Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight

Title: Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight
Author: Gabrielle Yetter
Illustrator:  Daro Sam
Design: Monnyreak Ket
Pages: 36
Recommended for children aged 2 to 8

While Anna and I have reviewed plenty of graphic novels on this blog, we've never reviewed a picture book before. But when the author of the picture book Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight asked me if I'd be interested in doing a review, the book looked so delightful that I couldn't say no. 

Ogden is a contented little fish who lives in a plastic bag at the fair and swims in circles all day long. When he accidentally gets dropped in the river, Ogden's world is in complete upheaval. He doesn't know how to do anything but swim in circles all day long, so that's what he does.

Eventually, a friendly eel tries to get Ogden to swim outside of his comfort zone. Though poor Ogden is terrified, he decides to take a risk, and when he does he discovers a glorious new world that he never knew existed.
Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight is a charming little story sure to bring a smile to the face of everyone who reads it - no matter their age: I was literally smiling the whole time I read it. The story's colorful, bright illustrations perfectly balance its sweet, playful tone and uplifting ending. Best of all, parents can use Ogden's story as a starting point to talk to their children about having the courage to step outside their own comfort zones. 

Overall, Ogden, The Fish Who Couldn't Swim Straight is a delightful read with an important message sure to inspire readers of all ages.




Until tomorrow.

Sunday, December 25, 2016



“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas from The Wood Between the Worlds! 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Hey everyone, before we get started, make sure you check out the 2017 2nd Annual Authors Talk About It Book Award Contest. If you're a new or aspiring author, this is a great opportunity for promotion and critique. And your book doesn't even have to be published yet to be accepted: you can submit published and unpublished books, manuscripts, and ebooks in a variety of genres. If you decide to enter, let us know how it turns out! (May the odds be ever in your favor.) And now onto today's review....


Title: Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2)
Author: William Ritter
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: 22 September 2015
Number of Pages: 295


What Goodreads has to say:

I've found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I've known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality . . .

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad's Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.




What I have to say:

Really, I'd just like to say: thank you, William Ritter. 

It's like you wrote this book with me in mind - it has everything I love in it:

New England, for starters: 1890s New England - quaint, Romantic, and slightly creepy at night. 

A very complicated ghost.

A young feminist with a sharp mind and a thirst for adventure.

An odd detective/scientist with an eye for the supernatural.

A shapeshifter.

The dinosaur skeleton find of the century.

And dragons.

Not to mention warring paleontologists, a burly trapper with a love for magical creatures (think Hagrid), a spunky female journalist, and plenty of unexplained phenomena. 

But mainly dinosaurs.

I zipped through this book, completely captivated from Chapter One to the last page. Not only is it atmospheric, entertaining, and suspenseful; it's also beautiful. 

Several months ago, I attended a William Ritter book-signing and heard him read several passages from Beastly Bones out loud to his audience. Incidentally, he has the best reading voice and I would totally buy an audiobook of him reading the Jackaby books. Among the excerpts he read at that book-signing, the most striking in my mind was the following, which comes when Abigail Rook, the story's protagonist, finds herself conflicted by her desire to be a successful investigator, and her growing love for a young policeman (the shapeshifter mentioned above). She's received two opposing strains of advice from two different parties, and now feels like she can't take a definite step in either direction. With a great deal of awkwardness, she asks her employer, Detective Jackaby, for advice:

"So often," Jackaby said. "people think that when we arrive at a crossroads, we can choose only one path, but- as I have often and articulately postulated- people are stupid. We're not walking the path. We are the path. We are all of the roads and all of the intersections. Of course you can choose both."
 I blinked. 
"Also, if I hear any more nonsense about your allowing other people to decide where you're going in your own life, I will seriously reconsider your employment. You were hired for your mind, Miss Rook. I won't have an assistant incapable of thinking for herself." 
"Yes, sir," I said. "Thank you, sir."

Another thing I love is humor; and William Ritter has the best sense of humor. This book is hilarious:

The entry [Jackaby pointed to] briefly explained that an unidentified miscreant had broken into a shoemaker's shop three times in the past week.
 "Please tell me you're kidding, sir. It says the cobbler couldn't even find anything stolen. That's annoying, but it's not a case." 
"...Do you know who else is known for slipping into shoemakers' shops and not taking anything?"
"Please, sir. Don't say elves."
"Elves!"

Beastly Bones is also romantic:

"I'm going to kiss you now," I said. "That's going to happen." [This is my favorite line.]

 And intense:

"He wrenched me off my feet, and the world spun for a moment as the two of us tumbled into Lamb's trench. My axe bounced out of my hands, and the cold earth and smell of loose soil filled my senses for several seconds as Jackaby pressed me into the dirt. From above us came a rumbling, belching noise, and then a muffled hacking cough. Jackaby's hold on my back lightened as he rose to peer over the edge of the deep furrow. I slid up tentatively to join him."

Recommended for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grimm, and Harry Potter (if that doesn't cover you, I'm not really sure what you're doing on this blog, but hey, don't leave), Beastly Bones is a fantastical adventure that you won't soon forget. Also dinosaurs.

A word to those of you who aren't familiar with this series yet: Beastly Bones is the second novel in William Ritter's Jackaby trilogy (currently a trilogy, anyway). The first book is Jackaby; if you haven't read it, you're in for a treat. While I think you could get off OK reading Beastly Bones without having read Jackaby, I definitely recommend reading the books in order. Recently, Ritter has released the third book in the Jackaby series: Ghostly Echoes. Here's to hoping it will be as awesome as the first two - though I have no doubt it will be.

 
I freaking love these covers.



Until tomorrow.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Little Prince

Title: The Little Prince
Production Company: Netflix
Director: Mark Osborne
Screenplay: Irena Brignull, Bob Persichetti
Based on the French novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Mackenzie Foy, Rachel McAdams, Riley Osborne (and a lot of other people)
Release Date: 5 August 2016
Length: 1 h 48 min
Rating: PG
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama, (Sci-fi?)


Synopsis:

A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.


What I have to say:

At long last! You can now stream The Little Prince on Netflix! And the film lives up to its expectations: all in all, this is a funny, sweet, heart-warming film with beautiful animation that is sure to move viewers to tears. Lots of them. 

There are two stories in this film: a story about a little girl making friends with an old aviator, and a story about The Little Prince and his adventures. The Little Prince's story is framed beautifully by the real-world story of the little girl and the aviator. Each story has a different animation style, which is a wonderful touch and helps to distinguish between the two. I LOVE the animation style in which The Little Prince's story plays out. It suits the story and fits in perfectly with the original illustrations by Saint-Exupery. 


Both stories are well told and nicely executed. I could wish that the filmmakers spent a little more time on The Little Prince's story, as it seemed just a bit too brief and moved rather quickly. But even this didn't detract from the story's beauty and depth.

The only thing that I felt really detracted from the story was the episode after the conclusion of The Little Prince's story, when the little girl flies the aviator's plane to another planet. Here she finds all of the characters that The Little Prince meets on his journey through the stars before coming to Earth (the rich man, the king, the clown). 

As a fantasia on themes found in The Little Prince story, it's not bad and actually rather creative, but as a story that is of a piece with the story of The Little Prince himself, it's totally wrong and the effect is jarring. This episode feels disjointed when taken as a whole with the rest of the movie. For one thing, it's unnecessary. It springs out of the little girl's need to come to terms with things like letting go and growing up, which is a viable dilemma, but there are better ways to accomplish this that would have been more in keeping with the rest of the story. 

One thing I did really like about how this episode played out, however, was that, since the little girl falls off the side of the house and blacks out before waking up and finding the aviator's plane, and since the scene fades out after she leaves Asteroid B-612, you could assume that the whole incident was a dream, which makes me feel slightly better about the whole thing.



So if you watch The Little Prince, I recommend just skipping that whole episode in the middle, starting when the little girl flies the aviator's plane out of Earth's atmosphere. Just pick it up again when she gets up in the morning and decides to go visit the aviator with her mother. That's a sweet scene. 

Outside of that one part in the middle, the movie is absolutely beautiful: the visuals are stunning, the writing brilliant, and the story as poignant as ever.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

HAPPY BIRTHDAY C. S. LEWIS!!!

118 and still as awesome as ever.

- ERIN


Thursday, November 17, 2016

By a Strange coincidence

Title: Doctor Strange
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Director: Scott Derricksen
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen
Release Date: 4 November 2016
Length: 1 h 55 min
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence
Genre: Fantasy/Science-Fiction
Based on the Marvel Comics by Steve Ditko

What I have to say:

For anyone planning on watching the new Doctor Strange movie, I have some advice: embrace the movie's strangeness. If you don't do this, you won't enjoy it.

The title alone should clue you in to the fact that there's going to be some weird stuff in this movie, and there is. I don't mean anything super bizarre or unseemly, but if you have a hard time with movies that push the boundaries of film or that suddenly dissolve into kaleidoscopic and deep space screenshots (think 2001: A Space Odyssey), this might not be your kind of movie.

On the other hand, if you're a big fan of weird artsy films and have an offbeat sense of humor, you're probably going to like this one.

One guess which camp I'm in.

When the film first cut to the aforementioned psychedelic abstract shots, I found myself thinking briefly, "This is really weird," and then almost instantly, "Just roll with it. It's awesome." After that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


It was almost as weird watching Benedict Cumberbatch play Stephen Strange. Not because the role wasn't created just for him (it was), but because Stephen is American. I didn't even feel like I was watching Benedict Cumberbatch, because he had no English accent and his voice sounded totally different. I call that pretty good acting.

As The Ancient One, Strange's teacher, Tilda Swinton was a perfect blend of poise and strength. And she's totally rocking the bald look.

The film's aesthetics, writing, and execution are all top par. But what really struck me were the film's higher themes:

"Silence your ego and your power will rise." - The Ancient One, Doctor Strange  

"Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it." - C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


I LOVED this line from the film. Not only is it absolutely true, but it makes me think of what C. S. Lewis has said about surrendering yourself and letting go of your pride and vanity - that when you do this, the paradoxical thing is that you become more yourself and more powerful than ever.

The passage in Lewis quoted above continues:

"Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay." 

Sounds a little like the personal journey Doctor Strange takes over the course of the movie. When he looks for the power to heal himself physically, he finds only despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But when he begins to pursue learning and study for something higher than himself, and when he seeks to use his powers to save others and protect the world from harm, he finds true power.


And this wasn't the only moment in the film that felt reminiscent of Lewis. The idea that there are "worlds without end" (the exact phrase used in the film) in the universe and that there is a dark power seeking to gain dominion over every planet is the exact premise of Lewis' space trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). Dormammu in Doctor Strange, the malevolent force trying to gain control of the Earth, parallels the Bent One in Lewis' trilogy, the enemy of God who has Earth under his control and seeks dominion of all worlds. 

Of course, Lewis didn't just pull this idea out of thin air, either. The Bent One is, explicitly, the Devil, and Lewis derives the frame of his story from the Biblical account of the War in Heaven and the enmity between God and Satan.

So let's return to Doctor Strange with this story in mind. It's not that I'm trying to make a scriptural parallel where one doesn't exist; I think this was fairly explicit in the movie. While Dormammu seems to be the best candidate for the Devil in this movie, Kaecilius also resembles that character.

The Ancient One tells Strange that Kaecilius used to be a student of hers, but when he diverged from the true path and sought forbidden knowledge, he cut himself off from The Ancient One and her school, and led away a significant group of students (we'll call it one third) after him. Now Kaecilius and his followers, cast out of Cammitage, are now endeavoring to help Dormammu gain dominion over the Earth.

Kaecilius believes that Dormammu can give him and his followers immortality and power, but the Ancient One warns him that the path he has chosen "will bring you only sorrow." And Strange echoes her warning to Kaecilius at a later point, telling him that Dormammu has deceived him, and that if his design succeeds it will not bring him happiness, but rather suffering. 

Towards the end of the film we learn that Dormammu's promise of immortality is true, but in a twisted sense. He means that Kaecilius and his followers will live forever as part of himself - that they will be absorbed into his being and in effect lose themselves forever. What does this remind you of?

Consider senior devil Screwtape's last letter to his nephew Wormwood:

"Rest assured, my love for you and your love for me are as like as two peas. I have always desired you, as you (pitiful fool) desired me. The difference is that I am the stronger. I think they will give you to me now; or a bit of you. Love you? Why, yes. As dainty a morsel as ever I grew fat on." - C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

How opposite this is from the fate of those who follow the Ancient One, or Maleldil in Lewis' space trilogy, or God if we go back to the source: in surrendering themselves to a higher power, they become truly themselves, while the followers of Dormammu, or The Bent One, or the Devil, are truly and irrevocably lost forever.

"The bill comes due." - Mordo, Doctor Strange

 Kaecilius and his followers have transgressed (in fact, it now occurs to me that you could read Kaecilius' act of pursuing forbidden knowledge as a parallel of Adam's Transgression in the Garden of Eden as well) - and the bill always comes due, as Mordo - one of the Ancient One's most loyal students, reminds Strange. A reckoning has to be made. And all of this informs Strange's most repeated line in the film:

"Dormammu, I've come to bargain." - Stephen Strange, Doctor Strange

By trapping Dormammu in a looped segment of time, Strange allows Dormammu to continue killing him over and over again, presumably for eternity - as Strange will always be "reborn" the next instant. It's a Promethean bargain. At first, it seems like Strange is the only one who stands to lose in this scenario:

Dormammu: You cannot do this for ever.  

Dr. Stephen StrangeActually, I can. This is how things are now! You and me. Trapped in this moment. Endlessly.  

Dormammu: Then you will spend eternity dying! 

Dr. Stephen Strange: Yes, but everyone on Earth will live.  

Dormammu: End this! You will never win.   

Dr. Stephen StrangeNo. But I can lose. Again. And again. And again. Forever. That makes you my prisoner.


What does it remind you of, people? If you said something along the lines of, "the bargain Aslan made with the White Witch," or, "the bargain Christ made with the Devil," you've hit on my thought exactly.



In the interest of not taking up any more of your time, I'll stop here, though there's much more I could say. This movie abounds in awesome quotes like "We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them," "No one ever is [ready]. We don't get to choose our time," and "Not everything does [make sense]. Not everything has to." Man, the Ancient One says good stuff.

I'll end with one final quote: when Strange complains, "I can't do this," Mordo rejoins, "There is no other way":

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill 

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then." 

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.” - C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair


A final word of advice: This is a Marvel movie. Stay after the credits. And then when you think you've seen the clip at the end of the credits, stay longer, because there's another one.


Until tomorrow. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

How to scare people

Poe, man

So, I don't usually post stuff about writing on this blog, because that's not really what it's about. But given the fact that a lot of readers are also writers, I thought I'd make an exception. Plus, it's Halloween. Plus, I found this article REALLY helpful.

Writing scary stories can be hard (how do you Poe), but when you manage it, it's perfection. I love scary stories, and I always get the urge to write one once October rolls around, but writing a story that's actually scary is really tricky, and I always worry that my stories fall flat on the scare factor.

So here's some advice for you writers of the macabre:

http://firewords.co.uk/blog/2016/10/19/8-quick-tips-how-to-scare-your-reader



Happy haunting!


Until tomorrow.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Head and the Heart Signs of Light review


If you've been a fan of The Head and the Heart for long, their new album Signs of Light might take a little getting used to. It's not that the album is a radical break from their previous style, but it does have a new edge. After all, the little folk-inspired indie band from Seattle now has a deal with a major music label, Warner Bros. Records. And their new album has performed extremely well, landing at no. 5 in the Billboard 200 and topping the Adult Alternative chart.

After three years without any new output, The Head and the Heart is back with a vengeance, and a sound that leans more towards pop, but still has that classic Head and the Heart quality to it. Musically sophisticated, perfectly orchestrated, and, as always, wonderfully harmonized, Signs of Light is a delightful, stirring exploration of life, light, love, and loneliness - all through the lens of shifting music. In other words, as the band is wont to do, the album speaks both to your head and to your heart (and the group manages to incorporate those words into at least one song - seriously, I'm listening to the album as I write and I just heard them do it).

"All We Ever Knew," the opening track, which has gotten ample air time on the radio (at least on the two indie stations I listen to), is akin to work by American Authors, Florence and the Machine, and Family of the Year. Upbeat and singable (both qualities which are sort of rare for this group), it tops the list of Head and the Heart songs with the most potential to become hits. But while it leans more mainstream than any of the group's previous work, it's still very recognizably The Head and the Heart.

"City of Angels" and "Rhythm and Blues" are, after the title track, the most upbeat songs on the album, featuring swinging percussion and vocals. The band's percussion element is alive and well throughout the album, as are the strings, guitar, and piano - blended into one harmonious whole but still allowed their own unique voice - that, at base, is what makes The Head and the Heart so great. This harmony features in tracks like "False Alarm," "Dreamer," and "Take a Walk." As usual, Josiah Johnson's and Jonathan Russell's folksy, raw-edged vocals hit the mark, especially in "I Don't Mind;" and Charity Rose Thielen is allowed time to shine in tracks like "Dreamer" and "Colors," where her husky voice brings a quality of raw, unexpected emotion to these songs.

"Oh My Dear" is decidedly Beatles-esque without being stale. And the title track, "Signs of Light" is a heart-breaking musical journey from simple piano chords and raw vocals to a full instrumentation that manages to be gentle even as it builds slowly to a full crescendo. When the vocals carry on, a cappella, at the end of a couple of songs, it's a beautiful, haunting effect.

And what to say of possibly the two most unique songs on the album - "Library Magic" and "Your Mother's Eyes"? There is a numinous quality present in these songs, a sort of auditory magic achieved by the instrumentation and harmonies, that make the listener pause and hold their breath as the song plays out.

And with The Head and the Heart's 2016 Signs of Light tour currently underway, there's ample opportunity to see the band in concert from various locations across the U.S. Although lead singer Josiah Johnson is on hiatus due to health issues, which is a bit of a let down, the other members of the band are well qualified to carry the show on their own footing. The high value that each individual band member brings to the whole makes it both tragic and OK that Johnson won't be joining them on tour this time around.

In short, if you're a Head and the Heart fan, an indie rock fan, or just a fan of really great music, Signs of Light is a musical consummation that won't disappoint.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cursed Child is a fun read, but lacks that Harry Potter magic


Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two (Harry Potter #8)
Authors: J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: July 31st 2016 (Good planning on somebody's part)
Number of Pages: 327



What Goodreads has to say:


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 [why not July 31st?].

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.


What I have to say:


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a great read: fun, exciting, and very sweet in places. 

But it's not the Harry Potter I know.

One of the reasons for that may be that, although J. K. Rowling's name appears larger than anyone else's on the cover of the book, she didn't actually write it, as you'll discover on closer inspection. The book, or script if you prefer - since it is really a script in book form - is "based on an original new story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne" but the actual playwright is John Thorne, not Rowling. And while Thorne is clearly a talented writer, I don't think he knows either the characters or the world of Harry Potter as well as Rowling does.

I'll start with the bad, so we can end on a good note.

*********************WARNING: SPOILERS********************

(I don't think I give away anything major, certainly not "the big secret" (#KeepTheSecrets) but if you want to be completely surprised, maybe you should go read the book and come back to this review afterward.)

Plot

To cut to the chase, I was disappointed that this story once again revolved around Harry and Voldemort. We had seven books about that, and yes, they were awesome, but now I think it's time to move on. Harry works at the Ministry of Magic; there are endless story possibilities there. We don't have to go back over that old territory for the eighth time: we can be more creative than that, and honestly, there's so much to work with in the world of Harry Potter. Constructing a plot around Cedric Diggory, Harry Potter, and Voldemort, especially when you have the whole of the wizarding world to choose from, feels like a cop out. It's redundant.

But aside from just simple redundancy, here's the thing that probably bothered me the most about the whole rehashing of the Chosen One/Harry vs. Voldemort plot line: You all remember that last sentence from The Deathly Hallows? Who doesn't? In fact, when I Google "last sentence" the first result that comes up is "of Harry Potter":
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.
So I have a great idea: let's totally disregard this wonderful last line of the book that made Harry Potter fans all over the world cry tears of joy, and let's change it so Harry has pain again and everything's definitely not well, 'cause I don't think he deserves to have a happy, carefree life after those 18 years of torture.

These are not my sentiments, but they are those, apparently, of Jack Thorne, or whoever was responsible for this plot point.

In one scene of The Cursed Child, Harry wakes up after a nightmare about Voldemort and finds that his scar is hurting. If this isn't the worst decision in the world on the part of the script-writers, I don't know what is. It only completely undermines the entire series and voids the closing moment of the very last book. I'll admit that it makes sense for Harry to still have occasional nightmares about Voldemort - I mean I still have nightmares about high school sometimes, and I'm pretty sure Voldemort's way more traumatic - but there's no excuse for making his scar hurt again.

Character

Another thing that bugged me (I promise there were things in the book that I liked and will get to later) was character inconsistency. Now, I know people change when they get older, and sometimes you're a completely different person as a grown-up than you were as a teenager, but I honestly don't feel like some of the mainstay Harry Potter characters would have said and done the things that they said and did in this book. 

For one thing, it kind of makes Harry out to be a sucky father: even though (which is totally inconsistent) he tells his son that the bravest man he ever knew was in Slytherin and he'll be just as proud of his son no matter what house he's sorted into, he's clearly disappointed when his son is sorted into Slytherin. And he proceeds to have a lot of yelling matches with his son in which he insults him pretty profoundly. 

Now, I get that teenagers can be a pain in the rear, but even when he's driven to exasperation, this does not fit in with the kind, fearless, and unfailingly good Harry Potter that I thought I knew. I'm sure Harry wouldn't be the perfect father and I'm sure he'd make a lot of mistakes just like all parents do, but I don't feel like he'd make these kinds of mistakes or that he'd screw up this badly. Sure, he had an anger management problem when he was 15, but I'm pretty sure he got over it.

Also, I feel like Ron got short shrift. His character was basically reduced to a guy who tells bad jokes and eats constantly (and I mean constantly). I know Ron always liked food, and maybe that tendency increased as he got into middle-age, but there's a lot more to his character and I didn't feel like he ever got a chance to do anything important. There were a couple of moments with him and Hermione that were really sweet, and in those scenes his character came out a little more, but for the most part he came across as kind of lame, which is sad.


OK, let's move on to the good!

Scorpius.

Scorpius is quite possibly the best part of the book. Despite being the son of Draco Malfoy, he's unfailingly loyal, downright hilarious, and at times very sweet. (Then again, maybe Draco had a sweet side that we never saw, I don't know.) What's more, Scorpius has integrity, and he's not afraid of anything. He's awesome.

Hermione is the Minister for Magic.

Yeah, it's pretty sweet.

At one point, Hermione is a rebel warrior.

Also pretty sweet. Obviously Jack Thorne likes Hermione. But then again, who doesn't?

Harry works out his differences with Draco Malfoy.

About time.

Harry has a long talk with Dumbledore.

A more accurate title for this book might have been: "Harry works out his differences with everyone, and people who never got any love are now appreciated." Speaking of which....

Severus Snape

Even though this part of the book was borderline sentimental/nostalgic/corny, I must admit that I enjoyed it.

Some great humor

I don't remember where in the book this was, but at one point I literally laughed out loud. There was a lot of fun humor in this story. I especially enjoyed the jokes about Voldemort's nose and Malfoy's hair, and how Jack Thorne kept playing around with J. K. Rowling's statement that she wished Ron and Hermione hadn't ended up together. She deserved that one.

Dumbledore wisdom

There was one paragraph in this book, spoken by Dumbledore (well, OK, his portrait) that was absolutely beautiful, so much so that I wonder if Thorne wrote it himself or if he asked Rowling for some Dumbledore wisdom, because I don't think anyone can write Dumbledore quite like J. K. Rowling.


Also, I LOVED it when Harry tells Ginny that he'd do anything for his son, Albus, and Ginny says, "Harry, you'd do anything for anybody. You were pretty happy to sacrifice yourself for the world." It's funny and sad and beautiful and true.


And now I have a question:

Who is the cursed child of the title?

Is it Albus? Scorpius? Delphi? Harry? Cedric?

Any of these characters could vie for that title, which is pretty interesting. So maybe there's not one cursed child, but several. Food for thought. Should be a book-club discussion prompt.

At the end of the day, I really did enjoy reading this book (which I did in a 48-hour period). I'm sure it would be cool to see on stage, and maybe if I did see it on stage, I'd find that I liked it more. But I'm not going to consider this story Harry Potter canon - I'd rather think of it as an imaginative supposal: a fun story about the Harry Potter characters, but not something that actually happened.

This is the 21st century, post death-of-the-author; readers can make their own meanings. And that's what I'm going to do.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Into the Worlds Part II: Concord Literary

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - Henry David Thoreau, Walden


 Ever read it? If you haven't, you should.

When I told my grandma that I wanted to visit Walden Pond on my family's visit to the east coast this summer, she said it wasn't worth my time; she'd been there some years ago, and the famous "pond" which serves as the center for one of the great American novels was little more than an enlarged puddle beside a picnic table in a pathetic little state park somewhere in Massachusetts.

This puzzled me, because I had seen photos of Walden Pond and the surrounding area (designated as a national historic site and state reservation) online, and it looked like a pretty big deal. Among other things, the Park professed to include a vast public recreation area with hiking paths and swimming facilities, as well as a recreation of Thoreau's cabin, a statue of the author, and a marker at the site of the original cabin where he wrote his book Walden - detailing how he lived for two years in a simplistic one-room cabin in the woods. Judging from these photos, the pond itself was a dazzlingly blue vastness ringed by tall green trees.

Whatever the actual state of Walden Pond, I was determined to see it one way or another, and with this aim, among others, I traveled to the town of Concord in August.
Orchard House, Concord, MA: Home of the Alcotts from 1858 - 1877

Concord, MA is a lovely little historic town with a quaint main street, dozens of historic homes, a high-quality museum, picturesque cemeteries, and the famous Old North Bridge - now Minute Man National Historical Park. The town served as the scene of some of the first events in the American Revolution, as well as the home of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.

As you may know, Louisa May Alcott wrote the beloved classic Little Women. If you've read the book or seen the movie, it's well worth making the literary pilgrimage to Orchard House, the Alcott's Concord home. If you haven't, it's still worth it. Some literary or historic sites disappoint - as in the Old Corner Bookstore in Boston that is now a Chipotle Restaurant, or the site of the famous Salem Witch Trials (I'll get to that later) - but Orchard House is very nearly a sacred experience. Nothing beats walking into a room and realizing that it holds the actual piano played by Louisa's short-lived sister Beth, or the small round writing desk under the window in her bedroom where Louisa wrote the entirety of Little Women. It doesn't get any better than seeing the drawings that May Alcott (Amy in Little Women) drew all over her walls, or looking at the stairs in the living room which the Alcott sisters used as a backstage area for their plays. The house is instantly recognizable as the familiar setting of Little Women, and it's worth the trip.

The only regret I have about my trip to Concord is that we didn't schedule enough time in the town to see everything there. We saw the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson - the foundational American poet, author, philosopher, and lecturer - but only from the outside; and we drove past The Old Manse, where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived briefly. The Concord Museum is worth visiting if you're interested in seeing the actual lantern hung by Paul Revere's friend in the Old North Church in Boston, a recreation of Emerson's study, Thoreau's writing desk, and similar historic and literary treasures. They also had a beautiful exhibit of N. C. Wyeth's illustrations for the book Men of Concord, which includes selections from Walden.

The Old North Bridge, site of the "shot heard round the world" is now a national park, with hiking and boating options and access to the Minute Man Monument.
Minute Man Historical Monument

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery stands amid Concord's other historic sites. And no, it is not the Sleepy Hollow of Washington Irving's short story featuring Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. I don't know where that cemetery is or if it even exists, but it would be cool to visit if it did.

The Sleepy Hollow of Concord holds the graves of the families Alcott, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Emerson. Apparently all of these famous authors had the decency to be buried very near each other, making a visit as convenient as possible for tourists. Thanks, guys. Good planning.

Emerson's grave is a giant slab of marble, befitting the thinker who laid the foundation of American intellectualism, but all the others' graves are surprisingly humble. Most are short and rather squat, often bearing only the first name or initials of the deceased.
The Thoreau family plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery; Henry's grave is on the far left

From there - at last - to Walden.

It's a short drive from Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to Walden Pond State Reservation. Leaving the parking lot (which is happily full), you're suddenly confronted with a striding statue of Henry Thoreau and a recreation of his one-room cabin. Stepping out of the car and seeing the statue and cabin was like stepping into a dream - or a place in a story that I'd never really expected to see in person.

The recreated cabin is not "authentic" in the sense that it stands in the original location of Thoreau's cabin or contains any of the actual artifacts, siding, or flooring that stood in the cabin built by Thoreau in 1845. But it is authentically recreated to resemble Thoreau's cabin as closely as possible, with the inclusion of the woodshed on one side. 
I pose with the author

From there, die-hard fans can take a semi-short walk through Walden Woods to view the original site of Thoreau's cabin, woodshed, and chimney, marked with a small, humble monument. The walk seemed longer because I visited the east coast during record-breaking heat, but I think it was under a mile. 

And the woods are beautiful.

Yes, Walden Pond is a shimmering blue lake, ringed with sky-stretching trees - a very far cry from the bench-side puddle described by my grandma (incidentally, if you're wondering, we finally deduced that she visited the wrong Walden Pond on her visit to the east coast). Surveying Walden Pond from different angles, you can see many of the features that Thoreau so painstakingly describes in his book, such as the bluish-green color of the water's edges.

And, the ants.

If you've read Walden, you may remember that Thoreau spends a good amount of text describing the ants that live in Walden Woods. It's one of the things that causes some people to write the book off as tedious and boring, but to Thoreau, a battle between different ant breeds was honestly the most exciting thing imaginable. As I traced the path that Thoreau and Emerson often took together through the woods, I looked down to see an ant scurry across the dirt in front of my feet. Anywhere else, it would have been a commonplace occurrence, but in Walden Woods - it was somehow extremely exciting.

As I trekked towards the site of Thoreau's original cabin, large gusts of wind shook the trees around me. I'm not so self-absorbed to believe that I'm the only true lover of Thoreau ever to have visited Walden, or that all of nature conspired on my behalf to make my visit to Walden particularly memorable, but sometimes we're granted little mercies, and this was one of mine.

And there, at the site of the cabin, beside a pile of rocks casually heaped like a monument, stands a wooden placard with Thoreau's famous quote painted on in white:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Light breaks through Walden Woods

From Walden, we drove to Salem, MA, site of the historic Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 93.

I'm going to give any prospective tourists to Massachusetts some advice that they probably won't heed: don't visit Salem.

I know you won't heed it because if someone had told me that prior to my trip, I would have completely disregarded them and gone to Salem anyway. But it would have been more worthwhile to spend the whole day in Concord and not try to cram in Salem.

I know what you're thinking: "but the Salem Witch Trials!" Yeah, I know. I've read my share of books about the Witch Trials, learned about them in history class, found them intriguing, thought it would be beyond cool to visit the site where they actually took place. But the thing is, that site doesn't really exist anymore. Salem, MA today is not really a cool town. It has some lovely historic houses, but most of them date from the 1800s, and only one was actually standing as is during the Salem Witch Trials. It's called "The Witch House," because it belonged to one of the judges implicit in the Witch Trials, and it did feel kind of creepy, but that could have just been because it was dark when we went to the house. Also, it was closed, so I can't tell you whether or not it was cool inside, but I'm guessing it wasn't worth visiting Salem just to see the inside of that house.

Salem also houses Nathaniel Hawthorne's "House of the Seven Gables," which seemed mildly cool, but once again, it was closed when we got there, so I can't tell you whether or not going to the House of the Seven Gables is worth a whole trip to Salem. I mean, if The House of the Seven Gables is absolutely your favorite book, then maybe it's worth a trip. I can tell you that it did definitely have a lot of gables.

Also in Salem is the custom-house Hawthorne worked at for a while, and the original East India Company Trading Store, which is also fairly cool, but not worth an entire trip. I visited the Salem Witch Museum, which was sort of spooky but not really in a cool way, and mainly focused on presenting a highly political agenda.

Apparently there is a museum in Salem where actors and actresses reenact the Witch Trials, and I do think that would have been cool to see, but it was closed when we got there. Also closed was the Pioneer Village, which I have been told is really neat. However, the curator at the House of the Seven Gables told us that the Pioneer Village is open very sporadically. So I guess my advice to those of you who are dead set on seeing Salem is: check out the hours of the Pioneer Village ahead of time, and get there early in the day so all the non-lame attractions are still open.

Basically, the best thing about Salem was this awesome nerdy store that was selling Harry Potter and Dr. Who merchandise. But everything was too expensive for me, so yeah, even that was kind of a bummer.

By complete accident, we stumbled upon the memorial to the Salem Witch Trials, which is legitimately cool but extremely hard to find and not at all well-marked. It stands on the other side of a cemetery wall, and it was dark when we found it, so atmosphere = good. The names, death dates, and causes of death of the victims of the trials are inscribed on large stones set into a wall. It's a well-done memorial, but again, very difficult to find. I expected more.

I had a slightly creepy feeling in Salem; I don't know if it was just because I was there in the dark, if it was because I went through the Salem Witch Museum first, or if it was a legitimate feeling, but it was a little discomfiting, and I like to think (because it's more interesting than the other options) that the town has a bad aura because of all the innocent people who were executed there out of fear, ignorance, and spite. I suppose there's no way to know for sure.
Literally the coolest thing in Salem is this statue of some random Puritan dude

Go to Concord; skip Salem. And, whatever you do, live deliberately.


Until tomorrow.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Into the Worlds Part I: Searching for Olympus in Manhattan

So I know you're all dying to hear about my trip to the East Coast last month.

Oh, you didn't know? Well, I think it's appropriate for this blog, as it was very literary-heavy. But before we get started, announcements.

What the heck is this??????

J.K. Rowling Is About to Release 3 New Harry Potter Books

Don't get too excited: I'm not sure they're actually "Harry Potter" books. But, do get pretty excited, because they're about Hogwarts.

Now that we've got that out of the way, it's time for another Percy Jackson-related post! (Come on, it's been, like, what, three months since the last one?)


Into the Worlds Part I: Searching for Olympus in Manhattan

We (my family and I) spent the first part of our trip in Manhattan. One of the first things Anna did upon arriving was walk into the NY Yankees store and buy a baseball cap.

In the Percy Jackson universe, Manhattan is supposed to be the place where the old gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece take up their residence in the modern world. While I'm sorry to say I didn't actually see any live Greek gods or goddesses (I mean, I might have, I just didn't know it), I quickly came to the conclusion that if there's one place in the modern world that the old gods have come back to, it's definitely Manhattan. Not only is it the cultural hub of the modern world, there are allusions to the Greek gods all over the place. For a prime example, check out the statue on the Helmsley Building above (honestly, I have no idea what the Helmsley Building is, I just saw Hermes and took a picture). Looks like Hermes and probably Demeter, with her trademark wheat in tow.

Or take a look at this mural on the ceiling of the New York Public Library: 
It's Prometheus bringing fire to mortals (for which he was afterward punished by being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten out every day by a giant eagle, but you know, whatever). I thought this was such a cool mural to have in the New York Public Library! Prometheus' fire represents the spark of knowledge, the flame of creation, the bringing of light into the world. 

Flanking the library on either side were two fountains with statues of what look like Aphrodite and a Greek philosopher.





I'm pretty sure this is a front for Zeus's center of operations in upstate New York.


And yes, I did visit the Empire State Building.

So I could care less that the Empire State Building is an excellent example of whatever architectural style it is, and that it was the tallest building in the world when it was constructed, and a monument to modern society and all that - I just wanted to visit the gateway to Mount Olympus!

Unfortunately, we didn't actually find Olympus, but that proves nothing! As every demigod knows, you can't get into Mount Olympus if the gods don't want you to. We did, however, find an elevator and snap this picture of Anna[beth] in her Yankees cap:

Tune in next time for the story of my literary rambles around New England.

Until tomorrow.


Oh yeah, this happened too. The show closes its Broadway run on September 4, so I feel extremely lucky to have seen it.

This is pre-seeing-Les-Mis-on-Broadway.

And post....


#LongLivetheRevolution
#ButNotTheShow
#BecauseIt'sClosing
#Why

Monday, August 8, 2016

Butterbeer for Harry Potter's Birthday

Some of you muggles may know that Harry Potter's birthday was the 31st of July. Some of you may have even celebrated it. But I bet none of you celebrated it by drinking Butterbeer in a tent.
We did.

And if you're wondering if drinking Butterbeer in a tent is actually fun - it is.

But that's not all we did. 
We "glamped" up our tent to make it a little more like the Weasley's tent that Harry, Ron, and Hermione camp in while hunting for horcruxes. This included putting a braided rug on the floor, setting up a table, and hanging a tapestry in the back. 
We also set up cots with sheets, comforters, and pillows, and brought two comfy chairs to put next to the table. 
 Anna designed crests based on our Hogwarts houses to hang over our beds.
Those wands are custom-made following the specifications of our wands on Pottermore, and yes, we carved them ourselves.
The best part? OK, probably the Butterbeer actually, but the next best part - setting up a laptop on the table and watching a Harry Potter movie every night in our tent. We also strung Christmas lights over the tent for a cozy and extra magical effect at night.

For those of you interested in brewing your own Butterbeer, here's the recipe. I've tried making several Butterbeer-like concoctions over the years, and I can honestly say this is the best (the other recipes I tried don't even come close - they were sickening), and it's pretty easy to make (also non-alcoholic). The recipe calls for root beer, but we used cream soda. Take your pick.

5-Ingredient Non-Alcoholic Butterbeer*


  • PREP TIME: 5M
  •  
  • TOTAL TIME: 5M
  • SERVES: 10
  •  
  • YIELD: 2 LITRES

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 litres Vanilla Flavoured Cream Soda
  • 2 tbsp. butter extract
  • 2 tsp. rum extract

FOR THE CREME TOPPING

  • 200 g (7oz) marshmallow creme
  • 1 c whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. rum extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Pour the butter extract and rum extract into the 2 litre cream soda bottle. Gently roll back and forth on the counter a few times to disperse the flavours without agitating the gas. Chill until ready to use.
  2. To prepare the cream topping, combine the marshmallow cream, whipping cream and rum extract in a bowl. With an electric mixer, whisk on high till you get soft peaks.
  3. To serve, place a tablespoon of topping cream in the glass, and pour the soda over the cream for a frothier topping. Else, you can spoon the frosting over a cold glass of cream soda for a creamier topping.
I guess you could say we're pretty big nerds.

'Til tomorrow.


*Recipe from Tina Dawson, Love is in my Tummy, http://www.loveisinmytummy.com/2016/05/5-ingredient-non-alcoholic-butterbeer.html