Archive for August, 2016

Review of We Will Not Be Silent, by Russell Freedman

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

we_will_not_be_silent_largeWe Will Not Be Silent

The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler

by Russell Freedman

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2016. 104 pages.

Here’s a large-format nonfiction book, with photographs on every spread, about a group of German students who defied Hitler by writing and distributing pamphlets that denounced him. The original founders of the group were executed for their “crimes.”

The Preface neatly summarizes what this book covers:

In 1942, when World War II was in its third year, leaflets began to appear mysteriously in mailboxes all over Nazi Germany. Someone would open an envelope, pull out a leaflet, take one look, then turn and glance around nervously to make sure no one was watching. A person could not be too careful. Anyone caught with a seditious leaflet was marked as an enemy of the state and could land in a concentration camp, or worse.

Neatly typed, run off on a mimeograph machine, these documents were headed “Leaflets of the White Rose.” They assailed the Nazi “dictatorship of evil,” denounced Adolf Hitler as a liar and blasphemer, and called on the German people to rise up and overthrow the Nazi regime.

Where were these inflammatory leaflets coming from? Who was the White Rose? Was more than one person involved? The Nazi secret police, the Gestapo, organized a special task force to hunt down those responsible. A reward was offered for information leading to their “speedy arrest.”

I like when a nonfiction book for children has information I don’t know myself. I’d never heard the story of Hans and Sophie Scholl and the movement they founded. It’s good to read about Germans who didn’t fall for Hitler’s lies. These ones gave their lives for it.

In a gruesome note, I’ve read a lot about concentration camps, but I hadn’t realized that Hitler’s favorite method of execution of his enemies was the guillotine. These students were actually beheaded when they were caught – but their movement continued. Today there is a memorial and museum about them at Munich University, where they were students.

This book is accessible to kids, with so many relevant photographs throughout the book. It also presents a wealth of information for anyone of any age who’s interested in true acts of heroism.

hmhco.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/we_will_not_be_silent.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Sonderling Sunday – Harry Potter – In Three Languages

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

German HPs

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books.

Having recently read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I’m in the mood for visiting Harry’s world, so it’s back to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (I will use the British edition, since that’s the original.)

Now, I have multiple editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — including American English, British English, German, French, Bulgarian, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Czech. However, the only one I have a hope of reading besides English and German is French — so I’m going to add in the French translations of notable phrases alongside the German.

This goes more slowly than just doing two languages. So last time I tackled Harry Potter, I only finished the first section with the Dursleys.

We are on page 12 of the British edition, page 8 of the American, Seite 12 of the German, and page 12 of the French.

Here’s the first sentence of the new section:
“Mr Dursley might have been drifting into an uneasy sleep, but the cat on the wall outside was showing no sign of sleepiness.”
= Mr. Dursley mochte in einen unruhigen Schlaf hinübergeglitten sein, doch die Katze draußen auf der Mauer zeigte keine Spur von Müdigkeit.
= Tandis que Mr Dursley se laissait emporter dans un sommeil quelque peu agité, le chat sur le mur, lui, ne montrait aucun signe de somnolence.

“car door slammed”
= Autotür zugeknallt
= portière de voiture claqua

“two owls swooped overhead”
= zwei Eulen über ihren Kopf hinwegschwirrten
= deux hiboux passèrent au-dessus de sa tête

“so suddenly and silently”
= so jäh und lautlos
= si soudainement et dans un tel silence

“high-heeled, buckled boots”
= Schnallenstiefel mit hohen Hacken
= bottes à hauts talons munies de boucles

“half-moon spectacles”
= halbmondförmigen Brillengläsern
= lunettes en demi-lune

“rummaging”
= durchstöberte
= chercher

“silver cigarette lighter”
= silbernes Feuerzeug
briquet en argent

This is fun to say:
“He flicked it open”
= Er ließ den Deckel aufschnappen
= Il en releva le capuchin

“clicked it”
= es knipsen
= l’alluma

“Put-Outer”
= Ausmacher
= l’Éteignoir (“the snuffer”)

“pinpricks”
= Stecknadelköpfe
= points minuscule

I like this one:
“shooting stars”
= Sternschnuppen
= étoiles filantes

“You-Know-Who”
= Du-weißt-shon-wer
= Vous-Savez-Qui

“sherbet lemon”
= “lemon drop” (American)
= Brausebonbon
= esquimau au citron

“a kind of Muggle sweet”
= eine Nascherei der Muggel
= une friandise que fabriquent les Moldus

I’m going to stop there, after the lemon drops. It takes longer in three languages! Although I took French in high school, it’s very rusty, and I had to use Google translate to be sure I’d grabbed the right words out of the text.

I wish I had learned the words for Shooting Stars before the meteor shower last week.

As it is, it may be tricky to find reasons to use these words this week….

Review of Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M. T. Anderson

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

symphony_for_the_city_of_the_dead_largeSymphony for the City of the Dead

Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

by M. T. Anderson

Candlewick Press, 2015. 456 pages.
Starred Review
2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist

I’m not sure why this book is marketed for young adults rather than old adults, except that it’s super interesting, contains lots of photographs, and isn’t written in tiny print. The story doesn’t pull any punches or hide any of the horrors of war, nor does it focus on the time in Shostakovich’s life when he was a young adult. But yes, it’s interesting for young adults, as any well-written narrative nonfiction would be.

The book begins with a prologue that piques the reader’s curiosity. The first scene is of a Russian agent smuggling a small box of microfilm to an American agent in 1942. The microfilm has come through Tehran, Cairo, and Brazil on its way to New York City. The contents of the microfilm? The Seventh Symphony, the Leningrad Symphony, by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Why had the Soviet government arranged so carefully for this piece to be shipped to the West across battle lines, across a Middle East that was swarming with Fascist tanks, across seas festering with enemy subs? How could it possibly be worth it?

And who was the composer of this desperately sought-after score? Dmitri Shostakovich spent the first several months of the Siege of Leningrad trapped in that city under fire, writing much of his Seventh Symphony in breaks between air raids. He had first announced that he was working on the piece over the radio in September 1941, just a few weeks after the Germans had started shelling the city. . . .

This is a tale of microfilm canisters and secret police, of Communists and capitalists, of battles lost and wars won. It is the tale of a utopian dream that turned into a dystopian nightmare. It is the tale of Dmitri Shostakovich and of his beloved city, Leningrad. But at its heart, it is a story about the power of music and its meanings – a story of secret messages and doublespeak, and of how music itself is a code; how music coaxes people to endure unthinkable tragedy; how it allows us to whisper between the prison bars when we cannot speak aloud; how it can still comfort the suffering, saying, “Whatever has befallen you – you are not alone.”

M. T. Anderson does tell the story of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony and thoroughly explains why it was so important and why symphony orchestras all over the world wanted to perform it. But more than that, he tells the life story of Dmitri Shostakovich and the story of St. Petersburg, the city of his birth, later called Leningrad. This story requires telling the story of Communism coming to Russia, with the rise of Lenin and Stalin. And then it tells the story of World War II, and how at the outset Stalin believed Hitler’s promises and eliminated Russian military leaders who told him otherwise.

The majority of the book, though, is about the Siege of Leningrad, during which Shostakovich wrote his Seventh Symphony. This siege lasted 872 days – the longest siege in recorded history. Hitler had decided he didn’t need to attack the city – it could be starved.

The story is not pretty. The author doesn’t shy away from the deaths – and the cannibalism. Shostakovich was evacuated from the city before the end of the siege, but the author still fills us in on what was happening in Leningrad where Shostakovich’s sister was still living. Especially poignant is the story of the musicians who were still alive in Leningrad assembling to perform the Seventh Symphony.

Eliasberg [the conductor] remembered that night for the rest of his life. (It was to be the high point of his career.) “People just stood and cried. They knew that this was not a passing episode but the beginning of something. We heard it in the music. The concert hall, the people in their apartments, the soldiers on the front – the whole city had found its humanity. And in that moment, we triumphed over the soulless Nazi war machine.”

Naturally, while reading this book, especially the description of the symphony, I had to look up a performance on the internet and listen. Knowing the background made it far more meaningful.

Notes in the back explain the difficulties associated with piecing together this story. As M. T. Anderson asks, “How do we reconstruct the story of someone who lived in a period in which everyone had an excuse to lie, evade, accuse, or keep silent?” This book is an amazing piece of scholarship wrapped up in a gripping narrative and sprinkled with an abundance of photographs.

If you are at all interested in the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, the fate of musicians and artists under the Soviets, the rise of Communism in Russia, World War II and the Russian Army, or the City of Leningrad, you can’t find a more absorbing way to learn more than reading this book.

candlewick.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/symphony_for_the_city_of_the_dead.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Humans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

humans_of_ny_stories_largeHumans of New York

Stories

by Brandon Stanton

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2015. 428 pages.
Starred Review

I loved Brandon Stanton’s first book, Humans of New York. Now I love his second book even more. In the first book, about half of the photographs had captions. In this book, he interviewed everyone, and includes snippets or in-depth stories from those interviews.

You still have high quality photographs of random people, in all their variety, from the streets of New York. But you’ve also got their stories.

Honestly, some of these stories will break your heart. Others will make you shake your head. Some are inspirational. Some are simply cute. There were several with the caption “Today in microfashion,” showing a small child dressed in a striking outfit.

What comes home to me after reading it is the sheer number of amazingly unique people on our planet (let alone in New York!).

Many of the stories go on for paragraphs. This isn’t as quick a read as the first book. However, I’ll quote a small selection of some tantalizingly short captions to give you an idea. Imagine wonderful photos of the people doing the talking.

“I’ve got what I want. I’ve got a place to live, a girlfriend, and a child. My biggest struggle is just figuring out how to maintain.”

“I spoil every girl I’m with. I’m bringing this dog to my girlfriend now. I’ve already gotten her a snake, a rabbit, and two dogs. She loves animals. She wants to be a vet.”

“Sometimes, when I’m going home to see her, I think: ‘Nobody should be this happy on a Tuesday.’”

“I went to a psychic the day before I met him. She told me I was about to meet the woman of my dreams. I said: ‘I’m gay.’”

“Had cancer six times. Beat cancer six times.”

“Three thousand years ago I had a disagreement with Zeus about the Trojan War, and he’s been harassing me ever since.”

“I’ve completed a series of monumental-sized drawings in ballpoint pen of girls who’ve killed their mothers.”

“It’s hard to adjust. You’re reading a story to your daughters every night, then the next thing you know, you’re only doing it once or twice a week. It’s been hard letting go. It all happened without my consent. It only takes one person to want a divorce. And that person wasn’t me.”

“She helps me with my math homework. When I run out of fingers to count on, she lets me use her fingers, too.”

“I once crash-landed a plane in a desert in Tunisia. I wasn’t even the pilot. The pilot got hysterical and I had to grab the controls.”

Reading this book is a wonderful way to celebrate the amazing diversity of humans.

humansofnewyork.com
stmartins.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/humans_of_ny_stories.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Normal Distribution Scarf

Friday, August 12th, 2016

Today I finished a second Normal Distribution Scarf.

normal_scarf

The first one I made was designed to highlight outliers to show that outliers are what makes the world beautiful.

For this one, I only wanted to show the Normal Distribution. I decided to knit it the long way so this time I wouldn’t have to sew any ends in.

I took colors from light to dark, in shades of pink. Colors B and C were a little closer than I wanted them to be, but it still gave the idea.

Normal_Colors

I generated numbers from a normal distribution and made a big list. For positive values, I purled the row, and for negative values, I knitted — so those values should be about even, making random ridges.

For the color, I used the absolute value, from light to dark. Since the normal distribution is a bell curve, there should be many more values in the lighter colors.

For 0 to 0.5, I used White.
0.5 to 1.0 was Victorian Pink.
1.0 to 1.5 was Blooming Fuchsia (only a little darker than Victorian Pink).
1.5 to 2.0 was Lotus Pink — a bright, hot pink.
Above 2.0 was Fuchsia — a dark burgundy.

Normal_Colors2

Naturally, I used a lot more of the lighter colors. So for my next project after my current one, I think I’m going to do another normal distribution scarf, but this time reversing the values. So the new scarf would be mainly dark colors with light highlights.

In fact, if I weren’t using pink (maybe purple or blue), it would be fun to make scarves for a couple this way. Use dark, staid, sedate colors for the man, with light highlights. Use pastel shades for the woman — with dark highlights. [Hmmm. If I knit a scarf for a boyfriend before he exists, would the boyfriend jinx not apply?]

Normal_Colors3

In this version, the lighter colors were more prominent.

Here’s a view of the scarf draped over my couch, showing both sides.

normal_both_sides

The different look has to do with where the knits and purls were placed and which side has a ridge and which is smooth.

Here’s a closer look:

normal_detail

I like the way the color combinations turned out so pleasing.

normal_detail2

The only real problem is that the scarf is made out of wool, and it was almost 100 degrees outside today. So for now, I’m going to have to enjoy it draped over my couch rather than wearing it. I’ll look forward to this winter!

normal_detail3

Update: I made an opposite scarf to this one, also generating random numbers and using the same exact yarn, but going from dark to light. Together, they make a matched set, so I gave them to my daughter and her wife-to-be!

Review of Baby Wren and the Great Gift, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jen Corace

Friday, August 12th, 2016

baby_wren_largeBaby Wren and the Great Gift

by Sally Lloyd-Jones
illustrated by Jen Corace

Zonderkidz, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book charmed me when I didn’t expect to be charmed. The message is one I’ve heard many times: Be thankful for who you are, and you have your own unique gift to give the world.

The lilting language and unusual setting made the message ring clear.

Here’s how the book begins:

In the narrow crevice
of a giant rock face
in a great wide canyon
a baby inside her tiny nest
peeped out.

The baby was little
and brown
and a wren.

And she watched in the air
from her nest in the sky.

And the world was filled with such wonderfulness.
Monarchs in the milkweed.
Breezes in the switch grass.
And a glittering river that ran on.

The baby wren sees other animals doing wonderful things. A kingfisher dives to catch a fish. Ring-tailed cats cartwheel up the rocky face of the cliff. Sunfish swim and splash. Eagles fly above a storm.

Between each animal, the wren wishes she could do what they do, but we also are reminded of the monarchs in the milkweed, the breezes in the switch grass, and the glittering river running on.

Finally, after a storm, the sun paints the whole canyon pink.

And what she saw couldn’t fit inside her
it bumped into her heart
it dazzled in her eyes
it pushed on her throat
until
the tiny trembling bird
with all her tiny might
sang
by herself
a song.

We hear the song, being thankful for all of the wonderful things that have come through – and even the eagles think it is wonderful.

The book ends with a lovely summing-up refrain:

And the kingfisher dived
and the ring-tailed cats climbed
and the sunfish splashed
and the eagles soared

and a little wren filled the air with singing.

And the glittering river ran on.

I also notice this book because my church is planning to open a preschool in about a year, and this book would be a wonderful choice.

The closest it gets to mentioning God is that the wren’s song ends with the words, “Thank you!” The book is published by ZonderKidz, a Christian publishing company, but there’s no reason people of other faiths wouldn’t enjoy it, and I think it would make a nice selection for storytime at the public library as well.

Because giving thanks and appreciating beauty and learning about unusual animals and realizing that even small ones may have great gifts to offer – are all things that are good for anyone to think about.

sallylloyd-jones.com
zonderkidz.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/baby_wren.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Bear and Bunny, by Daniel Pinkwater and Will Hillenbrand

Friday, August 12th, 2016

bear_and_bunny_largeBear and Bunny

by Daniel Pinkwater
illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

Candlewick Press, 2015. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a book that makes me smile. It’s simple, matter-of-fact, and utterly charming.

Bear and Bunny live in a forest and they are friends. “They like to wander in the woods, look for things to eat, and talk things over. They like to sing.”

I like the simple songs they sing, such as:

I wonder
I wonder
I wonder where
I wonder where my little bear is.

And:

I wonder
I wonder
I wonder where
I wonder where my big bunny is.

You see, the bear is sure the bunny is a very small bear.
The bunny is sure the bear is a very large bunny.
This is not so, but it would be too hard to explain it to them. Besides, it doesn’t matter.

In this story, the bear and bunny do those simple things: wander, look for things to eat, talk things over, and sing. And they take lots of naps. (Talking things over makes you sleepy, after all.)

The two friends decide they’d like a pet. After the bunny explains what a pet is – “an animal you take care of and feed, and it loves you” – they look for one and find a nice “kitty.” When they ask if the kitty would like to go home with them, it answers with a friendly “CROAK!”

Kids will enjoy understanding things better than Bear and Bunny do. Adult readers will enjoy singing the simple songs. This is a friendly, cozy book about the wonder of living in an interesting place – even if you don’t fully understand everything you find.

candlewick.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/bear_and_bunny.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation, by Peggy Thomas and Stacy Innerst

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

thomas_jefferson_grows_a_nation_largeThomas Jefferson Grows a Nation

by Peggy Thomas
illustrations by Stacy Innerst

Calkins Creek (Highlights), Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 2015.

I expected this picture book to be about Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. Yes, that’s included. But what I didn’t expect was all the information about Thomas Jefferson as a farmer and as a scientist studying agriculture.

There’s an amazing and amusing extended story right toward the beginning. Thomas Jefferson got into a sort of competition with a French naturalist, Count Buffon, who wrote a book claiming that America’s very wildlife showed it to be an inferior continent.

The wildlife was inferior, he said. “Shrivelled.” “Diminished.” Sheep were “meagre, and their flesh less juicy.” A jaguar was no bigger than a beagle, and dogs were “mute.” The New World, he argued, had nothing as grand as an elephant, and the weather produced an infestation of lowly reptiles and insects.

Thomas Jefferson worked hard to set the record straight. He even had a moose carcass shipped to him in France!

The book also covers Jefferson’s many experiments with different plants for farming, and his study of invasive pests. He practiced crop rotation and was interested in the science of farming. He even won a gold medal from the French Society of Agriculture for a device that improved plows.

When he was President and responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, it was only natural that he was also behind Lewis and Clark’s expedition, cataloguing the plants and animals of the new territory.

This is a nontraditional look at Thomas Jefferson, and made all the more interesting with the illustrations. Although it’s a picture book, there is plenty of text on each page, more suitable for upper elementary school readers. A fascinating presentation of the life of someone I thought I already knew about.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/Thomas_jefferson_grows_a_nation.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

glamour_in_glass_largeGlamour in Glass

by Mary Robinette Kowal

TOR, Tom Doherty Associates, 2012. 334 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my sister Melanie for giving me this book, which I finally got around to reading.

I have trouble getting around to reading books I own – they don’t have a due date. I read the first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, on a plane trip, and enjoyed it, but wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t like the jealousy between the sisters and the tribute to Pride and Prejudice made it quite predictable.

So when I finally read this second book on a plane trip, I thought only to pass the time – and then I loved it!

Jane and her husband Vincent are newly married. They are now working together as Glamourists – people who use magic to create illusions. As the book opens, they have just finished working months on a commission for the Prince Regent.

From there, they decide to go to Belgium as a sort of honeymoon, celebrating the end of the war. Vincent is going to consult with a glamourist there who is developing a new technique that allows one to walk around a glamour and see different things from different sides. There Jane gets an idea of a way to record a glamour in glass so that you can carry it along with you. As they experiment together, they manage to record an invisibility glamour.

However, before long Jane’s activities as a glamourist are put to a halt when she becomes pregnant. The work of creating glamours is too taxing for pregnant women, and she has to sit on the sidelines for a time.

But then word comes that Napoleon has escaped his island exile and is coming back to France, via Belgium. Vincent is more embroiled in events than Jane had realized. Between spies on both sides and the military advantages of the invisibility glamour, Vincent gets into trouble, and it’s up to Jane – who can’t perform glamours – to find a way to get him out.

I thought this book was delightful. Jane’s younger sister wasn’t in it, so there was none of the jealousy or sibling rivalry I didn’t like in the first book. I liked the easy affection between the couple, with natural worries and stumbles as they figure out how to work together and merge their lives together.

This time, I didn’t expect the magic to be earth-shaking – it’s only about glamour, after all – but I think I enjoyed all the more the way it turned out to have military applications. Even before that bit, I liked the way creating glamours was presented as a skill that requires practice and study and invention – and the way Jane and Vincent both brought their talents to this work together. It was a lovely picture of a marriage – yet in a world quite different from our own. The plot wasn’t at all predictable, and I enjoyed the suspenseful elements and political intrigue – all with our heroine mixed up in the middle of it.

I’m going to have to catch up on this series!

maryrobinettekowal.com
tor-forge.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/glamour_in_glass.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, a gift from my sister Melanie.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

hp_cursed_child_largeHarry Potter and the Cursed Child

based on an original new story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

A new play by Jack Thorne

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2016. 327 pages.

It was lovely to be back in Harry Potter’s world. This play features best friends Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. I liked the look at their friendship and what the wizarding world is like twenty-two years later.

But I didn’t love the story. It’s all about Time Turners and changing history — and trying to fix what happened when that goes wrong. I don’t like time travel stories. It’s far too easy to mess up the internal logic. This story completely strained believability, even in the wizarding world.

Hermione’s Time Turner in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban always brought you back one hour. The Time Turner in this story can go farther back, for only five minutes — but there’s no indication how you set the time you want to go back to.

I won’t even get started on my disagreements with what would happen because of a simple change. And the silliness of people in the original timeline waiting to see if their kids can fix a different timeline or if they would just wink out. Why wouldn’t the Time Turner just bring them back to when they left? (My son told me about the concept of San Dimas time — “San Dimas Time is used when a writer wants to add some against-the-clock tension to a Time Travel story in spite of how little sense that makes.”) After all, Hermione’s Time Turner would have been pointless if it hadn’t worked that way.

Besides that, sloppy Time Travel stories have the effect of making all the stories seem less significant. How do we know in ten more years someone else won’t go back in time to make sure Voldemort doesn’t lose? If the timeline is so fluid, what “really” happened?

Anyway, I probably shouldn’t belabor it. I have several objections to this particular plot. And the play format doesn’t read as nicely as the novel form.

But what I did like? I liked going back into Harry Potter’s world. I liked looking at what it would be like for the son of the famous Harry Potter if he got sorted into Slytherin and had as best friend the son of Draco Malfoy. I liked finding out that the sweet old Trolley Witch has an important job of keeping young wizards and witches on the Hogwarts Express and can get fearsome when crossed.

A small part of me felt like J. K. Rowling is still trying to vindicate herself for killing off Cedric Diggory. (See what would have happened if he hadn’t died!) But mostly this was a fun excursion into a beloved world. I’m looking forward to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie coming out this Fall. But I don’t think I’d want to read the script. Since I couldn’t go see this play in London — this was the next best thing, but I don’t think I’ll be buying a copy for my own extensive Harry Potter collection.

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