Friday, July 29, 2016

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

The musical Hamilton has taken Broadway - and the world - by storm. Led by the impressive Lin-Manuel Miranda, this show has inspired art, song, and activism, encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to learn from America's past and stand together to make a better tomorrow.

Hamilton: An American Musical was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show's book, music, and lyrics and also starred in the title role. The show, which is based on the real life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, blends hip-hop with traditional musical theatre storytelling. It was nominated for a record-setting 16 Tony Awards with 11 wins. It was inspired Ron Chernow's acclaimed biography of Alexander Hamilton.

Now there's another book to join the ranks: Hamilton: The Revolution. Lovingly referred to as the Hamiltome by fans and creators alike, the full title of this publication is as follows:

the Revolution
Being the complete libretto
of the
Broadway musical,
with a true account of
its creation,
and concise remarks on
hip-hop, the power of stories,
and the new America

Try saying that three times fast. (Daveed Diggs probably could.)

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, the Hamiltome belongs in both the history section and the musical theatre section of the library. It contains a full libretto of the show, with lyrics for every single song in the production, accompanied by full-color photographs from the show. The musical is mostly sung-through, with very little dialogue that isn't accompanied by music, so this book truly contains the complete libretto.

But that isn't even half of it. The book is chock-full of interviews with the cast and creatives, describing the path the show took from inception to production, from Lin singing a draft of the first song at the White House Poetry Jam in 2009 to the workshop in 2013 to the move to Broadway in 2015 and everything in-between and beyond. Lin provides over 200 footnotes, noting the beats, lyrics, and lines that were inspired by other artists, rappers, composers, and characters in other musicals, films, and TV shows (what's up, Leslie Knope?)

You want behind-the-scenes pictures? Hamiltome has 'em. Dig the real stuff, quotes from historical documents and Hamilton's personal letters? That's there, too. One of my favorite things about this book is its thoughtful and candid insight into the creative process, with interviews and input from Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, music director Alex Lacamoire, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, producers, and more. I also love that it names and compliments every single member of the cast, shining the spotlight on individuals in pages surrounding their character's solos or standout moments, celebrating the talents and importance of the ensemble.

This show is impressive not only in what it accomplishes on stage, but also offstage: It has encouraged people to discuss America's past, present, and future. It also helped lots of high school students with their AP History tests. It has broken the traditional casting mold and given performers opportunities to play characters they might not otherwise. It has given new voice to an old story.

It's been said time and time again: Hamilton the musical is America then as told by America now.

As someone who has followed Lin's career for a decade and thus soaked up every bit of Hamilton since that fateful White House presentation, I am very happy that the show has had such an impact - and as a bookworm since birth, I am very happy that this show has such an awesome book to put in the hands of history buffs and musical theatre aficionados alike. Three cheers for the Hamiltome.

Read an excerpt.

Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance at the White House Poetry Jam in 2009, accompanied by Alex Lacamoire.

This review was originally published at Bildungsroman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Everyone knows of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, but not so much those committed in the name of Joseph Stalin. Millions of people were killed or "disappeared" during his reign of terror. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were absorbed into the Soviet Union at the end of the 1930's by deporting the citizens of those nations and working or starving them to death in gulags across Siberia. In many cases, individuals remained in Siberia for 10-15 years - if they survived.

This is the story of the Vilkas family as they are arrested, separated, deported, imprisoned and forced to endure the tortures of the NKVD. Though not a factual account of an actual family, the research has been done well and the descriptions of the conditions and actions are accurate. A must read for any fan of historical fiction.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes:In Real Life you Need Real Friends by Randy Ribay

So a black kid, a white kid and a nerdy kid walk into a park. No that's not a joke but it is one of the turning points of this great new novel by Randy Ribay in which he brings together a diverse group of friends who are entering senior year in high school and life chooses just this moment to throw some curve balls at them all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind is the best fantasy novel I've read in a very long time. It is a story within a story within a story that never goes stale.

It begins in a small village where we are introduce to an innkeeper named Kote. Kote is unassuming on the surface, but when a spider-demon creature from my nightmares called the Chandrian appear in the town, Kote is unveiled as Kvothe, a mythical hero from a bygone era.

Chronicler, a man who appears at the inn to, well, chronicle things, asks Kvothe to reveal his past life. Kvothe reluctantly agrees, all the while trying to maintain his persona as mild mannered innkeeper.

What follows is a blistering account of Kvothe's life with traveling actors, his struggles in gaining access to a university that focuses on arcane subjects and his desire to enact revenge on those that murdered his family.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Sometimes the world is too much with us and we seek nothing more than the solace of home. For Solomon Reed, the world has always been too much with him, in the form of extreme anxiety and panic attacks. When one of these panic attacks ends with him in his underwear in a fountain at school, Solomon turns home into a permanent sanctuary. His computer affords him all the contact with the outside world he needs, and Solomon has no plans to return to “normal life.” It’s just easier at home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THIS WAY HOME by Wes Moore with Shawn Goodman

This Way Home 

Being recruited to play basketball at the college level is the only way out of a bad situation for Elijah Thomas. His father bailed on his mother when Elijah was only two years old. Since then his mother has worked two jobs to make ends meet.

Junior year has ended and Elijah and his two best friends are planning to compete in a local adult basketball tournament. Winning could earn them $3,000. Elijah and Dylan are thrilled when Michael shows up with three shoeboxes. Three awesome pairs of Jordan's that should have them running circles around their opponents. A few days later, Michael appears with three incredible jerseys. Well, they are incredible until Elijah eyes the small but highly noticeable patch that represents the Blood Street Nation gang.
When Elijah and Dylan question Michael, he assures them it is no big deal. There's a guy named Money who simply wants to make sure they are lookin' good when they win the tournament and the big money. Although, wearing the gang's colors seems dangerous, the three teammates push aside their concerns and prepare to play.

Shortly before the big tourney begins, a local boy is shot. The neighborhood is on edge, especially Elijah's mom, and when she overhears a kid talking about the patch on the new jerseys, she is furious. Elijah has always managed to stay out of trouble on the street, but hooking up with Blood Street Nation in any way can only end in disaster.

Authors Wes Moore and Shawn Goodman weave a story about the threat of gang involvement for young men trying to find their way out of the poverty of inner city life. THIS WAY HOME offers enough basketball action for sports fans and enough drama for other readers. Short chapters keep the story moving and crisp action will capture and hold the attention of even reluctant readers.
Previously posted at

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Summer Road Trip, Anyone?

Happy day after Independence Day, USA! It's July 5th and time to talk about road trips or road trip novels anyway. Road trip novels are, after all, about as American as French Fries which is to say that there is a distinctly American road trip novel, but that road trip stories go way way back, way before novels, way Europeans came to America, way back to the origins of literature itself.

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith culminates in a distinctly American road trip. The book centers around Finn Easton's Junior year and his preparations for an end-of-year road trip with his best friend Cade Hernandez--a larger than life prankster, genius and major-league-quality pitcher, who can't stop talking about his "boners"--to check out a potential university in Oklahoma. Finn has never left his home state of California, partly because he's an epileptic who passes out unpredictably while experiencing mind-expanding visions of reality, including ghosts.