Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was great to be back in Harry’s world. It’s so interesting to see all the characters again and how they’ve matured as middle-aged adults versus their adolescent selves I know and love so well. The play format, staging, and stage directions add an element to the story that is new and intriguing. The story is layered in that readers relive parts of the well-loved stories we already know – adding complexity to those scenes while weaving them into Albus and Scorpius’s new adventure. The father/son dynamic is heavy here with both boys and *spoiler* there is much needed closure between Harry and Dumbledore along those lines**. Ginny and Hermione are formidable as always, with Ron (my favorite) adding much needed doses of levity and reality throughout. At times it feels like a writing exercise with Rowling et al exploring “what-ifs” in previous and future wizarding world scenarios. However, the themes of love, family, trust, and honesty that made the original series such a treasure are still present making this a great addition to the HP family.

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Mon Reading Button PB to YAIt’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
The lovelies at teachmentortexts.com this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus: anyone reading and reviewing books in children’s literature. It can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels – you name it in the world of kidlit and it’s in! I love being a part of this meme and hope you do too! I encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we’re reading. We hope you join us!
I read a lot this last week. My students are studying Perseverance and Courage as it imitates life in literature so we’re reading some heavy hitters. I reread to keep up with them. I finished Westerfeld’s Leviathan series and started Melissa Marr’s Graveminder on audio. Then I needed a little comfort-food reading from Harry. Now I’m headed back to a real superstar writer, Laurie Halse Anderson.
So that’s what I finished last week. This is what I’m reading/listening to currently.
This is what I’m headed to next.
No spoilers for the Anderson book, but let me know just how good it is!

Dark & Light: The Awakening of the Mageknight

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TITLE: Light & Dark: The Awakening of the Mageknight

AUTHOR: D. M. Fife

LENGTH: 312 pages

PUBLISHER: self-published

SUMMARY: (blurb from back of book) Danny Firoth is an average thirteen year0old who finds himself at the beginning of his eighth grade year, struggling with some of the more common concerns that plague a boy of his age: bullies, homework, and his mother. Sabrina Drake is the new girl. She is beautiful and spellbinding, but carries a fantastic secret.

Accepted into the White Rock Academy of Illumination, a school for young Squires destined to become Knights of the Light and battle the forced of the Dark with magical weapons called Bondeds, Danny joins his five closest friends in the training of their lives. Honed in the techniques of blade work by an Elvin swordmaster and educated by a colorful assortment of knightly instructors, Danny and his friends are placed on the path to becoming knighted members of the Light. However, the Dark may have other plans as they unveil a sinister plot in this fantastic tale of dragon-riding adventure, sword-wielding action, and coming of age drama.

REVIEW: Fife has made a valiant effort at a fantasy novel however, it falls just a bit short in the writing. The book  is laden with excessive, mundane detail. In addition, despite the blurb’s assertion that Danny is an average 13 year-old, Danny does not speak like one. He uses words like “must” and phrases such as “he did as bid” – much too formal for a middle school boy. While it would make sense to have the teachers and knights of the White Rock Academy of Illumination use this formal diction, it doesn’t make sense that Danny would. Even allowing that Danny might adopt this formality once he has attended the school, he speaks this way before he even knows the school exists. Fife does a better job with Danny’s friends’ speech and they definitely act like eighth grade boys. The narration in its entirety is a little overblown; I fear Fife is trying too hard to “be a writer” instead of just writing the story he has to tell. The last criticism I have is purely cosmetic. There are quite a few grammatical and mechanical errors in the text. I would assume this is due to self-publishing the book but Fife could do with a professional editor.

Despite the issues with the writing, readers will enjoy the story in this book. Fife has taken an interesting stand in the perpetual story of good versus evil. In this story, there is not merely light and dark but also grey. Fife acknowledges that most issues are not just black and white and that there are individuals who play whichever side of the conflict will benefit them most. Because many middle grade books in particular present very cut and dried differences between good and evil, it was refreshing to see the lines blurred much as they are in real life. The use of the Bermuda Triangle as a pivotal location in this ages-old battle is an interesting twist. Fantasy fans will recognize elements from Tolkein and Rowling but it is an interesting blend of familiar fantasy stories. The story is engaging enough to keep readers turning pages and the issues with the writing would most likely be less noticeable when read by someone other than an English teacher.

Step right up! It’s time for the CIRCUS!

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TITLE: The Night Circus

AUTHOR: Erin Morgenstern

LENGTH: 528 pages

PUBLISHER:  Anchor

SUMMARY:  (via amazon.com) The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

BRIDGE: I think the most obvious bridge for this title is Dickens. The first book that springs to mind is Great Expectations.  Elements of Pip and Estella’s relationship linger over Marco and Celia and the adults who influence them are similar to Pip’s benefactor and Miss Havisham. These characters are on a quest and so one could also draw parallels to any classic quest story as well. Morgenstern’s Victorian England and its New World counterparts are impeccably crafted and the magical elements are subtly unbelievable and awing, as good magic should be. By studying the speech, customs and settings of the story, one could draw comparisons to any of Dickens’ work or other Victorian authors. There are even subtle nods to Grimm stories that one could map throughout the book. The intricate braid of plotlines would also be an interesting point of discussion. Students could map the different plots and physically draw them on timelines to have them intersect at the crucial points. This would also be an excellent book with which to study character development and relationships. The complexity of the characters and their relationships would also require some charting.

READERS: Not for the faint of heart, I would recommend this book more for high schoolers and adults. I do not think many middle school readers would have the maturity to understand the complexity of Celia and Marco’s world. Readers who enjoy magical stories will devour this book and those with a taste for the strange and imaginative will be enthralled. **A note on the audiobooks: Jim Dale’s narration is impeccable, as usual. I thoroughly enjoyed the formal and appropriately creepy reading of the entire thing. Definitely will be on my list of re-listens.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book will also like any of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Series: convenience or con?

It all began with Star Wars, right? A trilogy: a story told in three parts that captivates its audience. Although many of us know that trilogies did not begin with George Lucas’s space adventure, today in Young Adult Literature, the trilogy reigns supreme. It seems as if every other author who is publishing a book has revealed that this new title is part of a trilogy or series. These books seem to be dragged out into multiple volumes merely to continue with a successful character or to appease some fan demand rather than because the author really has another story to tell. Some of them seem to divide the story into needlessly separated books either to make the length more palatable or (gasp) to make more money for the publisher. Which begs the question: what is the true story behind the love affair with these multi-book tales?

When the Harry Potter books broke upon the scene in the 1990s, they rejuvenated and reinvented the children’s book industry. J.K. Rowling was able to craft a story that was so engaging and intriguing that readers wanted to keep with Harry through all seven years of his battle with Voldemort. However, one unintended consequence of Rowling’s success was the advent of series books as the way to be a successful children’s/young adult author.

And the unfortunate consequence of this phenomenon has been that there are quite a few book series out there that never needed to be or never needed to be series. I am a fan of the Twilight books but will be the first to tell you that all of Meyer’s books are about 100 to 150 pages too long. Was it necessary to encapsulate the story in four separate books? (And yes, I will be attending the midnight showing of  Breaking Dawn Part I regardless of  my issues with the too-lengthy text and plot potholes.) Then there are all the  series that have capitalized on the vampire bandwagon: Vampire Diaries, Blue Bloods, the House of Night series and the Morganville Vampires, to name a few. And while Lemony Snickett has done wonders for readers’ vocabulary, did we really need to read Count Olaf fail in 13 different ways? Writing about the same characters is comfortable and known and I understand the impulse to stick with what works. But I fear that some authors are churning out books to meet a contract requirement with a publisher or because (as many writers know) it’s too difficult to let a character go.

But perhaps there is hope if one considers this a detrimental trend. Within the series slaves has emerged a new breed of author. Authors who really have a story to tell that is so engrossing it must be told in multiple books. This new series author provides a continuing story but not necessarily with the same protagonist throughout her books. Carrie Ryan, Kristin Cashore, and Cassandra Clare are doing some amazing things by linking their created universes rather than following a specific character. These companion novels provide readers with a familiar setting but an original story with new or related characters. I realize these authors are not the first to do this , but in an period of YA books where quantity seems to be more important that quality sometimes, it’s nice to know that there are still thoughtful authors out there continuing to create new ways to get their stories told without relying on one character or one blueprint to do the telling. Don’t get me wrong, anything that gets kids reading is a win in my book. There just needs to be somewhere for more discerning readers to go when the patterns of plot and familiarity of a character get a little too predictable.