Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling (kind of)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

*Note: I rarely crucify prequels, sequels, adaptations, spin-offs, etc. Especially when produced by the original creator, or with their approval and input. If you are interested in a Cursed Child bashing, the Internet shall provide*

Try as I might, I couldn’t get a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child from my local bookstore. I definitely couldn’t get it from my local public library – the waiting list was longer than Snape’s nose. Besides, any Potterhead worth their salt will scrape and fight to own all the HP books in all the lands. So, I Amazon’d Cursed Child to my front door and promptly read the entire script in one sitting on a beautiful summer day.

I read quickly, so sometimes I miss structure and detail. After reading the first few pages of the two-part script, I immediately started over again. Like many, I’m sure, I dove in reading as if Cursed Child is a novel. It’s not. It is the published script of a two-part play (still) running on London’s West End. Once I slowed down, I started catching more of the beats and nuance between old familiars and the new cast of characters. Whenever a play direction didn’t make a ton of sense, I did my best to visualize the production in action, and moved on. Since my reading of Cursed Child, more photos of the production have been released. Many are citing the set designs and special effects as hugely impactful on the story of Albus Severus Potter and his dad, Harry.

Let’s be clear about the question mark in this blog post’s title. Cursed Child was written by playwright Jack Thorne, based on a story created by directory John Tiffany, Thorne, and Rowling. This is causing controversy among Potterheads and critics alike. Some say this is the worst kind of Rowling-approved fan fiction.  I think the purists need a bit more muggle blood in their lives. Without spoiling too much, the play picks up right where the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows epilogue leaves off. When we read the scene as it was originally published and intended, it reads as an (overly) sentimental close to the Harry Potter story. Harry is happy and safe. Ron is happy and safe. Hermoine is happy and safe (and probably taking over the world in a good way). Fast-forward to Cursed Child, and we now hear Harry Potter’s heartfelt, well-intentioned speech as it is received by his prepubescent son, Albus.

Ho boy that is a lot of pressure for an eleven-year-old kid. Not only is his dad the single greatest bad a** in wizarding history, Albus is also named after two of the other greatest bad a**** in wizarding history. And to top it off, Albus’ older brother James is seemingly perfect at everything. Good luck, kid. Hope Hopkins/Hogwarts is fun!

Is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child perfect. Nope. But, Cursed Child gave me an excuse to re-enter my absolutely favorite fictional world. I fell right back into the magic without a hitch. I had fewer complaints than the average critic regarding character development for Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. Harry never had a consistent father figure, so he struggles with fatherhood. Hermoine was a boss, and now she’s the boss. Ron was Ron, and now he’s Ron. As for the new cast, I think Scorpius Malfoy is the best addition to the HP universe since Luna Lovegood. Albus’ emo, adolescent characterization can be exhausting, but so was 15-year-old Harry in Order of the Phoenix. In fact, I would argue this as the most significant marker of excellent continuity.

Finally, the plot. Actually, nevermind. I don’t want to give anything away. Ok, one thing. THANK YOU for revisiting one of the magical elements/artifacts/accessories I had the most questions about when I finished the original seven book series.

Maybe I’m not one to complain about the particulars, and maybe I’m a sentimental sap, but I was thankful to have a few more hours in the magical world of Harry Potter.

Read if you like: Harry Potter the books, Harry Potter the movies, Harry Potter everything

Avoid if you don’t like: Harry Potter

Book Review: The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

fifth-season

I picked up The Fifth Season for two reasons: one, it’s by N. K. Jemisin, whose Inheritance Trilogy I greatly enjoyed, and two, it recently won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Those two reasons are why when I was tempted to put the book down and walk away (twice in the first fifty pages), I kept going.

The Fifth Season starts slow, or as slow as a book that starts with a murder and a cataclysm can. The story is told from three different perspectives, and each viewpoint character (and their supporting cast) needs to be introduced. One viewpoint is told entirely in the second person. There is a lot of setup.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of payoff, too. Jemisin is really good at fitting things together, at making these disparate accounts converge in a satisfying way. She’s a master of world-building – the Stillness feels rich and alive, with a deep history.

The Fifth Season takes place in a world that is literally coming apart. Earthquakes and volcanoes are a constant threat, and everyone knows the rules for living through a “fifth season”  – an extra-long winter brought on by the ash and dust kicked up by an event. Orogenes are people with the power to control the earth, and they are used to quiet quakes and protect the empire.

This is not a happy story. It begins with the murder of one child and the loss of another. Orogones are seen as monsters or tools to be controlled rather than human, and that attitude is reflected in their treatment.  The school for orogones is like a Hogwarts run entirely by Umbridges. The empire is built on a system of castes and oppression. And from the beginning, the book tells you this is a story of the end.

Oh, but what an end.

Read if you like: interesting magic systems, deep world-building, diverse characters.

Avoid if you don’t like: Constant impending doom.

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Patrick Ness proved his YA writing chops with A Monster Calls (soon to be a major motion picture!). In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness flips the “chosen one” trope over and puts it on the back burner. Ever-present in literature (particularly of the fantasy genre), the “chosen ones” are known for their ability to bear the weight of the world while they battle the forces of darkness/evil/supernatural to save the day.

But what if the plights and perils of the chosen ones – or “indie kids”, using Ness’ terminology – were secondary to the real story? What if the real story lay with the never-gonna-be-chosens? The no-way-never-indie kids? The sidekicks? The acquaintances?  What if instead of Harry Potter, we had Seamus Finnigan? What if the Hunger Games was Prim’s story, not Katniss’?

In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness cleverly puts the indie kids in the background. Each chapter begins with a small, bolded excerpt of the latest indie kid development before quickly turning to Mikey and his friends. Set against the backdrop of “a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of a city that takes about an hour to get to,” Mikey just wants to get through his last month of senior year. Sure he’s worried the indie kids might have to blow up the school again, but he has bigger concerns. Will he be able to puzzle out his feelings for Henna before she leaves on a mission trip to the Central African Republic? Why is Mikey’s OCD deciding now is the right time to get worse? Maybe Mikey has more to cope with than the typical indie kid. He may not be battling blue-eyed zombie people, but he looks after his older sister Mel while she recovers from anorexia, shields his younger sister from the worst influences of his politically driven mom and alcoholic dad, and tries to support his best friend Jared: the cat whisperer (you’ll see).

Ness asks us to consider what it really means to be chosen, and Mikey must face what it really means to be a hero. I loved this book for two reasons: 1. it is good, and 2. it harks back to one of my top 5 favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes: season 3, episode 13 The Zeppo. It is the moment when Buffy, literally the Chosen One, and her apocalyptic battles take a backseat to Xander. The best friend. The one with no powers. The sidekick. The one who just gets knocked out by vampires on the reg. In that episode, Xander finds the opportunity to be a hero. Maybe Mikey finds that chance in The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling Trilogy (so far)

queenoftearlingtearling

Kelsea Raleigh grew up in hiding, training for her future on the throne as Queen of the Tearling. Although she received the best education any fledgling Queen could hope to receive, Kelsea grew up in ignorance of the problems that plagued her realm. She wasn’t surprised when the Queen’s Guard came for her, after all, she was always meant to take the throne back from her uncle. What Queen Kelsea did not anticipate were the dangers she would encounter before she even ascended the throne. Dodging the elite assassins hired by her uncle become the least of Kelsea’s worries when she enters the Tearling capital and discovers the internal chaos and corruption destroying her realm. But even this pales in comparison to the threat of neighboring Mortmesne and its leader, the Red Queen.

Kelsea may have Queen’s blood in her veins and questionably magical sapphires to prove it, but is her cunning and strength enough to save the Tearling from internal chaos, making ready to face the Red Queen’s impending attack? How is Kelsea supposed to rule when she falls victim to pre-Tearling flashbacks, rendering her catatonic for hours? Can the Queen’s Guard set aside its own internal disputes to support Kelsea Raleigh in her attempts to bring justice to her realm? And who is the mysterious, handsome Fetch? Why does he show up precisely when Kelsea needs him most?

The Queen of the Tearling trilogy is being hailed as the YA version of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, to you HBO watchers). However, the comparison is not made to belittle Erika Johansen’s work as little more than a rip off. The Tearling‘s similarities lie in its complexity and uncensored approach to medieval-like rule. George R.R. Martin refuses to create wholly good or wholly bad characters, asking questions like: what happens to the realm when the war is over, after the “good guys” win? Johansen’s characters and their motives defy easy categorization. I think what makes this book a YA fantasy novel (rather than high-level fantasy, like Martin’s work) is Kelsea Raleigh’s POV, which naturally leads the reader to root primarily for her cause. However, Tearling‘s hero and her world leans far closer towards Westeros than Hogwarts. Despite initial appearances, there’s few clear good and bad guys in this series.

My main complaint for Tearling was world building. I use was purposefully. Although I was enamored with the story in Johansen’s first installment, I was disappointed in the lackluster and unclear depiction of the Tearling. I was wistfully remembering the fantastic world building of Seraphina or Harry Potter. Then I read the second Tearling installment. As Johansen further reveals the mysterious crossing to the reader, more world building falls into place. I can’t say much more without being spoilery, but I want to suggest being patient with a couple world building holes in the first novel.

Overall, two thumbs up for the Tearling trilogy. Shout out to Hollywood for nabbing film rights and for the rumors that Emma Watson will play Kelsea in the film version!

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is also reading A Song of Ice and Fire and is starting to wonder why her world is so suspiciously fantasy-free)

 

Book Review – Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Two years ago (!), Ms. Barrows and I were singing the praises of Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. The book stars Cath, a young woman in her first year of college. Cath loves the Simon Snow books, and writes fanfiction while awaiting the last book in the series. While reading Fangirl,  I desperately wanted to read the Simon Snow books that Cath was so obsessed with. I must not have been alone, since Rowell went ahead and wrote that last book.

Carry On is the eighth book in the Simon Snow series, but it’s also the only one that actually exists. Reading it is almost like reading Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows without having read the six other books that came before it. It’s a fitting comparison – Simon Snow is a student at a magical boarding school. He’s an orphan. The school’s headmaster is his mentor. He has a smart, bossy friend. He’s supposed to save the magical world from a big bad guy. There’s a groups of old magical families who oppose the headmaster and his policies. Simon’s nemesis at school, Baz, is from one of those families. Baz is Simon’s roommate, he might be a vampire, and Simon wants to punch him. Maybe.

I’m not going to claim this is deep fiction. I found the central mystery pretty easy to figure out. And the hazard in writing a standalone book that is also (supposedly) the last in a series is that there are lots of callbacks to past events and adventures that feel both too fleshed out and not fleshed out enough. But it’s a fun book, and it was nice to spend time with these characters. The relationship between Simon and Baz is the real draw of the book. Rowell switches perspective between characters, and Baz’s chapters are probably the best of the lot. Come for the quasi-meta-fanfiction, stay for the scene that is essentially “Harry Potter has dinner at Malfoy Manor.”
Signing off, James Gette (if Hogwarts won’t take me, maybe Watford will?)

David Barber’s Book Review

red handed

A Cover-Up

By David Barber

At first glance, Red Handed, seems like a simple but long comic book. However, it quickly dives into a deep story. Matt Kindt’s main character is Detective Gould, whom is seen as America’s best detective. Detective Gould gets compared to England’s own Sherlock Holmes because of his crime-solving talents. The book is set in the town of Red Wheel Barrow. It is Detective Gould’s ten year anniversary of work on the police force. As all detectives, Gould works on the crimes after they have been committed. This has lead to a drastic decrease in unsolved-crime. However, the murder-rate in Red Wheel Barrow has not changed. Red Handed describes and follows Detective Gould as if he is a superhero. Nothing gets by him. Over the years he has honed his skills and upgraded his technologies to compliment his job in an outstanding manner. On this his 10 year anniversary, he solves a number of seemingly unrelated crimes. Some of these crimes include; The Jigsaw, The Ant, The Forgotten, The Repairman, The Performance Artist, The Escape Artist, The Fire Starter, The Detective, and finally The End. Detective Gould has solved every murder case he has taken. These cases are not an exception to his impeccable record. Each case has its own story. Yet, by solving each case, Detective Gould sets up a deadly final attack. Matt Kindt delivers this book in a dramatic fashion. His way of illustrating the action grabs the reader’s attention. Kindt uses a mixture of the Sunday newspaper comics, a typical novel setup, and his own interpretations of comic books today to spin an intricate story. The language in Red Handed is simple and professional. None of the characters speak in slang. Along with that, the colors Kindt decided to use draws a lot of attention to certain actions on each page. I believe Red Handed would be suitable for ages twelve and up. It is not very violent or gory but has some themes that would be too much for younger children.

Justin Nitirouth’s Book Review

game of thrones

A GAME OF THRONES

by Justin Nitirouth

Have you ever wanted to stray away from your boring, non magical world? Would you also like to read about dragons and the conquest for power to become the strongest person in the seven kingdoms? This is not your average fantasy story. In a world full of conniving families, and a seemingly neverending lore, A Game of Thrones is full of astounding detail and plot to keep you for hours at a time in one sitting.

A few main families are introduced to set the tone: House Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, and Targaryen. Each family has their own legacy, customs and traditions that they follow. Many of those families have had one of their members on the Iron Throne as the rightful king of the realm. Each time a new king is decided, the conquest for power grows among the factions. This may sound like a lot to handle, but this is only a glimpse of what George R.R Martin spews out in his book. Personally, I loved reading in depth descriptions about individual people from their own family. No single character is the perfect protagonist or antagonist; every character has their flaws. Like I said, A Game of Thrones is much more than mindless killing and sex and not just a mere fairy tale.

For the people who have neither seen the TV show nor read any of the stories by George R.R Martin, I would suggest reading the books first. As a reader, you can establish your own image of the characters instead of what a director sees in them. Based off of my own experience, the TV show has altered my perception of their appearances. Also, George R.R Martin can tell a bit too much information about things you may not want to read about if you are a mere Junior-Schooler. Without any context, here is an example:

After a while he began to touch her. Lightly at first, then harder. She could sense the fierce strength in his hands, but he never hurt her. He held her hand in his own and brushed her fingers, one by one. He ran a hand gently down her leg. He stroked her face, tracing the curve of her ears, gently running a finger gently around her mouth.

Do I have to continue? Seriously, read this book at your own risk if you are sensitive with any of the following: incest, rape, murder, sexism, graphic nudity, and possibly more. However, if you are willing to plow through the pages of sex and enjoy the everlasting lore about this fictional world with kings, queens, and the neverending realm of Westeros, please continue. George R.R Martin’s world of Westeros is so full of detail that it seems he has lived in it himself. I’m impressed with the way he keeps track of each little tidbit about many of the characters in the story, and I’m sure you will too. Sex and incest aside, I would highly recommend this book to those who were okay with reading what I listed with above. Once you take a glimpse at this book, you’ll have a hard time returning back to reality.