Harry Potter & the Cursed Child [review]

29069989The Cursed Child is probably a really amazing stage production, doesn’t really deserve to be called “the 8th Harry Potter” story, especially as it is not truly written by JKR.

Potter fans should still check it out, because it’s a quick read (being a play) and has some fun and memorable parts; however, if it languishes on the TBR shelf for eternity, you aren’t missing too much.

The book’s shortcomings have already been carefully dissected by many articles and reviews in detail, but the main issue I had with it was simply that the plot seemed too contrived. It reminded me of a type of corny TV episode from the ’80s and ’90s. Using something like flashbacks, a show would rehash all the important moments from the past so the viewer would really get why what was happening was important. These episodes were typically boring, and somewhat insulting to the viewer’s intelligence.

That’s what if felt like the plot was doing: remixing important moments from the book series in a sort of blendy of Potter nostalgia and trying to recreate the excitement of the originals by presenting it through the point of view of a new character (Harry’s son).

It’s definitely not the Harry Potter book we were hoping for, but in the age of the great reboot maybe it’s the Harry Potter book we deserve.

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson (book review)

Image result for tell me how this ends well david samuel levinsonOverview: In 2022, increasing antisemitism threatens American Jews. The disturbingly plausible vision of the near future features dystopian shades while remaining uncomfortably familiar. The book’s descriptions of driving highway 101 in LA, for example, will be recognizable to anyone who has experienced it, except for the addition of the suicide bombings that have become common, and the wet weather brought on by the effects of climate change.

Against this backdrop, the drama of the Jacobson family unfolds. The three Jacobson children – Mo, Edith, and Jacob – have come together to decide what they can do to help their ailing mother, who they fear is being driven to an early grave by their controlling father, who by all accounts is a terrible person. Their solution is patricide.

Complicating the plan to off their dad is the fact that the family has been the subject of a reality TV show, and the family gathering coincides with the filming of a reunion special.

Analysis: This novel fits a lot into its 400 pages. Each of the three younger Jacobson’s stories are intimate and relatable, the world is both familiar and terrifying in its plausibility, and the plot engages the reader to ask questions. For example, is the father truly as bad as he seems, or does he have his own story to tell? In all, an enjoyable, memorable novel that will appeal to fans of family dramas, humorous novels, and light speculative fiction.

Hardcover, published by Hogarth, New York. 2017.

I received a copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an  honest review.

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by Daniel James Brown (Review)

Review

Most people in states along the old emigrant trails across the U.S. have at least heard of The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party by [Brown, Daniel James]the Donner Party and the unfortunate events that befell them. In The Indifferent Stars
Above, 
Daniel James Brown retells the tale with a focus on a particular individual – Sarah Graves – and her family, who threw their lot in with the Donners and Reeds to tragic effect.

Brown’s style is intimate, novelistic, and readable, with an effective mix of historical detail, dramatic narrative, and science-fact analysis. For example, after relaying a captivating scene depicting the seemingly abnormal severity of the Sierran weather in 1846-47, Brown breaks to briefly explain what we know about the weather that year and how we know it.

While the author’s ability to mix a stirring historical account with informative detail is one of the book’s main strengths, the author’s tendency to also interject personal thoughts, conjecture, feelings, and opinions may be counted among its two primary weaknesses. However, these instances are rare enough to be overlooked in most cases, and some readers will recognize them as an effort to further humanize the people and the story, and to make them more immediately relatable. As the author points out, historical figures and events often seem so distant and removed from familiar experience that they are reduced to the names and faded daguerreotypes that have come to represent them, and it takes a special effort of imagination to restore them to full humanity.

The book’s second major weakness is its lack of supplemental materials. Besides a few photos of the primary characters and locations, there are none. Most glaringly,
there are no maps, and no index. Readers interested in photos, maps, and other historical artefacts will need a second source*.

Overall, The Indifferent Stars Above is an example of excellent narrative nonfiction, and is recommended for readers who enjoy this genre. The subject should appeal to a wide audience, but especially to those whose knowledge of the Donner Party is in the “none to moderate” range.

Personal Note

Growing up in Northern California, the Donner Party was always part of the fabric of regional history and folklore. In grade school I went on field trips to the Donner Memorial State Park, and drove over Donner Pass frequently on the way to camping trips near Lake Tahoe. That said, the story was never something I paid particular attention to. I knew the general outline of the history, but few details.

For my current job, I drive over the Sierras at Donner Pass three times a week and, when I think about it, it makes me wonder at the privilege we enjoy in modern technology and travel (especially in winter). Yet even today the Sierras in winter are still formidable. I’ve been stranded by snow storms on the wrong side of the pass on three separate occasions in the past two years, and although I weathered the inconvenience comfortably in a hotel room, the experience instilled a respect for the power of nature and the mountains in me nonetheless.

Reading this book brought home to me the stunning fortitude, effort, energy, faith, and hope it took just to embark on a journey such that undertaken by the emigrants of the 1840s, and the depth of the tragedy that befell the Donner/Reed party in the mountains. It is, as the subtitle declares, a harrowing tale, but well worth the read for anyone with an interest in American history. For me, it was particularly intriguing given my familiarity and acquaintance with so many of the places and regions in which the story unfolds.

Ratings

  • Style: A (narrative; novelistic)
  • Tone: B+ (engaging; interesting; not sensational; somewhat personal)
  • Pace: A (steady; maintains interest; narrative flows nicely)
  • Format: A (very readable; chapters broken into segments and scenes)
  • Supplementals: C (no maps!?)
  • Appeal: A
  • Overall: A-

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party / by Daniel James Brown; published by Harper Perennial, c2009; paperback, 337 pages.

*For a source of pictures and maps, I recommend The Donner Party chronicles: A day by day account of a doomed wagon train, 1846-47 by Frank Mullen, Jr.

Review of “The Vampire Gift Book 1: Wards of Night” by E. M. Knight

cover imageOverview

Title: The Vampire Gift: Wards of Night
Series: Vampire Gift, bk 1.
Author: E. M. Night
Published: Edwards Publishing (April 20, 2016)
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 408 pages
Age: 13 +

Summary

One minute Eleira is preparing for an ordinary night of studying in the library at Stanford, the next she is waking up a prisoner of three beautiful vampire brothers and their powerful mother, the vampire queen.

She quickly learns that (a) vampires are real and (b) the vampires need her for her blood (but not in the way you think). Also, the vampires live in “The Haven,” a place of perpetual night removed from the outside world.

As she struggles to come to grips with this strange new reality, and with her growing attraction to one vampire in particular, one thing becomes clear: her life on “the Outside” is over, and there’s no going back.

My thoughts

I’m not really a devoted fan of vampire stories, although I do admit I enjoy them occasionally. However, I did not choose this book on the basis of its vampire storyline. I chose it because it was available to read for free with Amazon Prime, and because the cover looked interesting. Being aware that titles available to read for free are generally not award winner quality, I adjusted my expectations accordingly. In the end I have mixed impression of this book. I think that young paranormal romance aficionados would enjoy it, but that those who have read widely in the genre will find it lacking. Those with no interest in vampire / teen girl interactions should probably steer clear.

On the positive side:

  • The writing is overall consistent and free of errors.
  • The cast of characters is sufficiently varied, yet appropriately confined for the scope of the book (there aren’t dozens of characters to keep track of).
  • The pace is quick and even – good for keeping the reader’s attention.
  • The writing does a good job of “showing” and not “telling.” If there is exposition, it is generally delivered through some device like a flashback or conversation.

On the negative side:

  • The writing feels juvenile or amatuerish at times.
  • The dialog can seem clunky and awkward, with occasionally cringe-worthy badness.
  • The characters are somewhat two dimensional.
    The female lead has no agency for 99 percent of the story.

This is, of course, book one of a series, and the ending seemed promising. I think the author has a lot of potential, and I would definitely explore more of her/his works in the future.

My Rating

Overall: C
Story: C
Characters: C
Originality: C+
Cover art: A-
 
Final verdict: If you love teen vampire-action-romance, go for it. Otherwise, give this one a pass.

 
Originally published on http://yablrb.blogspot.com/ by me.

Skin Trade by George R. R. Martin (Review)

Summary

“Skin Trade” is a graphic novel adapted from a short story by George R. R. Martin.

Willie Flambeaux is an asthmatic repo man, a nice guy, and also a werewolf. When a friend of his is killed and appears to have been mangled by an animal, Willie asks another friend, P. I. Randi Wade, for help. Randi’s father was a policeman, and died under similar mysterious circumstances. Together, Randi and Willie seek answers and search for the killer, and in the process uncover dangerous secrets.

Thoughts

At 104 pages long, Skin Trade is brief enough to read in one sitting yet long enough to tell a detailed and complete story. The reader is dropped into the tale in media res. The action is well under way, and the world and characters come into being fully formed.

The characters are complex, and the story pays respect to the old folklore staples (silver bullets, etc) while still achieving a high level of originality.

The art, by the ironically named Mike Wolfer, is top quality. It captures the gothic / noir atmosphere of the setting and brings the action to life with bold lines and violent color.

I would place this graphic novel in the same category as Stephen King’s “Silver Bullet,” and the classically campy “Howling” films.

I enjoyed reading this graphic novel, although I would not place it in my list of all time favorites. It was entertaining, but not particularly exceptional.

It took a while to become acquainted with the characters and the setting, and felt a bit like watching a mid-season episode of an established TV series – you can kind of catch on and get a sense of who’s who and what’s what, but you don’t have the same invested understanding as someone who has watched the show from the beginning. For a short, stand-alone story this can be a drawback, especially for readers who are not already inclined to like the story based on its author or subject.

Recommendations

I would recommend this title to fans of werewolf stories (especially the aforementioned “Silver Bullet” and “The Howling”), and to fans of horror graphic literature.

Contains nudity and graphic violence.

My Rating

  • Story: 3/5
  • Art: 4/5

Details

  • Title: Skin Trade
  • Author: George R. R. Martin; Daniel Abraham
  • Artist: Mike Wolfer
  • Publisher: Avatar Press, July 2014
  • Length: 104 pages
  • Description: 6.5 x 0.4 x 9.9 inches; color illustrations

 

 

February OGoF Pick and Review: “Death of a Maid” by M. C. Beaton

This month’s Other Genre or Format* pick is Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton.

In answer to the question “What are you reading now?” the chances that I would answer “a cosy mystery” are extremely low. That said, I do believe the genre is unfairly reviled by those who view it as the sole purview of elderly women with too many cats and a passion for yarn craft.

A basic definition of the “cosy mystery” is a mystery story that takes place within a closed environment (a house, a train, a small village, etc), features little or no graphic content (sex or violence), and is tidily resolved in the end. The works of Agatha Christie epitomize the genre.

Image result for hamish macbeth death of a maidM. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series follows the crime-solving exploits of the titular hero, a policeman in a small village in the highlands of Scotland. It features a strong cast of characters and many charms, including the lead character’s unfortunate last name, his strange pets, and the Scottish highland scenery.

In Death of a Maid, Hamish must solve the murder of a cleaning woman who may have also been a blackmailer.

Beaton’s writing is unpretentious and flows seamlessly. The story has a solid three-part structure (beginning, middle, end) but is not boring or predictable. Definitely recommended to fans of the mystery genres, or anyone in search of a relaxing and entertaining read.

Why I chose this book: I listened to the audio version of this book, and to be honest I chose it simply because it was available and I wanted something undemanding to listen to during my commute home from work. I did not regret my choice.


* To expand my reading horizons, I try to read one book each month from a genre or format I don’t usually read.

Book Review: The Abominable by Dan Simmons

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Summary from Goodreads.com:
“A thrilling tale of high-altitude death and survival set on the snowy summits of Mount Everest, from the bestselling author of The Terror.
It’s 1924 and the race to summit the world’s highest mountain has been brought to a terrified pause by the shocking disappearance of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine high on the shoulder of Mt. Everest. By the following year, three climbers — a British poet and veteran of the Great War, a young French Chamonix guide, and an idealistic young American — find a way to take their shot at the top. They arrange funding from the grieving Lady Bromley, whose son also disappeared on Mt. Everest in 1924. Young Bromley must be dead, but his mother refuses to believe it and pays the trio to bring him home. 
Deep in Tibet and high on Everest, the three climbers — joined by the missing boy’s cousin — find themselves being pursued through the night by someone . . . or something. This nightmare becomes a matter of life and death at 28,000 feet – but what is pursuing them? And what is the truth behind the 1924 disappearances on Everest? As they fight their way to the top of the world, the friends uncover a secret far more abominable than any mythical creature could ever be. A pulse-pounding story of adventure and suspense, The Abominable is Dan Simmons at his spine-chilling best.”

My thoughts:

I listened to the audio edition of this book, and the first thing to note is that it is looooong – 24 disks long. That said, it was also excellently read. The reader did a wonderful job with the various accents and with differentiating the characters. The book itself is meticulously detailed, deliberately paced, and epic in its depth and breadth.  Portions of it got a bit slow and draggy, but these parts were nicely balanced by the exciting parts, which were truly “edge of your seat.” I listen while commuting to work, and had to remind myself to loosen my grip on the steering wheel a few times. The thing about such a detailed, carefully built-up story is that you get to know the characters so well and become very invested in what happens to them – or at least I did.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there was one part near the end of the story where I felt a little let down by the “reveal,” and thought that the author had opted for something very tired and cliched rather than sticking to something more imaginative and daring – as the lead up had indicated. However, I held off judgement and was overall pleased with the way things turned out in the end.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy stories of adventure, disaster, and survival, as well as detailed historical fiction involving a mystery or intrigue. This book is sometimes categorized as “horror,” but it’s really more of a historical fiction / thriller with a touch or two of gore. It’s worth pushing through the somewhat sedate and slow first third (1/3) of the book, as the story definitely picks up after the characters leave Europe and England for India and the Himalayas.

The descriptions of mountain climbing were a highlight for me. Some readers might be bored by the detailed descriptions of rope sizes and various equipment, but I found that it added to the immersive reading (or listening) experience. It inspired me to learn more about mountaineering, and made me want to seek out challenges and adventures in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

“Good” books inspire something in the reader – to take action, to learn, improve, change, try something new. Different books do this for different people. This was one of the books that did this for me.

Ratings:

  • Overall – 4.5/5
  • Reader (for audio edition) – 5/5
  • Characters – 5/5
  • Setting – 5/5
  • Tone – 4/5
  • Plot – 4/5