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Friday, February 24, 2017

New Posters! #ReadAsianOz and #ReadMuslimOz


Hello Darling Readers!

It's been a little while since we've done one of these posters - and now we're bringing you two! 

The request for a #ReadAsianOz poster came from writer, reader, and blogger Wendy Chen ('Written in Wonder') who also offered us a brilliant list of recommended titles for the poster. It's not strictly YA titles (because we really wanted to include the likes of Shaun Tan and Anh Do, who can be read up and down) and it's certainly not all there is - but we hope it's a good start. 

A #ReadMuslimOz poster was thought up in response to truly heinous world events of late, and incredible acts of discrimination and xenophobia. Even today, there are still news stories that make my blood boil - like what Yassmin Abdel-Magied has been subjected to. 

These posters were designed to put a little positivity into the world, and encourage people to read widely and diversely. 

Both posters were designed by the wonderful Jessica Harvie, and are in the DropBox available now for download - and from the LoveOzYA website: 



NOTE: Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) is available from JUNE 2017 - add it to your Goodreads list here

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'The River of No Return' by Bee Ridgway


From the BLURB:
In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future.​
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.”
Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Lord Nicholas Falcott wakes up in a hospital bed in twenty-first century London. The Guild, a secretive organization that controls time travel, helps him make a new life in the modern world.

But Nick yearns for home and for one beautiful woman in particular, now lost to history.

Back in 1815, that very woman, Julia Percy, finds herself the guardian of a family secret inherited from her enigmatic grandfather... how to manipulate time. But there are those who seek to possess Julia’s power and she begins to realize she is in the gravest peril.
The Guild’s rules are made to be broken, and Nick discovers how to travel back to the nineteenth century and his ancestral home. Fate and the fraying fabric of time draw Nick and Julia together once again . . . soon enough, they are caught up in an adventure that puts the future of the world into their hands.
Love endures the gulf of centuries . . . and so does danger.  As gripping as it is evocative, The River of No Return is a sweeping story of lovers who match wits and gamble their hearts against the rules of time itself.

‘The River of No Return’ was the 2013 historical-fantasy novel by Bee Ridgway.

It’s that time of year again when I remember I haven’t read a new Diana Gabaldon book since 2014 (Holy. Hell!) so I start doing Google searches for “Time Travel. Romance. Historical.” and taking a gamble on whatever comes up. This time around it was Ridgway’s ‘The River of No Return’, which I very vaguely remembered got some good praise from my Goodreads friends at the time of release way back in 2013.

This book started out really promising – with intricate and eclectic set-up of the time-travel parameters. First we’re introduced to a 19th century British Lord, living in the 21st – and then we meet a young woman in 1815 whose grandfather is on his deathbed, and able to “speed up” the process by accelerating time. All very, very cool. And then Ridgway starts honing in on these characters. Lord Nicholas Falcott jumps in time to escape a Napoleonic battlefield, and is then he’s introduced to this affluent society of time travellers in the 21st century, who use time-leaps like currency and completely control and profiteer from the industry surrounding it.

Julia Percy is the girl Nick left behind in his own time – but we switch to her story in 1815, and discover that like The Guild that Nick has just encountered, Julia is able to control and manipulate time (a gift seemingly inherited from her grandfather).

I started out really enjoying this novel, and thinking that I’d hit on a winner for its perfect overlap of historical/time-travel/romance … but once we got out of the woods of anticipating Nick and Julia meeting up again in a shared timeline, the romance started to fall flat – mostly because it’s very timidly written by Ridgway, but also probably because I came into the book craving ‘Outlander’ and set my heat-levels too high. I mean; they were fine and we got some hot n’ heavy scenes, but given that so much is riding on their romance I just didn’t feel their story was epic enough to warrant it.

What more got me through this book was the time-travel aspect, and how intricate and fascinating that was;
 “Human emotion. Millions of souls, together they make the mood of a certain time. It doesn’t matter that they disagree, that they hate, that they fight. All together they create it, this thing. This epoch. Times of war. Times of famine. Times of wealth and happiness. The mood of an era. What is stronger than that?”

It’s basically exploring time-travel as this conglomerate, and maybe it’s because I’ve really gotten into ‘Timeless’ on NBC, but this aspect provided such fascinating thinking for me – and it’s the one aspect of the book that I’m still thinking about, long after I finished reading.

So all in all – this was a nice distracting read, helping me cope with my Outlander-withdrawals. But it didn’t really hit on the romance aspect hard enough, though the time-travel parameters and set-up was wildly intriguing enough for me to hope that there’s some sort of sequel coming out to keep digging at this (perhaps focused on Leo next time?!)

3/5

Friday, February 3, 2017

'Against the Wall' by Jill Sorenson


From the BLURB:

The RITA-nominated author of The Edge of Night returns with another seductive novel, hailed by M. O’Keefe as “a dirty, gritty gem of a book.” As teens, Eric and Meghan fell for each other despite the odds—but now that they’re all grown up, they’re reunited by dangerous secrets.

Eric Hernandez is the bad boy of every schoolgirl’s fantasies—and every mother’s nightmares. But after serving time for manslaughter, he’s ready to turn his life around. He just needs a chance to prove himself as a professional tattoo artist. The one thing that keeps him going is the memory of the innocent beauty he loved and left behind.

Meghan Young’s world isn’t as perfect as it looks. The preacher’s daughter is living a lie, especially now that Eric is back. Tougher, harder, and sexier than ever, he might be the only person she can trust. But there’s no telling what he’ll do to protect her if he learns the truth, and that’s a risk Meghan won’t let him take. And yet, back in the arms of the troubled boy with the artist’s soul, Meghan can’t help surrendering to the man he’s become.

‘Against the Wall’ is the long-awaited sequel to Jill Sorenson’s 2011 romance book, ‘The Edge of Night’.

Okay. I hate that I didn’t love this book. Because I really liked ‘Edge of Night’ when I read it waaaaaay back in 2011, and in my review of that book I plucked out my enthusiasm for the secondary romance of Meghan and Eric, as much of that book’s saving grace. So much so that I actually reached out to Sorenson to see when their book would be coming … at the time I think she alluded to a possible next-year release – but for various reasons that kept getting pushed back and back, and it’s by the grace of the reading gods that I kept checking in every couple of years to see if that sequel status had changed (seriously – the waiting was getting up there with Lisa Valdez’s ‘Passion Quartet’ third book…) So imagine my happy surprise when I did my annual end-of-year check-in and saw that the sequel dropped in February of this year!

I delved into the novel full of expectations and enthusiasm, and things started out okay? … but then it got wonky.

When we met Meghan and Eric in 2011 as a secondary teen romance in ‘Edge of Night’, their story was reminiscent of ‘Perfect Chemistry’ by Simone Elkeles … if Brittany and Alex’s happy ending had been totally flipped on its head, and Alex had ended up in jail for manslaughter (because witnesses to the crime mislead investigators). So when ‘Against the Wall’ begins, its been three years and Eric is getting out of prison to discover Meghan has moved on with an abusive college beau. Thus begins the book’s many false-starts and dead-ends … because ‘Against the Wall’ almost reads like a “Choose Your Own Adventure Novel” for how many different pathways Sorenson sets up for the plot, but lets fall away one-by-one.

For one thing – I don’t know why it’s only been three years since Eric’s imprisonment? Why not build on the momentum of the anticipation for this novel and make it five?! This would have also seriously raised the stakes – if Meghan hadn’t just been in her first serious relationship with a college dude-bro, and instead was maybe engaged to someone and in the middle of building her career when a convicted felon jeopardizes her “good standing” in work or something? I don’t know. I felt Sorenson’s insistence to keep this kinda college-based and New Adult was for the sake of it, and it’s where opportunities were missed early on.

As to that “Choose Your Own Adventure” vibe. Phew. Okay. First there’s the fact that Meghan has an abusive boyfriend … but it seems that Eric’s reappearance in her life is what really pushes him over the edge, and everything prior was heavy emotional abuse and isolation – but clearly leading into something dire. Again though, the stakes weren’t’ quite there – because Meghan repeatedly admits to not being in love with him, and between her Psychology major and having a brother who is a police officer, we get Meghan’s inner-thoughts which reveal an acute understanding of what Chip is doing, and her recognition that it is indeed abusive and she needs to leave him eventually. Also: this storyline ends up going absolutely nowhere.

Then there’s the fact that Meghan and her best friend Kelsea work at a college campus women’s centre, where they do things like organize a SlutWalk and field vile online abuse that comes via their website and call-centre. In the lead-up and following the successful SlutWalk, the centre receives even more abuse that seems targeted at Kelsea directly and becomes increasingly scary … again, the storyline goes nowhere in this book, as it’s really more about setting up a future story for Kelsea and a tattoo artist called Tank.

Then there’s everything that Eric is dealing with – among them, sleeping with the girlfriend and baby-mama of the man he killed and was sent to jail for manslaughter over. This was an interesting turn early on, and I was intrigued to see it explored, weirdly. For one thing, we got to see but a glimpse of what it’s like for women within California gangs and there was serious emotional high-stakes … but again, it peters out.

There’s also stuff with Eric feeling sucked back into his old gang life because of his best friend, Junior – but this was also lacking emotional punch because Eric is so determined not to get drawn back into that life, and his interior thoughts tell readers that’s never at risk of happening anyway. This also feels oddly unresolved and half-assed.

What I really found interesting and wish Sorenson had focused on, was how freakin’ hard it is for Eric to get back to life after prison – because if you don’t already know, the American prison system is fucked (seriously, watch the documentary ‘13th’) and Eric alludes to this quite a few times;

I didn’t have any trouble getting my GED in Chino, though. I’m not a dumbass like some criminals. I was born here and I learned English right off the bat. I can read and write better than most inmates. As a convicted felon, I’m not eligible for government programs like housing assistance or financial aid, but I could save money to pay my own way. I could continue my education. Get an art degree. 
I glance around the library guiltily, as if someone might guess my thoughts and rat me out for overstepping my place. Guys like me don’t become college students. We beat up college students.
 
But he falls on his feet kinda quickly. Between having a place to crash at with family who love and support him, and nabbing a pretty sweet job working at a tattoo parlor, plus finding outlets for his artwork … there were never any stakes here either.

And as for Meghan and Eric – the romance that made me check back in for FIVE FREAKIN’ YEARS to see if it was written yet … meh. The sex scenes were great, but I feel like because the plot was all over the place, they were too. I never really knew how they felt about each other; also because their thoughts belied their actions and whatever hurdles Sorenson was trying to construct for them, they just seemed to jump over easily because they had great sexual attraction and that cured all manner of doubts? I mean … even Eric stupidly sleeping with the baby-mama of the man he killed who’s also affiliated with a rival gang when he says he doesn’t want anything to do with that violence anymore – Meghan is momentarily horrified at his stupidity, but because that storyline for Eric didn’t go anywhere, it likewise didn’t carry much weight when Meghan found out.

I just … I feel like ‘Against the Wall’ didn’t actually have an editor? Because I think any beta readers would have come in and said “You’ve already set up emotional high-stakes in ‘Edge of Night’ for these two, they already have a story – you just need to pick a lane for the plot to be in, and stick with it!”

Yeah, this was disappointing. It just had so much potential, and as a reader I was totally there for Sorenson, Meghan and Eric – I was rooting for them and this book for so, so long. But this was a mess … a hot mess, to be sure for those sex scenes (which is the only reason this isn’t get a 1-star) … but a hot mess nonetheless. Sorry.

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2/5

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

'This Adventure Ends' by Emma Mills


From the BLURB:

Sloane isn't expecting to fall in with a group of friends when she moves from New York to Florida—especially not a group of friends so intense, so in love, so all-consuming. Yet that's exactly what happens.

Sloane becomes closest to Vera, a social-media star who lights up any room, and Gabe, Vera's twin brother and the most serious person Sloane's ever met. When a beloved painting by the twins' late mother goes missing, Sloane takes on the responsibility of tracking it down, a journey that takes her across state lines—and ever deeper into the twins' lives.

Filled with intense and important friendships, a wonderful warts-and-all family, shiveringly good romantic developments, and sharp, witty dialogue, this story is about finding the people you never knew you needed.

‘This Adventure Ends’ was the 2016 contemporary young adult novel by Emma Mills.

This was a really interesting book … one of those books that while you’re reading you really want to know what happens next, but at the end you can’t really recall what the actual plot was, only that you enjoyed it while it lasted.

Ostensibly it’s about a young girl called Sloane whose father is a Nicholas Sparks-esque author of tragi-romance and currently going through a writing slump. To help spark her father’s creativity again, Sloane, her mother, and little sister all move with him from New York to Florida in the hopes it will get the creative juices flowing. The move is really neither here nor there for Sloane, who has never formed truly meaningful attachments to anyone outside her immediate family … but then she finds herself the reluctant attendant of a house party with her new classmates, and sticking up for one called Gabe when a bully boy jock gets in his face.

From there, Sloane becomes the new pet friendship project of Gabe’s twin Vera (a social media sensation) and their friends Aubrey, Remy and Frank. When Sloane discovers that the twins’ artist mother recently passed away and that their new (pregnant) stepmother accidentally sold Gabe’s favourite painting of hers to a local art gallery, Sloane sets off on a mission to retrieve it.

This is not the book to read if contemporary fiction bores you to tears. But if you love the in’s and out’s of daily life and putting your emotions and typical teen dramas under the microscope, you’ll love this.

And while I did indeed enjoy the unfolding, I can’t help but feel this book lacked some necessary oomph. A lot of it reminded me of ‘How to Say Goodbye in Robot’ by Natalie Standiford, a lot of which was this really lovely meandering through quirky and off-kilter teen lives, but that eventually ratcheted up to a reveal and heavy hearted finale. In that sense too, ‘This Adventure Ends’ is like the days before in John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’, where it starts off unfolding in this very charming but lackadaisical chronological order until the middle sparks an entirely new trajectory … likewise ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky which is also up there for being very astute contemporary teen fiction, until the denouement starts picking at different wounds. And all these books – contemporary teen fiction – are throwbacks to ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger, which to a certain point is also just a meandering stream of consciousness and encounters until it reaches a zenith of purpose and underlining meaning … and I think that’s what ‘This Adventure Ends’ was missing. A pack-a-punch denouement. True meaning.

There are even a few random threads of story established that go nowhere – like Sloane getting a job at a deli working with Gabe. There are pages establishing this, and then we never see her or Gabe at work again. Likewise, Vera’s social-media instagram fame is set-up as a somewhat crucial aspect of her character, but then it falls away. And I think these are two examples of a symptom of contemporary fiction that lacks real direction or message.

FanFiction also plays a role in this – as Sloane’s father gets hooked on a teen werewolf TV show and the fic that others writer for it. But – again – this doesn’t really go anywhere truly meaningful to entirely warrant its mention.

Still, I can’t deny that I did enjoy this book. Mills has a very true and candid way of writing. Her voice and dialogue work is particularly commendable;

“Everyone should have punched-in-the-face-for kinds of friends. Everyone should have … you know. Like the people you call when you need to hide the body.” 
“Why is there a body?” 
“If there was a body. Hypothetically.” 
“I’d like to avoid all forms of murder, including hypothetical.” 
He lets out a breath of laughter, and then: “I think everyone has it in them.” 
“Hypothetical murder?” 
“No. That kind of friendship. When they meet the right people. I think anyone can have that kind of friend or … be that kind of friend.” He looks off down the street. “Especially you. I think you’re a hide-the-body friend.”

… But I do look forward to reading a work of hers that has a real message. Something to say, when she’s so very capable of saying it so well.

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3/5

Sunday, January 15, 2017

'Fearless' by Fiona Higgins


From the BLURB:

What happens when six pampered Westerners on a spiritual retreat in Bali end up fighting for their lives?

Six strangers from across the world meet on the tropical island of Bali to attend a course designed to help them face their fears. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their fears - which range from flying, public speaking and heights, through to intimacy, failure and death.

Friendships and even romance blossom as the participants are put through a series of challenges which are unusual, confronting and sometimes hilarious. A week of fun in the sun suddenly turns into something far more serious, however, when the unthinkable happens - a tragic disaster that puts the group in deadly danger, testing the individual courage of every member.

‘Fearless’ is a new fiction novel from Australian author, Fiona Higgins.

I was really excited to read this novel, as I’d thoroughly enjoyed Higgins’ ‘Wife on the Run’ back in 2014, and everything about ‘Fearless’ was broadcasting being a “great summer read” to me. But what really pushed me into reading this one was my catching the 2012 movie ‘The Impossible’ on TV one night. It’s a great movie based on a true story, about a British family on holiday in Thailand, who are separated by the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The blurb of ‘Fearless’ alludes to ‘an unspeakable act’ happening in Bali, that throws six strangers’ lives into mayhem – and of course that’s alluding to an event similar to the 2002 Bali Bombings – but ‘The Impossible’ reminded me of the power in such stories where an unfathomable disaster happens in the middle of “paradise” … so I delved into ‘Fearless’, and hated it. Absolutely hated it.

The premise of ‘Fearless’ is these six strangers from all corners of the globe come to Bali to attend a Fearless retreat where they intend to combat everything from a snake phobia, to fear of heights and flying, to general dissatisfaction with life. We get a chapter that follows each of the six strangers, to understand the deeper meanings behind their wish to combat fear. And straight away from meeting these characters, the story started to fall down for me because there’s so much cliché … there’s Annie, an older mid-Westerner who is (of course) an outspoken devout Christian and overweight American. Remy is a Frenchman who falls for Australian Janelle while she’s wearing a rash-vest and zinc on her nose (because of course he does – Frenchmen are so very romantic). Henry is a paunchy, British bird-watcher and quintessential geek (because he’s British?). Cara is a broken mother … and even her, who has one of the more compelling and believable backstories, I wish there’d be a decision to make a subversive gender-flip and have her be a father grieving the loss of his child, just so that not every character was so darn predictable. And then there’s Lorenzo – an Italian photographer who has experienced some Bill Henson-esque backlash in his home country, amid accusations that his artistic photographs of ingénue girls are inappropriate …  his introspective story takes a bizarrely sharp turn towards the end, and I couldn’t help but feel he got lugged with this exploration on the cliché that Italian men are sleazy and pervy or something?

It wasn’t just that these characters all felt built on the most typical of tourism clichés, it’s also that they’re all kind of unbearable. At one point, the Australian Janelle puts on a saccharine “presentation” to be filmed for her bulimic teenage niece, wherein she quotes bumper-sticker philosophy while stripping down to her underwear and Taylor Swift’s ‘Fifteen’ plays from her iPod in the background. I just … my eyes were so busy rolling, I could barely focus on the page during that scene (which is also when Frenchman Remy really falls in love with her, because … of course.)

‘Of course,’ said Remy, impressed by how much Janelle seemed to care. About the orangutans of Borneo, the world’s rainforests, the gamelan orchestras of Bali, teenagers with eating disorders and, naturally, her own family. He considered what he cared about. The last time he’d cried was after the defeat of Paris Saint-Germain to archrivals Montpellier in round 32 of the Ligue 1 football season. Janelle’s compassion is more than refreshing, he thought. It’s intoxicating.

But the book was also off-putting to me for the presentation of Bali, as seen through the eyes of these Westerners … it reminded me of a Kirkus book review I read once, of Heidi R. Kling’s YA book ‘Sea’ in which the reviewer accused the story of being; “Disaster tourism masquerading as romance…” and the last line of the review was also apt for Higgins’ ‘Fearless’; “Well-meaning, but ultimately about slumming in disaster zones for a summer’s recuperative fun.” Because Higgins does present Bali as a “disaster zone”, essentially. Everything from Annie’s observations of their abuse of street dogs, to Remy watching a woman defecate in the street and all six hearing locals bad-mouth the Javanese … none of this sat well with me.

So, nothing in this book was really working for me – why did I keep reading? Well, I wanted to get to the “unspeakable act” tagline on the cover … I thought everything at the Fearless retreat and getting to know these strangers was boring or infuriating, but maybe they’d rise to the occasion in the midst of a disaster? But this plot-turn doesn’t happen until around page 220 (of a 391-page book) and it did feel utterly disjointed from the rest of the story … it felt cheap, actually – as did the whole book for me, unfortunately and ultimately.

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1/5

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

'Ghosts' by Raina Telgemeier


 From the BLURB:

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake — and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.

‘Ghosts’ is the 2016 middle grade graphic novel from Eisner Award-winning creator, Raina Telgemeier.

I read this novel over the Christmas break, and it was exactly the perfect kind of reading for hot summer nights, and middle-of-the-day food-coma recovery. I love Telgemeier, and reading her latest ‘Ghosts’ made me fall in love with her storytelling anew, and had me reaching to re-read two other favourites from her in ‘Smile’ and ‘Drama’. The latter hasn’t been usurped as my favourite Telgemeier book yet, but ‘Ghosts’ comes pretty darn close…

The story follows Catrina, who along with her family moves to the fictional Northern California town of Bahía de la Luna (‘Moon Bay’) for the sake of her little sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis and whose lungs will benefit from the seaside location and year-round fog.


The book’s entire premise provides a really interesting emotional conundrum - as we see Catrina dealing with her conflicted feelings of wanting what’s best for Maya’s health, alongside her disgruntlement at being uprooted from her home and friends for Maya’s sake. And while Telgemeier’s books in the past have been wholly contemporary in genre, and could well have spent the entire novel unpicking that one conundrum – ‘Ghosts’ is a little change-up for the author, who has added in a magical element to elevate the story …

Because Bahía de la Luna is famous for being a ghostly haven – a particular township in America where ghosts can be easily found, thanks to the perfect climate conditions that allows them to be carried on the wind, and take nourishment from the natural earth. Catrina and Maya are in town on their first day, on a mini-exploration trek when they come across local boy (and ghost-tour operator) Carlos, who fuels Maya’s interests in their new ghostly neighbours.

The culmination of the town’s ghostly affection and the story itself, is Día de Muertos – the ‘Day of the Dead’ Mexican holiday. It’s a multi-day holiday that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey – but in Bahía de la Luna, it also means physically meeting with ghosts and dearly departed loved ones, for a literal celebration.


I’ll admit that I thought the ghostly addition to this story would be heavy-handed, for how it sits alongside Catrina grappling with her sister’s Cystic Fibrosis, and her coming to understand that a move to Bahía is meant to improve Maya’s quality of life, but won’t cure her of the degenerative disease. But this is Telgemeier after all; one of the best writers for young, middle-grade audiences and while the lessons and connections are there to be made, it’s actually quite subtle and lovely what she’s imparting; about acceptance and how multi-layered grief can be.

It’s a tall order to write a story that teeters on the brink of exploring one of the most devastating losses a family will one day endure, while also choosing to highlight how a life cut short can still be celebrated, instead of only mourned … but Telgemeier does it, and with her trademark humour and cast of flawed, multi-dimensional young characters – this is why she’s one of the best writing for middle-grade audiences right now (not just one of the best graphic novelists writing for them, but one of the best authors – period.)

‘Ghosts’ was a smart and delightful read, and while the end felt just a little bit too convenient and rushed, overall I thought there was a lot of good to be unpacked and praised here, making it a truly heartfelt MG read – particularly for the unique angle it takes in exploring grief and loss for young people, and through the lens of such a beautiful cultural celebration as Día de Muertos. Outstanding.

5/5

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

'Hamilton: The Revolution' by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter


From the BLURB:

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Eleven Tony Awards, including Best Musical 

Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country's origins for a diverse new generation. 

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages--"since before this was even a show," according to Miranda--traces its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here. 

Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don't throw away their shot.

I think the first I heard anything about a musical called HAMILTON was on the Book Riot blog last year – one of those typical ‘What to read now that you’ve seen/watched/read…’ recommendation posts. Except it was giving readers recs to quench their thirst for – what sounded like – an American history lesson set to rap music? I guess little subversive mentions of HAMILTON popped up in other cross-reverential ways within pop-culture, but the next I can remember going “Huh?” was when my friend who’d attended Books Expo America came back with all her tales, among them that this musical called HAMILTON was becoming such a thing that a sing-along was organised for teen fans at BEA (I think her commentary was “Check it out on Tumblr!”)

But that was all in 2015, and apart from a quick Wikipedia-read to get brushed up, I put HAMILTON out of my mind … until it came back again in June this year. That was when the Orlando nightclub shooting happened – now known as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – and when some guy called Lin-Manuel Miranda won a Tony award for his scoring on the musical HAMILTON, and read a poem he quickly wrote as part of his acceptance speech;

Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside. Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.

Wow.
Who is this guy?

A little more research and HAMILTON sounded intriguing, but I distinctly remember walking into the Hill of Content bookshop earlier this same year, picking up a copy of the tome Hamilton: The Revolution and scoffing at the prize/size/entire concept of the show as somewhat baffling. “I’ve listened to the soundtrack,” a helpful bookstore clerk piped up, “and it’s actually really great. I’m obsessed.” I may have raised my eyebrow. I’m not a *huge* fan of musicals (more than once during one I’ve thought/said “why do they have to sing everything?!”) and given that I’ve not been much moved by the soundtracks to the few musicals I have actually seen and enjoyed, I highly doubted I’d get much out of listening to the cast recording of a show I’ve never seen about America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.


But Lin-Manuel Mirand intrigued me (his poetry, and Twitter account alike) and the global growing obsession with HAMILTON moved me enough to at least purchase the soundtrack on iTunes … and I was done.

Officially obsessed.

Pre-ordered the Mixtape. Obsessed.

Left some not-so-subtle (emailed) hints to the folks that I’d quite like that Hamilton tome at Christmas. Obsessed.

Lucky for me I have kind parents who bought me the book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jeremy McCarter for Christmas (but not without a side-note of sarcasm; “Oh, did the Broadway tickets we put in there fall out? What a shame.”)

And I’ve got to say – if the hype around Miranda and this musical he’s created didn’t feel really real (even before I finally listened to the soundtrack) reading Hamilton: The Revolution cements it for me.

This is at once a thick volume tracking the creation of the musical – from Miranda’s holiday reading of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton autobiography – to the two years it took Lin-Manuel to write the first two songs. And while I’m not a fanatic of many musicals, I was made a fan of a show about the making of musicals – the somewhat doomed 2012 television show Smash about the pitfalls of bringing a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe from concept to stage. Hamilton: The Revolution explores the daily grind of making big ideas come to life – right down on chapters dedicated to the staging and lighting of tricky technical storytelling moments. And it’s all – believe it or not – fascinating.


It’s also good value to actually have the lyrics to all the songs laid out (if only to have mondegreens corrected – I thought the line in the opening number went “ruined brides” not “ruined pride” and been thinking that Hamilton’s cousin had made a profession as a charlatan matchmaker or something?!). But it’s really spectacular for the notes in the margins from Lin-Manuel. Everything from Miranda dropping a reference to Jordan Catalano as inspiration for a lyric in Angelica Schuyler’s rapid-fire number Satisfied, to discovering that the inspiration for Dear Theodosia wasn’t so much the arrival of Miranda’s son … but of a stray dog he and his wife adopted while on vacation in the Dominican Republic.

What I got out of reading Hamilton: The Revolution (from cover-to-cover, like the obsessive I have now become) was actually similar to what I enjoyed about reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, bizarrely enough. They both track the creative process from a kernel of an idea to working at it, growing and finishing it; and Gilbert and Miranda also seem to embrace the electrifying power of coincidence and fate lining everything up for a special project… and they pay serious ode to the fact that one doesn’t have to be actively creating to always be working and thinking;

He sequestered himself in a quiet corner of the Public [theatre], composing music, scribbling verses, occasionally wandering the halls. The staff got used to seeing him pacing in his slippers. One day he realized that his inability to grasp the enormity of Alexander and Eliza’s loss wasn’t a barrier to writing the song, it was the song.
“Once I got the line, ‘There are moments that the words don’t reach,’ I had the song,” he says. He wrote it in a day.
 

I also quite liked that in Hamilton: The Revolution a few bruises are poked at in chapters focused on the actors in the originating roles. Like how all of the principal actors playing Founding Fathers had to reconcile with themselves as black men, playing influential historical figures that owned slaves. Christopher Jackson who plays George Washington had particularly powerful insights into this, and it’s satisfying to know that there are little tells (as subtle as a bowed head at the right time) that acknowledge this dichotomy throughout the play.


I will say that I came away from my reading of Hamilton: The Revolution … and immediately checked the price of tickets (in both New York and Chicago) and seriously, seriously considered just splurging (especially because it’s a big birthday for me next year). And I honestly think that while HAMILTON will enjoy a long-run (a Phantom of the Opera-long run) in America, I don’t know how it would go elsewhere.

This question momentarily pops up in Hamilton: The Revolution – in a chapter titled ‘An Account of Rapping for the Children Who Will One Day Rap For Themselves’ – in which the musical’s alliance with the Theatre Development Fund in schools is discussed, and Miranda muses on its next stage of life when HAMILTON is licensed for student and amateur productions … they beg the question of how well HAMILTON will go in Asia, Europe and Australia. Is there really worldwide appeal for a musical that is so steeped in American history and has little relevance (particularly for school study) to outside countries?

Putting aside my desperate wish to go and see this musical (without having to take out a bank loan to do so) I really don’t know. It’s certainly taken me a while to warm to the idea of even listening to the soundtrack. BUT … to be fair – there’s not a lot of history-based musicals that have especial relevance to Australia anyway, baby country that we are. And to give you further context to that; in 1770 Captain Cook made the first European landing on Australia's east coast, and a mere six year later The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Just to give you some idea of how much America and Australia’s paths veered at this time … Australians don’t learn about the American Revolutionary War in our core history studies in high school, often because our studies are focused on what was happening in our own country at that time. So certainly – the historic context is a hard barrier to get through for non-Americans, I’d say.

BUT, but, but … and maybe I’m grasping at straws here … but if HAMILTON the Musical was to time an Australia tour just right – were there to be renewed public debate around a Republic referendum? Could you imagine the publicity campaign? If nothing else, I certainly think the Australian Republican Movement should be quietly reaching out to any channels they can to see if a HAMILTON tour announcement would like to join with them in some tongue-in-cheek capacity!


And also; the world is turning again to America to see what happens with their political sideshow, much as they did in 1775... The atmosphere is bizarrely – inversely? – ripe to re-examine the “American Experiment” with Donald Trump and all his “draining the swamp” talk becoming the 55th President of the United States of America. Right down to what Lin-Manuel summarises as the true message of HAMILTON and the revolution is essentially about;

When Lin told the audience at the White House that Alexander Hamilton “embodies the word’s ability to make a difference,” he was thinking of all the good things that language can do. 
Hamilton reminds us that the American Revolution was a writers’ revolution, that the founders created the nation one paragraph at a time. But words can also wreak havoc. They also tear down.

… now think about that in the context of Donald Trump’s inane/insane Twitter account. Certainly, History Has It’s Eyes On You has already taken on a new, even more sombre meaning as January 20 looms - and already, the HAMILTON musical cast have contributed their voice to this new phase in American history, becoming part of the narrative in a way I’m sure they could have never foreseen (but won’t shy away from more crucial opportunities in future).

Listening to HAMILTON has been a revolution in itself for me, but reading Hamilton: The Revolution has made me keep thinking and connecting aspects of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece to the real world and what the future holds.

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5/5