Louise’s First Look at Troubled Blood Cover and Synopsis.

It’s been a banner week. Not only does The Ickabog wrap up in characteristic JKR style, but Robert Galbraith releases the cover and summary blurb for the next in the Cormoran Strike series, Troubled Blood. We can already see the predicted echoes to Career of Evil. I think we can count on a more gruesome story. I’ll also take a look back at my earlier predictions and see how this new information requires adjusting them.

First the cover:  dark, befitting the book pegged as the nigredo of the series, with the title in blood-red letters.  The dial (which does not seem to have the Roman numeral XX on it, unlike the teaser video on Twitter) presumably refers to the astrological/tarot element promised in the book.  Some have theorized that this represents the Hampton Court Clock Tower.  I love the lamppost, but am a bit disappointed to see figures that look more like the TV Robin and Cormoran than the book.  Where’s Strike’s pube hair? 

Onto the blurb:  

Already we can see some echoes to the third book of the series, which featured a psychopathic serial killer giving lots of unwanted attention, to put it mildly, to the Titian-haired Temp.  Career of Evil was also a look back at the past, with Strike forced to confront two past cases–one successful, one not– as well as his loser stepfather.  Here we, go back even further, to an unsolved disappearance, which, as astute Twitterers have already pointed out, occurred the very year of Cormoran’s birth.  Coincidence?  Will his digging into events in his hometown that occurred the year of his birth lead him to address a few of the questions of his own past?  Including the fact that neither Cormoran’s birth nor a DNA test broke up Jonny Rokeby’s marriage.  This could lead to connections to Order of the Phoenix, where Harry has to confront the meaning of a prophecy referring to his own birth. 

Other intriguing elements.  I am tickled pink that the mystery starts in Cornwall when Cormoran is visiting family– I have wanted to meet Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan for some time now. The missing woman, on the other hand, has a surname that suggests she is from the north–  specifically, Bamburgh, a tiny village on the coast of Northumberland (about 2 hours north of Robin’s home town of Masham) and home to a famous castle and mysterious sword.  Is this site destined to join the White Horse of Uffington as a stop on the Strike fan pilgrimage tour? 

Cornwall, in addition to being home to Ted and Joan, was also the home and burial place of Pamela “Pixie” Coleman Smith, illustrator of the world’s best known tarot deck, and the subject of a recent biography. It is also the site of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, which apparently includes a tarot reading machine, pictured above. Expect Cormoran to visit there—  I hope he brings Robin with him!

It’s hard to believe Cormoran and Robin will spend too much time on the road, though, with all they have goingon in London. It looks like the agency is thriving but The Flobberworm is being his difficult self regarding the divorce. I am still pulling for Robs to get her half of their flat proceeds sale. And who, pray tell, is the “unwanted male” paying her attention? The only one who has expressed interest in her so far is Spanner, and he seems nice enough to take a hint.  Could the belligerent and hard-drinking Tom Turvey be trying to avenge himself on Matthew by pursuing Robin? 

I don’t see how some of my other predictions:  the return of Whittaker, the emergence of Strike’s baby brother Switch (unless he is part of the family reunion in Cornwall–could he be seeking out his mother’s relatives after all these years, with Strike persuaded to go meet him?), an educational setting, and the death of either Shanker or Vanessa are going to work their way in, yet.  But, at 944 pages, a third longer than Lethal White and twice as long as the first three books in the series, there is plenty of room for sub-plots. 

One final note:  the missing woman is named Margot, a variation of Margaret.  So is Daisy, heroine of The Ickabog.  Any particular reason JKR would be particularly fond of that name? 

Counting down to September 15th. 

Of Barred Owls, Poetry Projects, Postal Birds and Ickabogs: Pandemic Writing.

It’s been an eventful couple of months, to put it mildly. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted by semester, my summer travel plans (including my work with the Global Autism Project, now postponed to 2021) and may yet lead to other major changes in my life. But, as with every crisis, there are always silver linings. One, of course, is the online publication of J.K.Rowling’s fairy tale, The Ickabog. But, she’s not the only one using writing to make the pandemic a bit easier to bear. 

My university hosts an annual Doenges Scholar, who, this year, was Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera. Sadly, the pandemic cost the students the opportunity to work with Sr. Herrera in person, but, with the help of a Spanish and an English professor, the university held an online seminar during our three-week May Term. The major creative product of the class was a community poetry project, centered around what the class called CoVIDA, or “the life that emerges out of this COVID-19 moment.” The students did not limit the project to their own writing, but solicited poetry from the wider community, asking for writing about the themes of community, celebration, conocimiento (ancestral knowledge), resilience, and healing.  

I certainly encourage you to check out the full project at the link above.  However, since my contribution had a Harry Potter connection, I thought I would share it here. 

Who Cooks for You?
That wintry morning, the call we were expecting came. A barred owl stopped at my brother’s window, to ask Who cooks for you—and remind him of our father’s laughter, long silenced, now freed, to a place we couldn’t hear. So the owl passed the message along.   My father’s stories were of Reddy Fox and William Green Hill Jenny Wren and Polynesia, the birds of wisdom. The owls’ names were their calls: Too-too and Hooty. He never knew Hedwig, but he’d have liked her, Even though Mr. Lofting wrote of postal birds first. If he sent his son an owl, his daughter would understand, Oh, Sweet Bird.   Who cooks for you—a gift, as if someone is watching. Laughter and intellect, memory and magic linger in the woods, And continue in the stories.

More about the poem, and story connections, after the jump.

[Read more…]

Early Reviews for Veronica Roth’s Chosen Ones Look Promising.

About a month ago, Publishers Weekly published a great interview with Veronica Roth, where she talks about a lot of the same topics I addressed in my first article on the book. All Roth readers and fellow Divergent junkies are invited to check it out and discuss.  Notably, she speaks about the hurt she felt when she read about herself described as a “one-note wonder.”  Unfortunately, the interview itself played into that theme a bit by never mentioning her Carve the Mark duology, or any of her other post-Divergent writings.

If the early reviews of Chosen Ones are accurate, though, this could be the series that rids her of that moniker once and for all.  The Publishers Weekly review says that Roth “puts the popular trope of the teenage ‘chosen one’ under the microscope and delves into both the societal impacts of young shoulders carrying the weight of saving the world and the psychological strains of such a responsibility,” and predicts “readers will be delighted by both the magical adventure and the diverse cast.”  Kirkus states, “There’s a lot of magic and action to make for a propulsive plot, but much more impressive are the character studies as Roth takes recognizable and beloved teen-hero types and explores what might happen to them as adults.”

Looking forward to April 7th!!

In a World Full of Umbridge, Who Would You Be?

Like a lot of Potterphiles, I have Harry Potter merchandise popping up on my social media feeds on a near-daily basis. One of the more recent appearances was a T-shirt reading “In a world full of Umbridge, be a Fred and George.”  While the mischievous redheads were undoubtedly major nemeses of the Toad Lady, I found it hard to envision myself wearing one of these shirts. I guess I’m at the age where I identify more with the middle-aged ladies of the Wizarding World than the kids.

Which led me to think, who would I put on mine?  Two answers immediately sprung to mind.   First, the teacher who was the antithesis of Dolores: Minerva McGonagall. In our humor episode of Reading, Writing, Rowling, several McGonagall v. Umbridge moments made it into our “funniest scenes” lists. Certainly McGonagall is one of the finest teachers in the series, one with high standards of excellence and who daily earns the respect of her students. In other words, everything dear Dolores wanted to be. Harry’s regard for her is clear: when even his own godfather’s murder could not push him into performing a Cruciatus curse on the perp, Amycus Carrow’s spitting in McGonagall’s face did.

The second, of course, is the best (or, at least the best living) mom of the series, Molly Weasley. In addition to being a surrogate mom and regular source of comfort (as opposed to pain) for Harry, Molly is also a loving mother to the twins. Yes, she gets exasperated with them frequently, sometimes seeming as short-tempered as Umbridge, but her love never wavers and she is never cruel. In the end, she accepts that the twins are successful in their own right, even with their poor OWL results, aborted education and non-conventional career choice.

More on Minerva, Molly and T-shirts after the jump! [Read more…]

3rd Annual Summit on Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature: Coming this June to UNLV.

I was delighted to learn yesterday that my proposal for a panel on Young Adult Literature: a Tool for Empathy Development? was accepted for the 2020 UNLV Summit on Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature,  I will be presenting with Dr. Kia Jane Richmond, author of Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles Through Fictional Characters.

I presented my work on PTSD in young adult literature (including Harry Potter, of course) at the inaugural summit two years ago, which, as some of you may remember, attracted some criticism for featuring authors that one particular journalist found overly dark and distressing. The fact that the editorial writer did not even attend the Summit did not stop him speculating  that immersion in the “unsavory worldviews” seen in some books of the keynote authors is a likely contributor to mental illness in adolescent readers.  In fact, my own research and that of many others suggests just the opposite.

I hope teachers, readers and other people interested in the societal impact of young adult literature will join us at the summit. Along with the academics, there will be a number of amazing authors present, including Ashley Hope Perez (whose incredible Out of Darkness I would like to see as required reading for university students),  Chris Crowe (his Death Coming Up the Hill can, like Harry Potter, be appreciated by everyone from Boomers to Millennials), Matt de la Pena (Newbery winner whose The Living has been featured here on Hogpro) and more.

The conference is reasonably priced, and lots of fun. And the Las Vegas strip is a short Uber-hop away.