Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Wait! What!? WHAT!? Harry Potter is coming back? 
If you are like me, this is big news. BIG NEWS. It's true, though! Harry is back! We are getting another book to read and obsess over!! 

Here is a little bit of background on how this book has come into existence. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was, first, written as a play by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. Rowling has been actively helping with the play/casting, as well as the book. Now some clarification is needed...The book is, actually, the official script of the play and not an adaptation or rework into a story form. Regardless, we are all awaiting this book's arrival with anticipation!!

But, what is it about? Here is an excerpt from Pottermore:
"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 a 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."

I am excited about the book, but I do hope a play is in America's future. Until then I will enjoy spending time with my favorite triplet of friends via the book! If you want to see the play in London or have questions about the play, here is a link to help. Ticket and play info

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

9 Books to Read if You're Obsessed with Hamilton

It happened so quickly: One day, I decided to listen to Hamilton, a musical that I had heard a lot
about, because a friend of mine recommended it. By the next, I had already started memorizing verses from the songs and was officially obsessed. I listened non-stop as though I could never be satisfied. Now I've downloaded the soundtrack from iTunes, and I'm helpless not to queue it up on my phone every time I get in my car.

My experience is not unique. Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical about the life and times of founding father Alexander Hamilton has taken Broadway, the Internet, our hearts, and the Tony Awards like a hurricane and has blown away star-studded audiences. If you're one of the scores of people who have tried with varying levels of success to rap "Guns and Ships," you might be asking yourself "What comes next?" as you burn with curiosity about the real people and events that inspired the show.
(And if you haven't listened to the original cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical, do yourself a favor and check it out right now. It will change the way you look at the American Revolution and the $10 bill forever. You don't want to say no to this.)

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Of course this will be your first stop. The Hamiltome is a gorgeous book full of pictures, essays, and footnotes on every song. It has been very popular and even sold out on Amazon! (Who even knew that was possible?) If it's checked out, don't throw away your shot; put it on hold and wait for it!

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow 
This is the 800-page biography of Hamilton that Lin-Manuel picked up as a "beach read" (for real) and started the whole thing. The length might seem daunting, but Chernow's vivid and engaging writing helps intimidated readers stay alive through the whole thing.

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Hamilton was his right-hand man, and he set the precedent for Presidential term limits when he said his second would be one last time. Learn more about the General in this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography.

The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr by H. W. Brands
Intrigued by Aaron Burr, sir? Lin-Manuel has cited this slender historical narrative of Burr's life post-duel as the deciding factor that helped him "unlock" Burr as a character. Brands relies heavily on Burr's personal correspondence, so if you want more "Dear Theodosia" moments, this is the book to read.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
This is yet another book that Lin-Manuel drew from when composing Hamilton. Ellis examines six crucial events that took place during the early days of the United States, including important instances that made it into Hamilton. Wondering what went on in the room where it happened? Ellis discusses the secretive dinner party that decided the location of the nation's capital.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Everyone give it up for America's favorite fighting Frenchman! In addition to examining Lafayette's impact on the revolutionary effort in America, Vowell tells the story of his return to the United States in 1824. Vowell is known for her ability to bring out the humor in historiography, so this is a good pick if you want a read that feels lighter without skimping on substance.

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. EllisFocusing on both big names (such as, oh I don't know, Alexander Hamilton) and lesser-known ones, Ellis examines the struggle to get the fledgling United States on its feet and establish it as a nation after winning independence. Because as we all know: Winning is easy, young man. Governing's harder.

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation by John E. Ferling
Because let's be honest, the cabinet battles are some of the most satisfying moments in the whole play, largely because they pit two brilliant minds against each other. Ferling examines Jefferson and Hamilton's real-life clashes over policy and politics and the lasting effects that their work continues to have on our country.

American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People by T. H. BreenFor me, listening to Hamilton raised a lot of questions not just about the Founding Fathers whose names made it into history books, but about the people whose names we have forgotten but without whom the Revolution wouldn't have happened. Breen looks at what the "middling sorts" were doing during the fight for independence, and in some cases it's pretty eye-opening.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Celebrating Dads Everywhere!

Happy Father's Day!

This blog post is dedicated to every father, father figure, mentor, grandfather, and uncle (young and old) who: participate in tea parties, coach the little league team, love unconditionally, protect and cloak children with safety, provide hours of endless laughter, teach us how to be strong and confident, and who are always there with a listening ear. Thank you for being the awesome father or father figure you are. You have impacted many lives so today (with this post) we would like to celebrate all of the awesome fathers out there! Here are special fatherly moments from the staff.

Kayla: I would spend every summer, growing up, with my dad. Even though he wasn't a fan, each year he would go out and buy the newest Harry Potter novel and set it by my bed for me to wake up to the day it came out.

My dad was never a reader. He's always been more of a hands- on sort of person, spending hours of his time tinkering. But for a big chunk of my middle-school years, I have an image fixed in my mind of him sitting in a recliner with a large volume in his hands. It was Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs and it may still be the only book he's read completely through. He told me once (alright, more than once) that is was assigned in high school and that he really enjoyed it. He has dyslexia, though, and he couldn't read quickly enough before testing. So, as an adult, he picked up a copy (with a blue dust jacket and illustrations by N.C. Wyeth) and was determined to make it through. He did, at least a year later, and the book stood on the shelf with my mother's novels for years. Today, it is part of a display along with a VHS set of Braveheart and a replica of William Wallace's sword, that he proudly keeps on his basement wall. 

Donna: Dad and I loved to watch and talk about sports together. I grew up in northern Indiana right below Chicago and Dad was a big Chicago Cubs fan. I remember as a child waiting for Dad to come home from work so we could watch the game on TV with Jack Brickhouse broadcasting it play by play. Dad taught me the concepts of baseball, the names of the players and their field positions (Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Don Kessinger, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins). When someone hit a home run, we would join in with Jack Brickhouse and shout his famous, "Hey, Hey!" After baseball season ended, we would pick up with football and watch the Chicago Bears, all the bowl games, and end with the Super Bowl. My dad loved basketball too and we would watch the Chicago Bulls, but being from Kentucky he was a true-blue Kentucky Wild Cats fan. I loved watching the Sweet Sixteen playoffs with him and getting all worked up over the games. Dad didn't read much, but his evening ritual was reading the local sports page front to back before calling it a night. We also enjoyed watching the boxing matches of Mohammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Sugar Ray Leonard. Even after I moved to Minnesota, Dad and I would talk on the phone and catch up with what was going on with  our favorite teams. After Dad became ill with brain cancer, he didn't pay a lot of attention to the TV, but we made sure we had the Cubs games on for him to watch and I would give him updates when he would doze off. Dad taught me how to fish and took me fishing with my grandfather and my brother many times. He also taught me how to skeet shoot with his shotgun. If I wasn't an animal lover, he would have taught me how to hunt as well. I was always a "daddy's girl." Dad could always make me laugh, but out enjoyment of sports together made our relationship even more special. To this day, I truly enjoy watching a variety of sports and always remember, "watching a game with Dad."

Lisa Ramsay: One weekend afternoon in early 1968, my Mom was busy working as a Tupperware Home Parties dealer, more commonly known as a Tupperware lady. So, my Dad decided to take his four kids (ages 5, 7, 8, and 10) to a matinee showing of the Walt Disney film, The Jungle Book. We went to a theater somewhere in Nashville thought it's far been too long ago for me to recall exactly where. Since then, that movie has been one of my favorites. Just the mention of it, brings a warmth to my heart and puts a song in my head...

"Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities..." Yeah, man.

Carol: Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Moving Through Hard Time with Hope
Why would a Southern Baptist father read books by a Catholic priest? Because my father, Tom Brown, who died on May 14, was a man who was open-minded and liked to read, not just from those who were just like him but sometimes even more from those who weren't. Just weeks before his death Dad asked me to find a book by Nouwen that he knew was still in his library at home. I had to remind him that all of his books had been given away to friends or the Friends of Linebaugh, of which he was a long-time member. However, I did check out several Nouwen books for him from the library. for which he was grateful.

Many times we get stuck reading one author or genre, but my father was not one of those. He read widely in multiple areas and always loved sharing what he gained with his family and friends. Happy Father's Day, Dad. I'll miss you this year.

Lauren: My sister and I were those lucky kids whose parents read to them every night. We would cuddle up before bed with our parents and one or both would read to us. My favorite was my Dad reading Shel Silverstein's poems. We had every one of his books; my parents really liked his poems and the songs he wrote for Dr. Hook. I still get a huge grin when I read one of Silverstein's poems thanks to those memories. I remember one poem about not sticking your finger too far up your nose or a snail would bite it off; my Dad would always demonstrate this for us. There's nothing like a good laugh caused by your Dad jamming his finger up his nose to give you good dreams and encourage a love of reading silly things! Where the Sidewalk Ends

Jessica: I was raised in a household full of music and instruments. While, I may not play an instrument well, I do sing and love to do it; loudly proudly, and while dancing. Of course, the car is the best place for all of these things to happen. My dad has a lot to do with my love for all things music and movies. Both have been quoted in my household since I was a wee tot. It wasn't enough to just quote these things in the home. No, I was raised to incorporate it into dialogue, as a response to someone. I have carried this blessing (some call it a curse) with me into adulthood and into my own family. From tv shows to songs, the quotes are a part of my daily routine. It is habitual. 

That being said...There are 3 things I can thank my dad for:

1. My ability to quote and sound like Madeline Kahn, from the movie Clue. I watched that movie over and over and over again as a child. I could not get enough of it. It was a family ritual to watch it at least once a year and a sin to not quote it 5 times a day. The movie now holds a spot on my list of Top 5 Favorite Movies of All Time.

2. My love for Elton John. My musical education consisted of whatever my parents were listening to (Dire Straits, Rod Stewart, Queen, The Eagles, Ozzy, Clapton, CCR, and ELO to name a few) in the car. I went through phases of really liking their tastes to trying to do my own thing like being obsessed with Tears for Fears. But as I have gotten older I have gone back to my roots. I have realized how awesome and thankful I am to love these legends and know their music by heart. Sir Elton is one of those legends who will always hold a special place in my heart. My Dad catered to my love of this man and (not once but twice) took me to see him preform live. I got to hear "Tiny Dancer", which my Dad sang to be as a baby, live with my Dad. There are not enough words on the planet to begin to describe how awesome that experience was. 

3. Beetlejuice. The movie marks the beginnings of my love for anything Tim Burton would ever write. I thank my Dad for this because we quote this movie even now.  We even sing the songs. My claim to fame, though, was my 11 year old self being able to quote Beetlejuice's resume, by heart. It was quite possibly my one parlor trick I was able to "preform" for family and friends.

Thank you, Dad for introducing me to all the musical and theatrical things I love. Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Crossing Genres: Mystery and Western

Have you seen Justified?  If you have, then you already know Elmore Leonard's character U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens.  Although his novels and short stories base him in Florida and Kentucky, he has a decidedly Western attitude, swagger, and style.  Read more about Raylan in Pronto, Riding the Rap, and Raylan.

If you're interested in the Native American aspect of the Western genre, or you like Tony Hillerman mysteries, you should check out Death Along the Spirit Road by C.M. Wendelboe.  His main character is a former tribal cop turned FBI Special Agent who returns to the reservation to find out who killed a Native land developer.

If a series set in modern day feels like too much like a departure at first, try Bill Brooks's John Henry Cole series. It seems to be set in the late mid 1800's (I've yet to find a specific date, though, so don't quote me on that.  Wyoming was still a territory, though.)  In the series starter, Blood Storm, Cole is a detective in the Ike Kelly Detective Agency in Cheyenne.  He's tasked with tracking down a
murderer who is killing women in Deadwood.  Cole's writing style will appeal to traditional Western readers as well as fans of Hemingway and Hammett.

Most of you already know C.J. Box's Joe Pickett and Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire, but there's also Frank Hayes' Virgil Dalton.  He's the sheriff in the same small Southwestern town he's lived in all his life.  Hayes' books are police procedurals at their cores, but his writing style, crisp dialogue  and the rugged Western landscape will make you think you're in 1860.

When we talk about Western authors, you usually don't see many female names in the mix.  I usually recommend Nevada Barr to folks who like both Westerns and Tricia Fields.  Her Texan police chief protagonist, Josie Gray shares those traits with Anna as she fights to maintain peace and law near the border.  If you haven't tried her yet, you're missing out!
Mysteries.  Her main character, Anna Pigeon, is a park ranger.  She's prickly, independent, and as tough as they come.  There's also

And finally, there's Ethan J. Wolfe's Regulator series.  If you're a N.C.I.S. fan, particularly of Gibbs, you will find Murphy extremely compelling.  His family was murdered while he was away fighting in the Civil War.  After tracking down and taking out their killers, he went into the Secret Service.  In The Regulator, he is deployed to track down a serial killer in New Mexico.  Wolfe combines a little western, a little mystery, and a little forensics in his deftly written new series.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


“Thereby hangs a tale.”

Preacher’s going to be a regular show on AMC, with the first episode having aired last night as I write this. Preacher was originally a comic written by Garth Ennis and illustrated mostly by Steve Dillon and came out of DC’s Vertigo lineup, the same brand that gave us Sandman, Swamp Thing, Vamps, The Invisibles, Hellblazer, Death, 100 Bullets and a bunch of twisted and wonderful nonsense from the minds of malcontents like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison. Preacher started going in 1995, but I came to it a little later, in 1997, two years after it started and three before it would end. With a story that hinges partly on a millennium-focused cataclysmic event, that timeline’s kind of important.

At the time, I was hosting “comics nights” at my house, and Preacher was widely read by friends of mine – probably the most adult of the adult comics we were reading. It was raw and disrespectful and profane and awesome because it was talking about a lot of the things we were talking about and it was influenced by things that were in our recent pop culture consciousness. Anne Rice’s frilly vampires, predating the stupid shiny Mormon ones, are lampooned, as is the grunge music of the 90s, while the deconstructionist Clint Eastwood Western Unforgiven is an obvious inspiration. The egalitarian approach of Preacher – somehow, Texan backwater preacher Jesse Custer is a proto-feminist – uncomfortably welded to a black-and-white morality that simply does not allow for some kinds of behavior, supplies the reader with a story where one laughs and then nearly immediately feels sympathy for the person being laughed at, or puts their trust in a character and is betrayed, more than once. In short, it’s a ride from drama to horror to comedy and all over creation.

At the core of the story is Jesse Custer’s compulsion to make God Himself answer for what has transpired not only within His creation but also more specifically, in Jesse’s life. The God of Preacher is a wrathful, petulant, selfish, vain Old Testament God, and He manipulates and uses lives to His own advantage. Characters see through Him, are damaged by Him, and pledge themselves to resisting Him and retaining their individuality. Ultimately, the story concludes with a strong statement about what kind of God should likely be watching over a world such as the one we have made and live in – reflected darkly back to us in the panels of Preacher. Of course, all of this was from the typewriter of a disaffected Irish Catholic, and that disappointed sensibility permeates every page.

Grounded in Texas homespun conventional wisdom (by way of Garth Ennis’ Irish understanding of such) but highlighted by angels, demons, vampires, sociopathic madmen, cannibals, tyrants, zealots, serial killers, voodoo priests, assassins, cowboys, soldiers, maniacs, horse-eaters, the naïve and the truly horrible, the disfigured and the inbred, Preacher is easily one of the best comics you will ever read, even when it isn’t. It wanders. There are digressions and backstories and storylines that many people find superfluous and/or silly. It’s an epic, though, in the dictionary sense of the word, with a huge cast of characters and a massive geographical area. Unless you’re easily offended, there’s no reason not to read Preacher.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

What happens when you combine science fiction and fantasy with witches, supercomputers, talking animals, antigravity machines, and the impending end of the world? You get All the Birds in the Sky, an addictive novel of the near future by former io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders.

Patricia and Laurence grow up as outcasts. While Patricia is dodging her animal-abusing older sister and inadvertently realizing that she can talk to birds, Laurence is avoiding his parents' attempts to make him outdoorsy so he has more time for projects like his watch-sized time machine that projects him two seconds into the future at the push of a button.

The two meet in middle school. It's not friendship-at-first-sight; their special abilities and social situations combine to make things much more complicated than that. But they do form a bond of sorts, just in time to be driven apart. Years pass with no contact before they are reunited as adults.

When Patricia and Laurence meet again, they're living in a different city and a different time. Both have used their respective gifts in very different ways, Patricia pursuing magic as retribution and Laurence becoming a tech genius in search of another habitable planet. The world around them becomes increasingly turbulent and the future less and less certain, and each of them has a role to play in the unfolding conflict between magic and science. Will they avert the apocalypse, or will they incite it?

All the Birds in the Sky is a novel of dichotomies. It is at once familiar and not quite like anything else. It has not just a sci-fi hero or a fantasy heroine; it has both, in the same book, interacting with one another. It depicts worlds of science and magic in such a way that both feel rich and vital, and it bashes them together in tragic ways. It's a story about both growing up and about what comes after, a novel of both endings and beginnings.

Maybe it goes without saying because I'm writing a blog post to recommend it to you, but it's also really good. There is much in it to appeal to fans of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, and to anyone who enjoys experimental SFF with a touch of literary fiction and a sprinkling of magical realism. With its cinematic qualities and relevant subject matter, it would make a great film or TV series. I think you'll be hearing more about this book in the future, so read it now!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5 Authors You Should be Reading! (According to Me, Anyway.)

It is inevitable that, with so many wonderful books and authors in LPLS's collection, some of the best ones will fly under our collective radar.

Like Kaki Warner.  Her Blood Rose Trilogy is a rich western historical romance set in the 1860s.  What makes Warner's writing so special is her characterization.  You feel like you're reading about real people
rather than a  construct.  And although there is a strong romantic element to each book, the series is a family saga at heart, making it a good choice for traditional western readers as well.  There is an overarching storyline to the trilogy, so readers should start with the first one, Pieces of Sky.

This next one is for you, Walking Dead fans.  S.M. Stirling's The Change series takes place in the near future United States just after a technological apocalypse.  Over time, society, and the series itself, evolves from post-apocalyptic to dystopian to what is becoming more and more like a traditional fantasy.  Stirling's atmospheric writing, high body count, cliffhangers, and strong characterization make this a great choice for watchers of the walkers.  (Although readers of any of those genres should enjoy these!)  Start with The Sunrise Lands.

If mystery is more your thing, check out Amanda Matetsky's Paige Turner series.  Paige is a war widow and an aspiring writer who works as a secretary at Daring Detective magazine in the mid-1950s.  Once again, Matetsky's characterization makes this series distinctive, as protagonists and secondary characters are both products of their time and appealing to the modern reader.  Especially Paige herself, who is talented and ambitious, but struggles to be taken seriously by other writers and editors, all of whom are male.  These are fun amateur sleuth mysteries that are just a bit too noir to be considered truly cozy but will appeal to cozy readers nonetheless. 

If you're looking for something more like Michael Connelly or Dennis Lehane, you can't do any better than Bill Loehfelm.  His barmaid-turned-police-officer Maureen Coughlin was lauded as the character of the year by reviewers when The Devil She Knows was released back in 2011.  (Are you seeing a pattern here?)  Loehfelm's atmospheric yet lean writing and punchy dialogue definitely deserve more fans.

Urban fantasy seems to have taken a weensie dip in popularity over the years, but there's still some really great stuff out there to be explored.  Like Mike Carey's Felix Castor series.  Carey started out in comics, and his novels seem to have a visual quality to them, with spot-on description that doesn't weigh down the prose.  (Mike also writes as M.R. Carey, author of The Girl With All the Gifts.)  Felix himself is just as compelling as Butcher's Harry Dresden, and attracts just as much danger.  And Anglophiles will appreciate the London setting.  You'll want to start with The Devil You Know.