31 July 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by JK Rowling, adapted by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Summary from Goodreads:
The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

My kingdom for enough money to fly to London and see this live.

OK, so everyone under the sun is going to have a review of HP8.  I'm going to throw out a few thoughts here and otherwise advise you to read it yourself if you want to have an opinion.  I'm going to try not to spoil the plot.

First, I did like this a lot.  I thought it was very intriguing and well-paced (Act II cliff-hanger, whaaaaaat) with a lot of good ideas.  Rowling plays with a lot of themes she couldn't in the original seven books.  What kind of a parent would Harry be and how would he deal with a child both so very different and so very much the same as himself?  How does being "the boy who lived" still weigh on Harry?  How does the legacy weigh on his children?  How do his adult relationships change?

Second, given that this is a play there is no narrator unlike the previous seven books.  All those books - with the exception of the first chapter/prologue of each - were narrated via Harry's limited, and often quite biased, perspective.  With a play, there is no filter.  Each character speaks directly to the reader/audience.  And I find that the most interesting aspect of Cursed Child.  How would the series have turned out if Rowling had used a different type of narrator or shifted the perspective between characters?  Very different, I think.

Third, the stagecraft required of this play is going to be of the mind-bogglingly difficult kind.  I would love to see that set design.  (And the stage directions are very amusing to read.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book - OF COURSE - after flying back from Atlanta in the morning and working a release party at the bookstore at night.

30 July 2016

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Summary from Goodreads:
The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

I missed Yaa Gyasi's signing line at BEA (rats) but I was able to get approved for an Edelweiss galley and for that I am so grateful (Gyasi will be signing at Prairie Lights in October, yay for Iowa Writer's Workshop alums).  This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

The structure of this novel serves up the plot to perfection.  Once Effia and Esi are introduced in adjacent chapters - in settings both sublimely beautiful and terrible - the plot unfolds through two branches of the family tree.  Every chapter follows a subsequent generation, alternating branches, Effia's line then Esi's line.  Reading other reviews, I noted that some readers were frustrated that Gyasi changed narrators so often. Just when we wish to have more time with a character, we jump branches and generations.  But I thought this was such a good way of representing the pull of time.  The characters cannot go back to have questions answered, to find things that were lost, or make different choices. Time only goes forward.  This was especially true for those chapters set among Esi's descendants who were sold into slavery in the American South - there was no going back to know one's grandparents, or home village, or ancestral tongue.  Brutal.

Homegoing is so well-crafted it's almost unbelievable that this is a debut. This book will break you, in a good way.  Keep the tissues handy.

Dear FTC: I received a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

26 July 2016

Riverine: A Memoir From Anywhere but Here by Angela Palm

Summary from Goodreads:
Angela Palm grew up in a place not marked on the map, her house set on the banks of a river that had been straightened to make way for farmland. Every year, the Kankakee River in rural Indiana flooded and returned to its old course while the residents sandbagged their homes against the rising water. From her bedroom window, Palm watched the neighbor boy and loved him in secret, imagining a life with him even as she longed for a future that held more than a job at the neighborhood bar. For Palm, caught in this landscape of flood and drought, escape was a continually receding hope.

Though she did escape, as an adult Palm finds herself drawn back, like the river, to her origins. But this means more than just recalling vibrant, complicated memories of the place that shaped her, or trying to understand the family that raised her. It means visiting the prison where the boy that she loved is serving a life sentence for a brutal murder. It means trying to chart, through the mesmerizing, interconnected essays of Riverine, what happens when a single event forces the path of her life off course.

Riverine is defined as something either formed by a river or situated on the banks of a river.  In Angela Palm's memoir Riverine, she begins her story in the house her family lived in as a child, set upon an artificially created bank of the Kankakee River in rural Indiana.  Every seasonal flood shows that the river constantly returns to its former banks.  Even though her family eventually moves away from that river bank, Palm continually returns to the subject of that house, that river bank.  Although she has moved away, finished school, and married, she is struck by the ways that early environment shaped herself as opposed to how it shaped her friend, and first love, Corey.

This is a beautiful and evocative memoir.  Her exploration of the prison system that Corey inhabits was brief but very well-researched and written.  The strength of the writing fades a bit in the last 50 pages but overall it is a very vivid and compelling work.

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.

19 July 2016

Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt (Maiden Lane #10.5)

Summary from Goodreads:
From New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt comes a delightful Maiden Lane novella that begins once upon a moonlit night—and ends wickedly, wonderfully ever after...

Hippolyta Royle is running for her life. Pursued by hounds on a cold rainy night, the heiress flags down a passing carriage and throws herself at the mercy of the coach's occupant. Whoever this handsome traveler may be, he is her only hope to escape a terrible fate. But should he agree to escort her to safety, he's in for much more than he bargained for.

At first Matthew Mortimer doesn't believe Hippolyta's story, that she's a fabulously wealthy heiress who's been kidnapped. He assumes she's a beggar, an actress, or worse. But once his new travel companion washes the mud from her surprisingly lovely face, and they share a breathtaking kiss, there is no turning back.

Once Upon a Moonlit Night picks up immediately after Hippolyta Royce leaves the narrative of Duke of Sin on horseback, in the dark, barefoot, and in her shift.

(Let me explain...no there is too much, let me sum up:  in Duke of Sin, the sociopathic Duke of Montgomery, his plan to blackmail Hippolyta into marriage having been foiled by his housekeeper Bridget, has kidnapped Hippolyta to "ruin" her in Society's eyes (and to annoy Bridget, who he wants to shag senseless) so Bridget craftily, but hastily, set Hippolyta free in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside before laying a false trail and continuing the narrative of that book.  It's a good book, go read it.)

Hippolyta intends to catch the post back to London from the local village but is instead picked up by a passing carriage containing one Matthew Mortimer, a world traveler who has recently inherited an earldom, and an animal (no spoilers).  After much bickering, some humor, and travelling the two of them make it back to London.

This isn't a perfect novella - Matthew is kind of a jackass when he appears and there's a secondary mystery that isn't necessary.  But this is a sweet story. If you'd thought there was a bit of wrap-up missing from Duke of Sin (as I did) this will take care of it. I do wish this was a full novel since I think there's more to flesh out in Hippolyta's story.  She's a biracial heroine in a historical romance (her mother is Indian) and I feel like she got short-changed.

Also, petition to have D'Arque's granny in more books.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this novella.

04 July 2016

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams

Summary from Goodreads:
America’s national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them.

From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.

OK, so, here's the deal.  I love Terry Tempest Williams, like love, Terry Tempest Williams.  If you have not read When Women Were Birds you need to remedy that immediately.  I was completely not worried about whether The Hour of Land would be good or not.  I had no worries.  I was more concerned with having enough unbroken time to put The Hour of Land into my brain.

Oh, it's so beautiful.  The book itself is a gorgeous physical object.  And Terry's writing is wonderful.  This is a beautiful, personal, and wide-ranging call to action to save our national parks and monuments from predation by industry, thoughtless people, and cultural insensitivity. Her writing moves from personal essay, to epistolary, to journalism all in one book. (I will be in Atlanta when she reads at Prairie Lights and I am extremely sad about this.)  I was really excited to see that Terry visited Effigy Mounds, which is in my state, and I am long overdue for a repeat visit there (last visited in middle school).

So this is a very short review to say go buy this and put it in you face immediately!

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book because OF COURSE.