden's legendary UCLA squads of the 1960s, Abdul-Jabbar has inserted himself into this country's most difficult conversations, standing with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell, athletes who leveraged--and often sacrificed--their success for the cause of social justice. He has witnessed five decades of American triumph and tumult from a rare perspective: a black man born to modest means in 1940s Harlem, thrust to the canonizing heights of professional sports.

His new book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, isn't available until August 23, but on the heels of the Republican and Democratic conventions and a dispiriting pattern of racial tension and violence, it's worth talking about now (Abdul-Jabbar, AKA "Michael Jordan," spoke on the final night of the Democrats' rally). While race is the starting point, his concerns are far-ranging, veering in different directions to address fractures running through all facets of America--religion, gender discrimination, class, gun violence, poverty, education, etc.--as well as the political and media forces intent on widening the cracks.

These are polarizing issues, but this book is not a polemic. His aims are elucidation and discussion, not alienation and anger, and while not all readers will identify with him or agree with his solutions, Abdul-Jabbar addresses heavy topics with a straightforward, thoughtful, and entertaining touch. (He is a keen and enthusiastic observer of pop culture and often injects it into his opinions and observations, at one point citing scientist-philosopher Steven Pinker and Star Trek in a single passage.) Writings on the Wall is a measured attempt to take conversations from the mouths of those who shout the loudest and return them to all of us. As the book repeatedly asks: "Now what do we do to fix this thing?" He has an idea or two.

Here, Abdul-Jabbar shares his list of books, new and old, for understanding our country's difficult history and relationship with race.


Books That Help Us Better Understand Race in America
by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


BaldwinThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Published in 1963 during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, the two essays in this book address what was euphemistically referred to as "the Negro Problem." Baldwin made it clear that nothing much had changed from the British idea championed by Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling that anyone not white was "white man's burden" to civilize, which meant turn them into honorary whites. Baldwin's confessions of what it feels like to live in America as a black person are at turns enraging and enlightening. His ruminations on the failure of religion to address the racial injustices is as much plea as condemnation.


DuBoisThe Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois
What strikes me most today about Du Bois' groundbreaking work of sociology and history of African-Americans is how little has changed since it appeared in 1903. Most of his points about voting rights, education, and religion are just as true over a hundred years later. While he wrote of the importance of voter rights for blacks, today we fight the voter registration laws that are being enacted as a means to restrain voter participation of people of color. I particularly enjoy how he uses African-American poetry, slave songs, and spirituals throughout the text as a celebration and validation of black art. By doing so, he elevated these works as legitimate expressions of the black experience, writing, "I know that these songs are the articulate message of the slave to the world."


LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Much has been made about Lee's 2015 release of Go Set a Watchman because it revises what we thought we knew about the noble Atticus Finch. But none of that can affect the raw nerves that run through the novel's portrayal of the Jim Crow mentality that made both blacks and whites miserable. What's most uplifting is the struggle of characters trying to do the right thing even in the face of so much opposition. That's the universal struggle of humanity throughout history.


XThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley
Some books make you feel like you've just thrown open a window after a long sleep and can see the world as it is for the first time. This is such a book. Malcolm's journey from petty criminal to social activist is as much an exploration of the American consciousness as Huck Finn's trip down the Mississippi or Ishmael's voyage in pursuit of Moby-Dick. His spiritual and political awakening is as inspiring to blacks as Thomas Paine's Common Sense was to American revolutionaries. For many readers, it was a wake-up call to how institutional racism imposes so many barriers to blacks, keeping them from ever reaching their full potential.


CoatesBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates borrows the format of addressing a young family member from Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, but his conclusions about racial disparity in America are much darker. Though I don't share Coates' pessimism about eventually overcoming our racial differences—at least, most days—I do appreciate the sincerity of his writing and the intellectual analysis of race in America. His voice will resonate deep within the African-American community for years to come.


WalkerThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
Walker's 1982 novel, written in the form of letters, will bring tears of sympathy and rage. The lives of these Southern black women in the 1930s offers rich alternative story to what is usually found in history books. The book's brave and unbending exploration of, not just racial tensions between blacks and whites, but also gender stereotypes and intra-racial differences among blacks, is one of the reasons this book is one of the most banned in America. It is as insightful and moving as any novel you are likely to read.


EllisonInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ellison's novel's premise that being black in America makes you invisible was meant to also comment on the degradation of class struggles throughout the world. His passion wasn't just for racial parity but class parity, and that passion illuminates every page of this 1952 novel, whose truths have not flickered one bit since publication. What I find most interesting about the book is his style, which has the feeling of improvisational jazz.


MorrisonThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This 1970 novel takes Ellison's idea of invisibility due to skin color another level, in which invisibility and crushing feelings of inferiority are the result of not just skin color but absurd notions of attractiveness. It also has one of my favorite passages in literature because it is so lightning bolt true: "Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another – physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought." She unflinchingly presents how oppression—racial and gender—damages the African-American community.


ShireTeaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
This collection of poems by Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet, offers a harsh indictment of the effects of war and the violence against women. How the women learn to live with these tragedies is humbling, infuriating, and somehow inspiring. The final poem, only two lines, called "In Love and In War" captures the defiant tone: "To my daughter I will say/'when the men come, set yourself on fire.'"


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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Last Call for Summer Reading: 9 Books You'll Kick Yourself for Not Picking Up

Last call for summer reading - Amazon Book Review - image copyright Piotr MarcinskiSee for yourself what all the hype is about for these nine new books that we think are the absolute perfect way to spend the final month of summer reading.

Plus, in case you missed them the first time around, check out three crazy-good books now available in paperback.



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 The Girls by Emma Cline - What better crucible is there for growing up than being enticed into a Manson-like cult? The pull of peer pressure and the acting out of teenage rage adds barbed edges to this mesmerizing debut novel.

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 The Fireman by Joe Hill - Set in sometime in the very near future, people infected with the extremely contagious Dragonscale spontaneously combust--except for a small group in the New Hampshire woods who has found the secret to mastering the fiery disease. Hill weaves questions about the power of leadership, group-think, love, catastrophe, and family into his unputdownable novel. And who can resist a mentally tough heroine who loves Julie Andrews lyrics?

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The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis - Imagine a postapocalyptic Western told from the perspective of a female Huckleberry Finn on the run from a serial killer. Now realize that this book is unlike any you've read before. A remarkable, ominous story starring a heroine that will grab at your guts and your heart. Plus, you'll never think of jerky the same way again.

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 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Official Script by J.K. Rowling - This is not a novel but a script, so don't get huffy when you open the first page. Just deal. I for one will take a new Harry Potter in whatever format I can find it, and unfortunately tickets to the play in London are not in my future. Thousands of Harry Potter fans will have opinions on this story set 19 years after Voldemort's defeat. What's yours?

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 Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda - Best known for her groundbreaking writing on Amazing X-Men and Dark Wolverine comics series, Liu takes readers into a fantasy world of humans, Arcanic, and Ancients in a dark, hypnotic graphic novel in which the right thing to do isn't always clear. Heroism can be a murky ideal indeed, but it's easier when you have a cute fox-girl and a two-tailed cat to lean on. Takeda's artwork is lush and violent at the same time, and I dare you not to be sucked in by the first dramatic page.

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 Dark Matter by Blake Crouch - One of the best I-didn't-see-that-coming thriller writers of the decade does it again with this shocking story of a professor who is kidnapped and wakes up in a reality that may or may not be his own. A good read for those who sometimes still wonder if this life is reality or just a dream...

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 Lab Girl by Hope Jahren -'s pick for the best book of 2016 so far is a bright, entrancing memoir of a straight-shooting geobiologist and how she engages with dirt, office politics, and her sometimes bonkers lab partners. Jahren's writing pulls you effortlessly into the world of science, failure, and discovery--and will make you laugh too.

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - A small jet crash kills everyone but a painter and a small boy who will now inherit a fortune. What happened to cause the plane to go down? This serpentine mystery delivers an ending that will make you grin with satisfaction or throw the book against the wall, and then encourage your friends to read it too so you can all dissect it together.

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 The Summer Dragon by Todd Lockwood - If you're a fan of girls and dragons, this is the perfect (and perfectly engrossing) fantasy read for those looking for a Game of Thrones-like story during the dark days between seasons 6 and 7. Become an early adopter of this debut author.




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 Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari - Comedian Ansari's hilarious but thoughtful investigation of how to build and break romantic relationships in the modern age. [See our video interview with Ansari here.]

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 Seveneves by Neal Stephenson - What would happen if the moon blew up? Lots of bad stuff, including a meteor shower that will bombard Earth for thousands of years. This science-fueled saga spans millennia, but make no mistake: The heart of this story is its all-too-human heroes and how their choices, good and ill, forge the future of our species. You might want to lift some weights in preparation for toting around this 880-page epic.  [See our video interview with Stephenson here.]

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 The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - Last year's blockbuster bestseller is finally in paperback. Discover for yourself why everyone couldn't put down this psychologically twisted whodunit in which nothing is what it seems. And then avoid public transportation.



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A Transgender Story: Jazz Jennings and Meredith Russo Ask the Questions

Jazz_MeredithJazz Jennings and Meredith Russo are transgender women who have both written young adult books this year.  Jazz wrote Just Jazz, the story of her life so far (she's fifteen) and Meredith wrote If I Was Your Girl, a fictional account of a transgender teen that draws much of it's inspiration from her own life experience.  Their books released a month apart and we asked if they would be interested in doing a Q&A together.  They were game and below are the questions and answers they sent to each other asking about being a role model, dealing with haters, the changing landscape for trans people, and Star Wars, among other things...

Questions for Jazz from Meredith:

MEREDITH: I was reminded as I composed these questions that you were born in 2000, that you're only sixteen years old, which, frankly, is bonkers. I stand in awe of you. I'm almost thirty, with an adult life and most of the stability that entails, and there are still days where the combined pressures of life as a trans woman, life as a queer woman (I saw that you came out as pan, which is so good and I'm so happy for you), life as a woman full stop, and the negative aspects of now being a semi-public figure get so bad I can barely get out of bed. And you're dealing with all of those, far, FAR more media attention, and the nightmare of puberty and high school to boot! How do you deal with it? Where do you find comfort when you need it? How do you tune out the haters?

JAZZ: Actually . . . I'm only fifteen—my birthday isn't for a few months, lol! Sometimes it's hard being in the public eye, but I have coping mechanisms to get me through the more stressful times, and I'm a resilient person. I'm pretty good at tuning out the haters. I don't care what they say—their opinions don't matter to me. I focus on the positive and all the people I'm helping by sharing my story. I find the most comfort from my family and friends. They give me strength during rough times. I also make sure I get a lot of what I call "Jazz time." When I'm not busy, you can always find me binge-watching movies and TV shows on my laptop, or tinkering with my new camera.

MEREDITH: To that end, you're a role model for young trans people everywhere, which is amazing and exciting (I think about my life if someone like you had existed when I was a kid and it would have been so much better) but also, as I'm slowly discovering, a lot of pressure! There's an expectation that you have to be, you know, respectable, which is all well and good for adults, but high school and college are meant to be messy. You're meant to be working out who you are, stumbling and falling, making glorious mistakes that will shape your identity for the rest of your life! Do you feel a pressure to appear as "normal" and respectable as possible to satisfy these demands, or do you feel comfortable allowing yourself to enjoy the sharp corners and rough edges of this time in your life?

JAZZ: I definitely never feel pressure to be anyone other than myself. I'm far from perfect and make mistakes like everyone else. I think it's important for people to know that I'm human and stumble. However, I always manage to pick myself up and dust myself off. I'm vulnerable just like everyone else.

MEREDITH: The main character in my book begins her transition at about sixteen years old, whereas I didn't start until I was TWENTY-six. I don't know anyone who transitioned as early as Amanda, let alone as early as you, while you obviously know plenty of people who transitioned in adulthood. How are the two experiences different, in your experience?

JAZZ: Every transgender person's experience is different. I was lucky because I had the love and support of my family right from the start. I didn't have to go through male puberty, and I didn't have to live the majority of my life as a lie, appearing to be someone I'm not. With that in mind, I would say that my experience was easier compared to the struggles of other transgender people who transitioned later in life. This is one of the reasons that I share my story. I want trans youth to know that it's okay to come out of the shadows and be true to yourself so they don't have to experience more pain by waiting.

MEREDITH: Cis [non-transgender] people are more aware of our struggle every day, and many of them want to help, but privilege often makes their participation fraught and occasionally even harmful. What advice would you give to a cis person who wants to be a good trans ally?

JAZZ: It's important for the transgender allies to be as respectful as possible. They should educate themselves as much as possible and remember that not all transgender people are alike. It's okay to ask a trans person what pronouns they prefer to use and let them know you'll be there for them in times of need. It's not about encouraging them, but rather embracing the decisions they make.

Questions for Meredith from Jazz:

JAZZ: If I Was Your Girl is your debut novel—congratulations! I've seen this book all over the Internet and love that it is being promoted as a "big-hearted" novel about love, life, and being true to yourself. What inspired you to write it? If readers can take away one thing, what do you hope that would be?

MEREDITH: My main inspiration was that I didn't feel particularly served by a lot of the trans stories being written by cis people (not that their efforts weren't admirable!) and I wanted to write the book I badly needed when I was a teenager. The reaction I want depends on whether the reader is trans or cis. I want trans readers to walk away from the book feeling a little more okay, a little less alone, and a little more hopeful. I want cis readers to walk away with a better, fuller understanding of the struggles and basic humanity of trans people.

JAZZ: If I Was Your Girl deals with some really difficult subjects like bullying and prejudice. What type of research did you do about these hard facts that so many people in the transgender community face?

MEREDITH: I didn't need to do a lot of traditional research, honestly. As depressing as it is, I mostly just fell back on my own experience and the experiences of my trans friends. We've all got our horror stories and completely justified fears, and that's what made it onto the page.

JAZZ: Something that really sticks out is the need to have hope, to be kind, and to have empathy and be brave, which is such an inspiring message. When you were writing, were there moments in the book that you felt were crucial to this underlying message?

MEREDITH: Yes. In the flashbacks I showed Amanda surviving her suicide attempt and discovering that her mother is supportive before showing the attempt itself, because when that scene does come, I wanted it to be understood that Amanda's situation wasn't as bleak or hopeless as she thought it was. Things aren't always that simple, of course, and real life can be unimaginably cruel, but a huge part of the book was my desire to emphasize the importance of hope. Empathy comes in with the theme of secrets: part of Amanda's growth into adulthood is her realization that everyone around her carries something that weighs on them, and to show how friendship, trust, and mutual openness are the antidotes to isolation and misunderstanding.

JAZZ: Finally, one of the things I love is that you are a self-described nerd! I am also a big sci-fi fantasy fan. What is it about video games and big movies like Star Wars that captures your imagination?

MEREDITH: When I was younger, it was pure escapism. I hated my life, I hated living as a boy and being mentally ill, and inhabiting these big, fantastic worlds (in the case of sci-fi/fantasy) and places where I had a feeling of real control over my environment and my identity (in the case of video games) helped me feel safe and stable. I still appreciate both for those reasons, but also because while at their worst video games are mindless, often violent time sinks, and sci-fi/fantasy can be shallow or reactionary, at their best I think they are some of the best ways to examine and contextualize ourselves and open our imaginations to previously unexplored possibilities.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Heroes Between the Pages! 5 Military Romances That Redefine the Rules of Engagement

Military romances - Amazon Book ReviewJulie Ann Walker is no stranger to military heroes who know how to get the bad guy and win a woman's heart. A USA Today bestselling author of almost a dozen romance novels starring military or former military operatives, she's best known for her Black Knights Inc. series featuring a covert special-ops team who use a motorcycle shop as a front as they track down baddies. Her newest series, Deep Six, pits former Navy SEALs against the violent and the corrupt. Her most recent Deep Six novel is the action-packed Devil in the Deep.

Below, Walker shares her top five picks for those who like their heroes bold, brave, and loyal and their heroines able to go toe-to-toe with tough guys:


The Fourth of July has passed, but that doesn't mean you can't feel patriotic all year round. Whether they are current members of the military or former SEALs like in my new release Devil and the Deep, sexy soldiers are the hero of choice for many romance readers. In my recommendations below, these stories have all the steamy tension of a swoon-worthy romance, the whodunit of a page-turning mystery, and the action and adventure of a nail-biting thriller.

On board? Great! Here are some suggestions on where to start.


A Covert AffairA Covert Affair (Deadly Ops) by Katie Reus - A wounded NSA agent and a successful restaurateur confront old feelings as they hunt for a predator preying on the poor and the weak. This book is an edge-of-your-seat read.




Heart StrikeHeart Strike (Delta Force) by M.L. Buchman - A spunky heroine and a tech-guru who is a genius when it comes to everything but women go undercover is the sultry Colombian jungle. M.L. writes some of the toughest female protagonists you'll ever read.




Do or DieDo or Die: Reluctant Heroes (Troubleshooters) by Suzanne Brockmann - Suzanne Brockmann's seamless blend of heroic military action and intense passion inspired USA Today to call her "a superstar of romantic suspense." For years her award-winning Troubleshooters books have been must-reads for fans of sizzling stories of action and adventure.


Taking FireTaking Fire (One-Eyed Jacks) by Cindy Gerard - A covert security mission in Oman unexpectedly reunites Bobby Taggart with Talia Levine, and the danger and passion of their reunion is explosive. Cindy Gerard writes romantic suspense the right way.  



Seduction GameSeduction Game (I-Team) by Pamela Clare - CIA officer Nick Andris wants revenge. Holly Bradshaw is in a lot of trouble. Being thrown together could tear their worlds apart. Danger, intrigue, and action are Pamela's forte. If you love reading about those things (and who doesn't?) grab a copy of this book today!


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