Category: Three Star


Gauntlet

So that was a week without a review. Fun. Today though, I have something for you. Thanks to the awesome folks at Ace, here’s Gauntlet. Enjoy!

Gauntlet cover

A year ago Kali Ling was the first female captain in the Virtual Gaming League’s history. Now she’s the youngest ever team owner. With a new tournament starting up, pitting the best gamers in the world against each other, Defiance is definitely on board. But, between the new pods that constantly adapt to players actions and all her new responsibility as team owner, can Kali stick to her convictions or will she wind up being just as bad as the rest of the VGL when the chips are down?

I have issues reviewing this book. That’s one thing I absolutely need to mention first off, because what’s good can be really good. Unfortunately that’s balanced by the fact that what’s bad tends to be really bad. So, let’s get going.

One of the big things with Gauntlet, much like the book before it Arena, is that Holly Jennings tends to do really well with her character stuff. When Kali is interacting with her team there’s this great flow, these are characters who care about and support each other. They work through their issues by talking, and it’s made clear that communication is part of why they work as a team. I love this aspect of the book. I adore that problems get worked through because friendship and communication. But then that’s kind of why I can’t stand the romance between Kali and one of her teammates, Rooke.

Back in Arena, Rooke was brought in to replace one of their other teammates. He was new and hot and kind of a jerk, so obviously he’s the love interest. It felt under developed then. In this book though we start off with the relationship reset, Rooke has cut Kali out and left the team with no explanation. He did it for her own good, so he says, which immediately loses my interest. It feels like a lot of the Kali and Rooke working things out got cut in an earlier draft and was only left in so that she would be as off balance as possible at the beginning of the book. There was a lot of really self pitying stuff from Kali regarding how she’d been just as bad to him last year that just didn’t really pan. I could have done with a lot less of it, especially since the whole Kali and Rooke thing feels like Jennings was told she had to have a love interest in there somewhere.

Gauntlet can also feel very scattered. At first the deal is that Rooke fell off the wagon and what if he can’t sort things out. Add to that Kali not being able to balance leading the team and doing her job as the team owner. Add to that the tournament itself and something being off about it. Add to that the team being attacked in the tabloids. Add to that Kali still wants to fight corruption in the VGL and do what’s best for her teammates. It can alternate between feeling like there are three different plots that never really go anywhere and feeling like everything is happening at once. A lot of that could have been cleaned up by removing repetition and focusing more on the tournament itself and any single one of the other problems. There was a lot of repetition, mostly things that the reader really shouldn’t have needed to be reminded of like Kali worrying about doing what’s best for the team.

I would have personally loved to see more of the tournament itself. Jennings does a great job with her action scenes and, with the core idea the book is being sold on being a massive tournament, I feel like going more into the game itself would have been an excellent choice. It’s hard to overstate how much I like the fight scenes here. They feel visceral and epic. They’re the place where the characters are in both the most and least amount of danger and that lends them an interesting weight that a lot of the rest of the book lacks. The fights feel a lot like a well done boss fight. They feel like Defiance is up against the wall.

When we finally get the big fight scenes it’s, of course, near the climax of the book. So, it’s actually kind of fitting that my last issue with Gauntlet is with its ending. There were a couple of places where it would have felt really natural to end Gauntlet. They would have been solid and left it open for the next book without feeling like an ad for it. The author went past both of those and just went ahead and set up book three. My issue with this is twofold. One, it gives up a more solid satisfying ending for a much weaker one. Two, it makes the rest of the book feel like less. Suddenly it feels like reaching the end of a game and finding out that the ending it paid DLC. It feels like there is less point to Gauntlet because here’s this cliffhanger that steals this book’s resolution for another book’s beginning.

So, where’s that leave Gauntlet? A big part of my issue with reviewing Gauntlet is that the stuff I didn’t enjoy made me dislike that I enjoyed the stuff I did. For every time there was a scene of Defiance being a great team and friends and just really jiving well together, I remembered that Kali and Rooke didn’t have that for their scenes as a couple. For every awesome fight, there were a bunch of other scenes that felt like repetition for the sake of padding. For all that I really enjoyed the bulk of the book, the ending left me feeling like I just discovered that my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring was an ad this whole time.

It’s a decent enough read, and a good sophomore novel. There’re definitely bits that need work. Jennings could certainly tighten up her writing some, get rid of some repetitiveness. But at the end of the day, even with its issues, Gauntlet is a fun read. Frustrating because of the bigger problems, but fun. It’s definitely a three out of five, but I think with a little more time and a couple more books Jennings could be a five star writer.

And, in a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming, I am late posting my postponed review. Who would have thought, right? I’d have had it if not for that sleeping curse. But it’s here now, much to everyone’s delight. Thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s The People’s Police. Enjoy!

the-peoples-police-cover

When Officer Martin Luther Martin was ordered to serve his own eviction notice he didn’t expect to wind up the face for the following police strike against the loan lizards trying to foreclose on everyone. When bordello owner J. B. Lafitte called the strike on being self serving, only helping the police, he didn’t expect them to agree. When MaryLou Boudreau first woke up from dancing with a full hat and no memory of how it wound up that way she never expected to wind up as Mama Legba, television personality and horse to the Loa. No one expected Papa Legba himself to address Luke on tv or the question he would ask. “What do you offer?”

This one might get a little weird, there may also be a few spoilers so heads up. Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police is a bit of an odd duck as far as fantasy or urban fantasy novels go. It’s well written in many respects, but I’d have a hard time calling it a fun read. It’s got definite fantasy elements, but is also almost cynical in its approach to politics and the way we’re governed. It’s got a really political thesis, but then avoids a lot of what makes that thesis political, becoming sort of a preaching to the choir deal. It’s actually a little hard to come up with much of an opinion on it because of all that, I’m really not used to that.

So, start from the beginning, does the story live up to its blurb? Yes and no. The actual blurb for the book doesn’t really say much, so it’s hard for the book to not fall into it. At the same time the book lacks a certain degree of coherency for much of its run which, in addition to making it feel like it could have been trimmed a good deal, also leads to it feeling very scattered in places. Several characters could have been worked in much better, but instead weren’t introduced until the last probably fifth of the novel. The same can be said for certain events not having enough lead up and so winding up feeling misplaced.

We also get some weirdness with the language of the book both in that Spinrad occasionally chooses to write in characters’ accents, something I’m not a fan of, and that multiple characters will more or less verbatim use really specific wording. That bit is very like being beaten over the head with propaganda, like video game levels of it that you’re supposed to know what it is so you don’t take it seriously, which doesn’t fit because it’s part of the book’s main idea. It feels clumsy or like Spinrad doesn’t trust his audience to get it.

Here’s the kicker, none of that singly or grouped together runs a serious risk of killing a book for me, at least not usually. He’s also got some stuff that’s usually near guaranteed to get me invested. There’s good character work, any number of scenes are strongly written and play well to the reader’s senses, and the weird cynical optimism often works in the book’s favor. It doesn’t set though. We get a lot of back story in the first half of the book, but a lot of its told rather than shown. The supernatural aspect is interesting and the in book discussion had potential, though I feel like maybe Spinrad could have used something other than the Loa or done more to actively show his work. I know next to nothing about Voodoo, so I could easily be missing the mark entirely on that one, but still. Even the character work falls flat in places with a later character’s focus on his religion making him feel very cardboard where he, if introduced earlier, could have been much more dynamic.

I’m sitting at the point where I can easily see people getting really into The People’s Police and any number of other people reading two chapters and reselling it. Its writing is technically pretty good but lacks flavor, for lack of a better word, and has enough little things that I’m just neutral on the whole thing. So that said, The People’s Police gets a three out of five.

I’m back, and I never left. But this is still a bit late, more things coming up this week. Progress is slow fixing that. I’m a little worried, but it’s workable. Also, there’s a review! Enjoy all.

FNaF The Silver Eyes cover

Ten years ago several children disappeared from Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. Their bodies were never found. The restaurant closed and it’s owner committed suicide, seemingly from his inability to deal with his guilt. On the anniversary of one of the children’s death Charlie and several of her friends return to her home town to attend a memorial in his honor. Nostalgia turns to terror when she and her friends find the old pizzeria buried in an abandoned shopping mall and decide to investigate. Sometimes the past should stay forgotten. Some things never die.

So, Scott Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley’s Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes is a bit of an interesting thing just as a concept. It’s a video game tie in novel, that isn’t canon to the games it ties into while still relying pretty heavily on the reader being familiar with the source material. The first part of that doesn’t hurt it for me, the second bit does though. In a lot of ways it’s like a cheesy horror movie in book form.

This isn’t a book that’s heavy on plot or character development, both things that I think really should have been worked on more. The plot is mostly an excuse to get our characters into the old Freddy Fazbear’s and is kind of a regurgitation of the third game’s story components. It doesn’t really do much to go into the murders themselves or the animatronics being haunted, that’s where I feel the meat of the story would have and should have been. Give me the characters having their nostalgia time and then trying to figure things out while dodging haunted robots. They could have also tightened up the ending to tie it in better.

That brings up the characters. Remember that comparison to a horror movie? That comes in big time with the cast. We get a lot of characters here, but only Charlie really matters for the vast bulk of the book. That leads to none of the cast getting a ton of development, which works in a movie with a dwindling cast but not so much here. It also leads to a couple of moments that feel out of nowhere because the characters involved weren’t acting like themselves, if the book had gone more into the supernatural stuff and used that as an explanation it could have worked, as it stands it really doesn’t.

That said, and bringing up that I read it because the games interest me, I did have fun reading this book. Part of that is that while the characters don’t work when it’s all of them together, because they kind of run together, the smaller scenes with just one or two characters really work at times. I enjoyed Charlie going back to her childhood home and seeing how things hadn’t changed in the house itself. That bit had really good character work and built tension well. The characters’ excitement over maybe seeing the old pizzeria again was great and could have worked into the horror really well.

So, where does this all leave Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes? While I had fun reading it, the book could have done a lot more with its material and its characters. Could have, but didn’t, and that’s really my big problem with it. I’d have liked to have seen a smaller, more developed cast and for the plot to show up faster and more coherently. For all that, I’m still giving it a three out of five. It could have done a lot more, but I still enjoyed it.

Hey look! It’s that review I’ve been talking about for months. It’s here before Christmas even. For real though, sorry about falling off the world like that. Enjoy!

arcanum-unbounded

I’m kind of skipping the blurb this time, since this is a collection of short stories.

So, Brandon Sanderson’s The Arcanum Unbounded is an interesting book both as it is written and for what it is. Unfortunately it also relies pretty heavily on the reader not only being a fan of Sanderson’s work but also having read all of his previous works. That more than kind of cools me on the book, though it is more or less exactly what’s on the label. This is going to be a bit of a weird one.

There are two big issues that I have with Arcanum Unbounded. The reliance on the reader having read everything in Sanderson’s Cosmere is the lesser of the two. The more major issue I have is his habit of including an afterword on the stories, on its own it wouldn’t be too bad but as part of this particular book it clashes terribly with the framing device introduced at the beginning and make the book very easy to put down. A pretty easy fix for this would have been removing either the framing device, which ties the book together as a concept, or the afterwords, which feel a little like reading the author’s blog rather than a book. I’m much more interested in the framing device, that someone has collected these story bits from all over the Cosmere, because it ties in. But I’m also a “death of the author” kind of reader and feel like if the author has to explain something outside of the story itself, then it isn’t written well enough. Obvious biases are, in fact, obvious.

The issue of it feeling like everything else prior to this is required reading bounces around a bit. The first story is by far my favorite and feels like a whole entity unto itself, I don’t feel lost for details and could enjoy myself freely. It’s immediately followed by a short story set towards the end of Elantris that, having not read that novel, I was completely lost on which made it feel super long and just draining to get through. It’s not bad in most of the stories but, combined with the afterwords, can feel tiresome.

That said, the stylistic choices made were interesting and in several stories it felt like the author was having fun with the writing. The novella about the Survivor was great once I got into it and it started feeling like its own thing instead of a spin on something else. So this is ultimately a pretty mixed bag for me. The writing is solid throughout, but then the plotting is overly referential. The stories that stand alone are a ton of fun, but then others feel like fragments of something bigger.

At the end of the day, I give Arcanum Unbounded a three out of five. If you’re a big fan of Sanderson’s you’ll probably enjoy it immensely. If not, maybe check it out from the library first or give one of his other books a shot.

Vanishing Girls

Just like me, I’m late posting this, only a day this time though. This is kind of an older book I’m reviewing today, sent to me by the publisher for an honest review. It took me forever to get done because I wasn’t having any time of it getting my words down. All that said, enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

vanishing-girls-cover

Nick and her younger sister Dara used to be best friends, completely inseparable. That was then, before Dara kissed Parker. Before the accident. Nick hasn’t seen her sister since last summer and, if Dara has her way, it looks like it’ll be longer still before she does. But she’s got a job at the local amusement park to deal with and a friendship with Parker to try and patch up. It would be better if her sister would talk to her, but she’ll have to make do.

Vanishing Girls is the first Lauren Oliver book I’ve read, though I had heard of her before. I’m honestly not entirely sure how I feel about it, so this may go a little long. This is also going to be really spoilery because of the way the book and its official description have next to nothing to do with each other, also that talking about the twist is impossible without spoilers. So spoiler alert.

Our protagonists here are Nick, who’s been gone for a year living with her father, and Dara, her younger sister who used to be beautiful but is now horribly scarred by the car accident they were both in last summer. She blames Nick and refuses to so much as be in the same room with her. Nick gets most of the screen time here while Dara gets a few chapters to foreshadow the big twist and show the reader what a bad girl she is.

I lost interest in Nick pretty quickly, she has some promising moments, but the friendship with Parker felt super cringe worthy and they danced around their mutual attraction way too much. Dara wasn’t much better, the rebellious sister to Nick’s perfect daughter, the bad girl who got into partying with much older guys and wound up doing porn as a result. The side characters, particularly Alice, were much better written in a lot of ways and tended to feel more three dimensional. That might have been a less is more thing though, none of them got a lot of screen time.

The big twist, and the scenes immediately preceding it, is where the book lost me though. The plot doesn’t really start until past the half way mark, probably closer to the two thirds mark, so when it hits it feels really rushed. Kind of like the author was reaching her page count and needed to tie it all together so she could spring her big twist and reveal all. That just doesn’t work for me. We get that Dara is the trouble sister, that she acts out to get attention because she feels left out, but then we get this child porn ring plot nearly out of nowhere and Nick rushes off to save her sister from the thing. The possibility of this plot was only mentioned in some of the mini chapters that were formatted to read like an internet comments section in relation to the little missing girl sub plot that the book really didn’t seem to care about. It just doesn’t work. Then of course, we get to the twist and it’s just anti-climactic and weak.

This is the cornerstone of the whole book, the thing that this entire novel is written in service to. The twist hits at the height of the action and just kills all the momentum. So, spoiler alert again, but this whole time Dara’s been dead and Nick has trauma induced dissociative identity disorder and has been alternating between being herself and being Dara throughout the novel. Reading Vanishing Girls the first time through the foreshadowing for the reveal just wasn’t there. It took sitting around after finishing the book to start seeing hints. That combined with the momentum halting way the twist was introduced made it feel very, “surprise, she’s crazy!” To my mind at least, that means the twist was just not worth it. Better lead up would have helped, as it stands it feels very tacked on despite being the central key to the entire novel.

So, all that said, where does Vanishing Girls land? The book has good bones, they just weren’t filled in very well and it reads like a couple of them were shoved back in at the last moment. Some of the side characters are fantastic, which only serves to make the main characters that much more lack luster. I also take issue with the big twist being that the main character isn’t sane, that feels like a really outdated thing to use as the big twist and, again, it wasn’t pulled off well enough to justify itself. That said, I actually kind of enjoyed my initial reading of the book, kind of a turn off your brain thing. So, while I don’t know that it earns it, I’m giving it a three out of five.

Squeaking in at the last moment, I have one last Halloween treat for you all. Yes readers, today you get two reviews! Enjoy!

edgar-allan-poe-an-adult-coloring-book-cover

Edgar Allan Poe: And Adult Coloring Book by Odessa Begay is a bit of an outlier for my reviews, so bear with me here.

Back in high school and middle school I read a fair amount of Edgar Allan Poe’s short fiction and some of his poetry. The dark broodiness appealed in a lot of ways and I loved the detail work in some of his stories and the slow decent into madness that overtook most of his protagonists. So, when given the chance to review a coloring book based on his work, I accepted happily.

My experience with adult coloring books involves a lot of little fiddly bits that take a ton of attention to detail to fill out well. I like that because it makes me slow down and focus on what I’m doing. This particular adult coloring book has some of that, but not nearly enough for my taste. Most of the art is presented in two page spreads with one page having a section of writing from the piece that it’s referencing. This works both to the book’s advantage and disadvantage.

On some pieces the spread allows for a grand scope and a good deal of detail work. On others it winds up with a lot of empty space that leaves the art feeling incomplete or like it’s floating. The amount empty space is definitely my biggest issue with the book itself, there is quite a lot of it. That said, the paper feels nice and heavy and the quality feels good. I didn’t get the chance to test it with markers, but it takes color pencils very well.

I feel like the sections of prose could have been worked in better in many of the spreads. In many cases the prose is just kind of left hanging in empty space, making it feel less like a centerpiece than I think it is supposed to be. The spreads where it’s boxed in or solidly framed work best for me personally.

Where does that leave the review then? I’m giving it a three out of five, mostly because of the empty space and partly because some of the art has a tendency to feel detached from itself.

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m wrapping up the weekend’s festivities with the last Fear Street Saga novel today. This is actually the one I wimped out on last time. I admit the last thing I’d remembered from it was a lot earlier in the book than I’d thought. Bonus, the Jonesy cat seems to like Oxenfree and has been cuddling her whenever I’m in the room with both of them. It’s cute. Anyway, on to the review!

 

Over a hundred years ago Benjamin Fier framed an innocent girl for witchcraft and burned her at the stake. Over a hundred years since his brother Matthew robbed the girl’s grieving father. Over a hundred years since everything began, but just two since the curse was reawakened and Franks Goode murdered the Fier family in cold blood. Only two years since Simon Fear changed his family name and forswore good. The chain is completed, and the end is beginning.

The Burning is the third and final book in the original Fear Street Saga by R. L. Stine; it’s also the first of the three to give us a villain protagonist. That’s actually a thing that I appreciate about the book. Having Simon as both our starting protagonist and, ultimately, the antagonist of the book ties things up nicely in a way that the previous two books didn’t. The reader has known that the Fear Mansion was going to burn down at the end, leaving Nora Goode all alone; it’s just been a matter of getting there.

The big down side here is that I feel like the first half of the book was really rushed. Pacing has been a problem throughout the trilogy, so it isn’t a huge out of nowhere thing. It’s more another example of needing to get things in place for what comes next and not having the room for much build up. There’s some out of nowhere stuff that I would have liked to have seen more support for, but it’s par for the course at this point.

I can’t say that The Burning is the strongest of the three books, which probably still goes to The Betrayal, but it does pretty well for itself. While rushed in a lot of ways, I feel like a lot of the things that are rushed could or would probably be hand waved with the curse if the extra space had been taken to go further in.

There’s really not a lot for me to say here. The Burning has its points that work, and work well, but it also shares the same weak points that the rest of the series has. It also has an unfortunate side effect, since the reader knows about how it ends and that Fear Street is ultimately still cursed, of not having a really satisfying ending. It’s just kind of done. So, at the end of the day I think it earned a three out of five. If any single part of it had been a touch better it would have been a four.

Missed a day there. Nothing really big happened, the spooks freaked out a little when a friend came over. I think they aren’t fans of new people. Going to work up something to fix that. Any way, on to the review!

the-secret-cover

Forty-five years have passed since Benjamin Fier had an innocent girl and her mother burned at the stake. Forty-five years have passed since Matthew Fier robbed the girl’s father of everything he had with false promises. Forty-five years have passed since a curse was cast from betrayal and a mourning father’s grief. Following his great uncle’s notes Ezra Fier seeks the last of the Goodes to have revenge for his family’s downfall. Another link in the chain of vengeance is forged.

The Secret is R. L. Stine’s second book in the Fear Street Saga trilogy. Sometime after the end of the first book Ezra Fier has dragged his family to Wickham village in search of vengeance, only to fine the village empty of all but the dead. That makes Ezra great material for a villain, but I feel like I want more of why he’s so driven for revenge. Guy has a family, including protagonist Jonathan, which he drags along on his quest. I think that’s a big part of where this one falls apart for me.

See a big thing with The Secret is that, while we’re left with an Ezra who is totally out for revenge at the end of The Betrayal, a ton is left out from point A to point B. If his whole life is revenge, then when did he stop and court his wife, Jane? What kind of notes of Matthew’s is he following that it’s taken him this long to get to Wickham? It’s just kind of weak writing because the plot requires it. Ezra has to have a wife and kids so that there’s room for both a body count and enough Fiers to get through to modern Shadyside. It has to take awhile so that Jonathan is old enough that we have a relatable protagonist. That kind of works out for me, I don’t like it because it feels weak, but it works.

The bit after the century long time skip is where that weakness just kind of goes off the rails for me. After a hundred years of the curse not acting up in any way that is important enough to show, it wakes back up stronger than ever. We get the actually completely innocent Fier family, living happily in their ancestral home, taking in a charming drifter. The drifter is, of course, a Goode out for revenge because the plot demands it. Not just a Goode though, the last Goode, who watched his entire family die of apparently nothing so the Fiers must be at fault. This whole section of the book gives me so many issues.

Frank Goode blames the Fier family for his family dying, but we haven’t seen enough from the Goode side of things to know their feelings on the curse or feud. We don’t even actually know enough to know that there are any Goodes still alive until Frank shows up, but we’re shown a bunch of times that he’s been planning this for a long while. I feel like this could have been so much stronger if we were given more from the Goode family perspective, especially since way back in the first book George wanted nothing to do with his father’s revenge scheme. I want to know what made Frank grab on to the curse as a reason for his misfortune so hard. I want this bearing in mind that over the course of a century the Fier family itself completely forgot about the curse. Either that or I’d have liked to have seen the curse angle pushed harder rather than it being suddenly a Goode out of nowhere.

As to what was done specifically well, I liked Jonathan as a protagonist. I liked that Ezra was cast in a bad light because of his obsession with revenge on people he’d never met. The end to Jonathan’s section I thought worked really well for his character. The post time skip Fiers being legitimately kindly people and the implied happy childhood for their kids was great.

Right, so that’s a lot of words. What’s the verdict though? Ulitmately I don’t think The Secret is as good a book as The Betrayal, and it doesn’t really work well enough as a standalone novel to not get that comparison. Where it’s weak, it’s really weak. Where it works well, it still tends to be kind of thin. That said, I did read it in a single sitting without forcing myself in the least. So that happened too. In the end, it gets a three out of five for not being a bad book but also being one that could have used a lot of expanding upon.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany is a sequel of sorts to Rowling’s tremendously famous Harry Potter novels. This is probably one of the only things people who’ve read it so far will agree on. Now, the book was released because the play is only being shown in England and fans elsewhere would have thrown a fit if they weren’t able to experience it in some way. It’s important to remember going in that this is a play script rather than a novel. That actually affects a lot in this review as well as my general feelings towards the book.

The story follows Albus Severus, his friend Scorpius, and Harry Potter the father who could do better as Albus and Scorpius attempt to set right what once went wrong. Albus and Harry have nothing in common, something that we are led to think gets thrown in Albus’ face quite a bit at school. He can’t measure up to his famous dad and Harry doesn’t have the time to spend with him for them to work through that. So he grows bitter over the first few years he’s at Hogwarts, until an overheard conversation leads him to stealing a time-turner to go save Cedric Diggory. This is all fine, I’m good with this plot line.  What I feel like the script needed was a little more attention to each different version of the timeline, consequences essentially. I would have also liked to have seen more of the villain prior to the very end.

All that said, is it a good Harry Potter novel? Well, no, if you walk into reading this expecting a Harry Potter novel you will be very disappointed. The language used for a novel and a script are very different, with plays being as visual as they are the book lacks a lot of the description that a novel would have and you don’t get much about how characters feel beyond the occasional note for clarification. The story also feels disjointed in places because of scene shifts and not being able to see the actors’ reactions directly. That said, it’s a script, so I can’t really hold it to novel standards. As far as scripts go, I could have gone with more stage direction in the book itself to help follow what was going on, but it wasn’t bad.  My big problem with Cursed Child is that it lacks the scope the series proper felt like it had, the weight of consequence when characters made choices. Partly because of how directly involved they were in things compared to how successful they were, the villain also felt very small, again, I’d have liked to see more build up there.

As to the good parts, I really liked Scorpius and the way that wanting to take care of him humanized Malfoy. The friendship between Scorpius and Albus was also pretty fun, I would have actually like to have seen that used to give us more insight into some of the other young characters. I appreciate that the golden trio mess up massively, even as adults, especially things like Harry not keeping up with his paperwork. More effort needed to have been given to showing that Harry is under a tremendous amount of stress though, there is a scene that feels very out of character because of this lack.

So, what’s the long and short of this? How does Harry Potter and the Cursed Child rank? For me, it gets a solid three out of five. There was a lot wrong that could have and should have been worked out better, especially given that plays tend to go through multiple runs. The language was off, again that difference between novels and scripts, and didn’t feel like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. The characters could have all been more developed. But, the story is pretty good if a little too much like early aughts fan fiction, and it makes me want to see the show. That I think is the big thing here, there isn’t a sequel to worry over, but reading the script does make me want to see the play. I think that’s a pretty fair measure of it doing its job.

Broken Red

I’m back with a couple reviews for you guys. Quick thing with this one, I received the book through my job. It was printed in store at the Brookwood Books-A-Million on our Espresso Book Machine and can be found here, or by ordering it in store.

Who do you trust when the person closest to you might be a murderer? Tegan Kelly has been running from her traumatic childhood for as long as she can remember. When her mother is found murdered her life is thrown into chaos and the killer might be much closer than she thinks. As the body count rises will she be able to protect her family or will she fall prey to a mad man who knows too much.
So Heather Avello’s Broken Red is kind of a mish mash book for me. On the one hand, the blurb promises a murder mystery thriller with a heroine who can’t know who to trust because the killer is someone super close to her. On the other hand, the book gets bogged down in a romance side plot that really didn’t do anything for me and that I feel could have been cut dramatically without damaging the story. On the inexplicable third hand, I’d have probably been more into the romance side plot if the murder mystery main plot had connected it’s events better in the beginning of the book.
Where to begin, because there are a couple of big things that I think could have taken this from being okay to being pretty good. The big separation between the main and side plots is probably the easier thing to address. It actually feels in a lot of ways like this is two separate books featuring the same characters but with very different stories. In the main plot Tegan is a woman who’s had essentially every horrific back story element thrown at her, but she’s kept going despite that, and now there seems to be a murderer after her family. Her husband is a cheating jerk who isn’t there for their three kids or her and, when things start going weird for her, he immediately blames her for it. Contrasting her husband is Victor Ramirez, the knight in shining armor who’s had it bad for her since forever and who might be hiding something seriously dark. She calls him when she can’t reach her husband; he checks in on her and is there for her, often at her eldest son’s insistence. It’s pretty obvious they’re going to end the book a couple from the start. In the romance plot Tegan’s back story stuff results in a distrust of people that is mentioned, but essentially hand waved for Vic, and Vic despite thinking he’s bad for wanting Tegan is great with her kids and lavishes her with attention and stuff. There’s a distinct disconnect there for me.
The romance side plot is kind of expected since it’s telegraphed from the beginning, but rather than being entwined with the main plot it takes over a significant chunk of the book. The writing changes to match this and the mystery plot mostly disappears for this whole section, it gets brought up a couple of times, but it doesn’t do anything. That feels wrong for me on a couple of levels, the previously mentioned thing about this reading like two different books, and that while a big deal is made about her husband’s cheating being terrible and evidence of him being an awful human being it gets brought up when she and Vic are about to jump in bed but isn’t really treated as a big thing. It’s sort of like she gets a pass because he is terrible to her and the plot doesn’t really care about him, and that’s what doesn’t work for me.
Which kind of brings me back to the inexplicable third hand. See, my big thing here is that the mystery parts, especially the bits later in the book, are legit good for a first time author. They aren’t tied together as well as they deserve though, in part because the romance plot intrudes, but it’s pretty easy to see where the connections could have been made. There are bits that could have been included earlier to bolster the overall story and to tighten up the writing, things that are introduced at the last second could have been hinted at or hinted at more strongly. The biggest problem created by this is that it makes the murderer seem right out of left field and badly supported by the story itself. The lack of things being tied together does lead to a couple of hanging plot threads, but I’m thinking those were deliberate to set up a sequel.
Where does this leave me? The romance is bad and our protagonists’ characterization can be a little all over the place, but when the writing focuses on the mystery it’s pretty good. I would definitely want to see more build up to the climax in the next book and less focus on the protagonists’ love lives, definitely more foreshadowing the antagonist’s identity. It’s a good freshman effort and I think that Ms. Avello will improve greatly as she continues writing so, from me, Broken Red gets a three out of five.