Category: Books (Page 3 of 25)

The Crow Girl Book Review

‘The Crow Girl’ Book Review

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like The Crow Girl. I can’t decide if it was a work of high avant garde, wherein our expectations are subverted (no satisfying ending, double and triple tricks from unreliable narrators, perhaps making a comment on the overuse of unreliable narrators?). Or if it’s just a poorly written book that, for whatever reason, is getting a lot of good reviews. But for my money, it’s a badly paced book, rife with clues but short on substance, that substitutes mentioning substantial issues for dealing with substantial issues. Rather than let us see interesting moments — a narrator separating from her spouse — we just hear about it later, in a much less interesting conversation.

Five years after Bob Dylan, they were looking for a new Bob Dylan. And with Stieg Larsson dead, everyone would like for there to be another one. But the author duo who goes by Erik Axl Sund don’t even seem to understand how to plot a book, let alone make one interesting.

I guess The Crow Girl is about a bad cop, a detective whose detective skills are just bad.

Like a Will Farrell character, he’s confident, but resplendent in ineptness. Is that what the authors were going for? I don’t know. Usually, authorial intent is evident, but poorly handled or well-handled sub-par detective, one can’t tell in The Crow Girl. But the detective in the book, Jeanette Kihlberg, is dogged in her pursuit where she has literally no clues. The only police work she does is to find similar crimes and assume that those people probably did the crime she was investigating. I was almost three hundred pages in when Jeanette did something that no human would do— a scene totally built for the plot with absolutely no basis in any kind of reality, even the reality that the book had set up. A boy was kidnapped, his companion, a friend of his mother’s, is found, dazed, maybe drugged. The hunt for the boy is ongoing, everyone working overtime. However, several hours later, no one has talked to the woman who was with the kid when he disappeared. I make no claim on knowing anything about being a detective, but how could no one think that was fishy? And why didn’t Jeanette suspect anything?

One of my least favorite mystery cliches is when, because there are no clues, the dogged investigator makes the perfect criminal get angry and come after them. This happens very early on in The Crow Girl, early enough that I don’t even think it’s a spoiler to mention it.

This is a sign of bad plotting, pacing, and execution.

There’s a sort of faux-depth to the book where they mention a lot of horrible things— child sex trafficking is mentioned a lot— but without any kind of real insight into what such things would actually mean to someone. Much in the way of complicated subject matter is introduced, but dealt with like it was a very special episode of Home Improvement, not bad exactly, but by necessity simplified. And it’s an 800-page book! They had plenty of time to go into it.

I do give the authors a little bit of credit.

They reference Stieg Larsson as a “great man,” even if it is through the eyes of a group of Germans “walking in his footsteps.” So it seems like the duo Erik Axl Sund are aware that they are simply aping another, better writer’s work. And Larson did it so much better, weaving the idea of history and generations into his book seamlessly in a way that didn’t scream Symbol with each further mention. Sund seems to be shouting at his readers, “This is important!”

For God’s sakes, don’t waste your time with The Crow Girl. Although do check out the Sprocketsesque author photo.

It's All Fun and Games

‘It’s All Fun and Games’ is for LARP Fans

It’s All Fun and Games is the first book in a series about a group of LARP (live action role playing) friends. What begins as a fun weekend event, turns into a harrowing nightmare. The premise is interesting, but the book will mainly appeal to LARP fans.

Synopsis

In It’s All Fun and Games, high school student Allison gives into her friend TJ’s pleas to join his LARP group for the weekend. When she arrives in the field where the game is hosted, she meets the rest of their team. Pretty soon, they’re off on a quest, skill cards in hand. But events take an ugly turn, and the friends find themselves battling enemies for real.

The Bad News

First off, let me say I was really looking forward to reading It’s All Fun and Games, by Dave Barrett. It’s the first book published by Nerdist. Nerdist began as a website and has grown into a geek channel, with podcasts, videos, news, convention panels and more. I love the Nerdist brand, so I was psyched when I was contacted by their PR rep about reading and reviewing the book.

Let me also say, I am not into LARP. I know what it is, but beyond that basic knowledge, I have no interest in LARP. So, reading It’s All Fun and Games wasn’t very fun. It’s All Fun and Games is definitely written for LARP and Dungeons and Dragons fans. I say that, because a lot of the focus is on the characters’ skills, hit points, damage points, and the minutiae of the game. Whole paragraphs are dedicated to the rules of the LARP. In fact, approximately the first third of the book is nothing but a “how to” for LARPs.

I think part of the reason It’s All Fun and Games reads like a guide is that Dave Barrett is a new author. New authors tend to have big exposition dumps, meaning, they explain the background of something in one go. A better way to write about the LARP rules and skills and whatnot, is to mention stuff as the story unfolds. Lately, I’ve been reading Liane Moriarity (Truly, Madly, Guilty). She is a masterful storyteller, who can weave a character’s history through the present story. That’s what It’s All Fun and Games needs. A casual reader will not care much that the blue index card means… whatever it means. But they will care that they can’t get through the beginning of the book without a machete.


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Also, the characters are thinly written and have little depth. They read like a Sweet Valley High novel. There’s the nerdy kid who has a crush on the girl who pays him no attention. Then we’ve got the jock who’s handsome and winning, but doesn’t know it. Other than Chuck, the thief, the other characters are interchangeable. It’s not that the author doesn’t have a good handle on who these characters are. I think he does. He just doesn’t take the time to write everything he knows about them, so they come off one-dimensional.

Which leads me to how the author writes. Reading It’s All Fun and Games, I can see the book in Barrett’s head. He’s just not taking enough time to really write it. The characters’ jokes are too easy, too cliché. The settings are run-of-the-mill. The dialogue is limited. The chores and duties come from gameplay, not historical accounts. It’s All Fun and Games reads like a first draft. I wish the editor would have pushed Barrett to dig just a little deeper and give his characters, and his story, another layer. I know this is categorized as YA, but so are the Harry Pottter and The Hunger Games books.

It’s All Fun and Games has a lot of repetition. The group of friends is required to set up camp for several nights, but the conversation is the same every time.  Here’s where a lot of that exposition could have been covered, rather than repeating the same “is this really happening to us?” thread of conversation over and over.

The Good News

Like I said, there’s a good book in here. The premise if It’s All Fun and Games is interesting. In fact, the best part of the book is about Chuck, the thief. His sections were page-turners  that I couldn’t put down. (Seems like Barrett was always the thief when he played D&D.) There’s actual conflict, great setting descriptions, great inner life, and great characterization.

And although I said the book reads like a first draft, there’s something Barrett doesn’t do. Too many times, when I read a new author’s first book, usually at the request of a PR rep, the writer tries way too hard. The writing is so thick with synonyms, descriptions and lengthy sentences, that it’s barely readable. The writer tries so hard to sound like a WRITER that the story is lost in the thickness of stilted prose. Barrett doesn’t do that. He writes clearly and concisely, while still painting a clear picture of what’s going on.

Barrett also clearly knows LARPs. His fondness for D&D type games is obvious, and informs It’s All Fun and Games. Perhaps he will take more time to show us what’s in his head in subsequent books.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ Review

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the London play by author J.K. Rowling, has fans frothing at the mouth. But, what if you can’t get tickets to the Harry Potter plays? (Yes, there are two.) Read the book!

About the Play(s)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a story about Harry’s son Albus, whom we met at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (He was the little guy who was afraid of being sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor at Hogwarts.) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be spread across two plays, that will be performed in London. The premiere of the play in London’s West End will be on 30th July 2016. Both plays are also being published as a book. Scholastic released the book on July 31, 2016.

Synopsis

Being Harry Potter was always difficult. Now, it isn’t much easier. He is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.


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While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son, Albus, struggles with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes darkness comes from unexpected places.

Review by Mike Martin Brown

Phony Beatlemania has topped the charts. Beware of mild spoilers and plot description.

Prophecies! He who must not be named! Hagrid! The Whomping Willow! A love-lorn Severus Snape! A painful scar! Sounds like Harry Potter is back in town! J.K. Rowing said it would never happen, that she had ended the Harry Potter story with her seven classic novels. But now we have a play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! So how is it? It’s fine, wonderful, lame, heart-rending, maddening but overall, I’m just going to say, lacking. But I’m glad I read it. You a Harry Potter fan? Read this book.

There’s a Star Trek Deep Space Nine where, through the magic of computers, the DS9 crew travels back in time and enters the Star Trek Original Series episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It’s a good episode and a lot of fun, with DS9 characters peeking out from around corners at the familiar action from the popular old episode.

Although I’m sure there are people who would strenuously disagree with what I’m about to say, “Tribbles” is not nearly as good as anything in the Harry Potter canon. And we’ve just got a new addition to said series, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The book is sort of like that long-ago DS9 episode, new characters peeking around corners at Goblet of Fire. Well, we also get to see a few alternate dimensions where the death eaters are in power or poor Hermione can’t even land Ron. But for the most part, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a clip show of some fun Harry Potter moments from the last few seasons, a Friends Thanksgiving episode.

Jamie Parker as Harry Potter; Photo by Manuel Harlan

Jamie Parker as Harry Potter; Photo by Manuel Harlan

Before I go on, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play.

I can only review Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a reader. I haven’t seen the play. I’m not going to be able to see the play in the foreseeable future. But I could read it. And so I did. I wish I could see the play. I’m certain it’s great, at lease from a spectacle and bombast perspective.

The first thing that jumped out at me when I was reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is that I wondered if this was something that was taken to J.K. Rowling’s people, not something that JK envisioned and took to the playwrights. Because there are moments from the books, time traveling flashbacks, dream sequences, containing moments that JK wrote. Were those moments enough authorship to get her name in the largest font on the cover? How much of the rest of this did she have anything to do with? It’s more of a retread than an original story, a “What if?” story, like all those Twilight Zones where the Nazis won World War II, except it’s Voldemort succeeding in killing Harry Potter, mostly. If someone was able to sell Rowling on this idea, could others be around the corner?

Did you know that a lot of countries have a bootleg Harry Potter?

Russia has Tonya Grotter, for instance. I know some Russian kids grew up with her and swear she’s better than Harry Potter. Without having read any of the Tonya Grotter novels— which I’m pretty sure will never be translated into English because of international copyright laws— I feel like I can safely say that the Potter books are far superior. But I found myself wondering as I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was this what it was like to read a Grotter novel, to be a Grotter fan? Peaking though the fence slats at something better, but never quite able to get there?

(L-R) Alex Price (Draco Malfoy), Paul Thornley (Ron Weasley), Norma Dumezweni (Hermione Granger), Jamie Parker (Harry Potter), and Poppy Miller (Ginny Potter); Photo by Manuel Harlan

(L-R) Alex Price (Draco Malfoy), Paul Thornley (Ron Weasley), Norma Dumezweni (Hermione Granger), Jamie Parker (Harry Potter), and Poppy Miller (Ginny Potter); Photo by Manuel Harlan

There are moments in the play that readers craved in the books.

Prayed for. Like, Snape acknowledging that Harry was brave, being proud that Harry’s son is named for him, which were moments that Snape couldn’t have. Snape’s arc in the novels was perfect, showing that you don’t have to be a friendly person to do the right thing. And Severus Snape was never going to apologize for who he was. The Snape in this play is more of a cuddle monster than he should be, gruff, but lovable, easily moved to tears. I knew Severus Snape and you, Sir, are not him. In other words, not all of the characters seem like themselves.

So what’s the play about? Harry’s middle child, Albus, is in Slytherin and best friends with Draco’s boy, Scorpius. Neither of their dads are thrilled about it. But Albus is not thrilled with his dad either, the boy who lived is a difficult legacy to live up to and Albus wants to be himself, practically a squib, not just the son of Harry Potter. So when Harry refuses Cedric Diggory’s father, who wants Harry to go back in time and save Cedric, Albus is moved by Amos Diggory’s plight and decides that he and Scorpius will go back in time and make things right, if only just a little bit. Albus might be a little into Amos’s niece, Delphini, as well. Well, butterfly effect, things don’t go as planned, alternate reality. But we get to check in with most of the poplar characters and places in the Harry Potter franchise. Hello, Delores Umbridge!

Also, Hello, Lord Voldemort.

This might sound crazy, but I didn’t want a Voldemort connection in this new story. Voldemort has seven dense novels to have his moment and bringing him back here did nothing at all to further the story of Tom Riddle, the once and future Lord Voldemort. Not every villain needs to be the ultimate villain and I, for once, would have been all right with someone who wasn’t the greatest dark wizard who ever trod the Earth. And Voldemort is not the bad guy exactly, but his shadow falls across many of the more interesting moments in the story. The play uses our pre-existing knowledge of Voldemort to create tension without actually earning it. Expect a lot of fan fiction about the alternate realities. But really, none of them were nearly as interesting as what actually happened in the novels.

Albus and Scorpius are not only the main characters, but the most interesting characters in the story.

And Ron, Hermione and Harry are in the story. Albus and Scorpius are complex and have arcs, if only to accentuate the idea that parenting is a lot more difficult than saving the world from Voldemort. I liked the boys and would be interested in reading a novel about them. But in the world of reading a play, I wish there was more to their story. Reading a Harry Potter novel is to be completely immersed in the wizarding world, what they eat, what they do with their time, what’s fun, what’s not, what are their interests, everything. But in the play, we get snapshots of what makes them interesting. I’m certainly not saying that plays can’t be deep, but this particular one doesn’t really flesh the boys out as much as J.K.’s Harry Potter novels did for the lives of our original three heroes.

One aspect of this play that can never be overestimated is that it’s Harry Potter.

Harry Potter! The idea of new Potter adventures is very exciting and carries with it a cultural cache, it gives the lightest moments in the play a heft because of that which has come before. This cache can be quickly overused and Potter will become something different than what he now represents. So that is a warning to J.K. Rowling in her use of the man himself. But this is the first time and it works. The Harry Potter scratch was itched. Sure, there were none of the great moments of the novels, but there were good moments. It’s worth reading, which I feel like I should stress amidst all this criticism.

I started this review talking about a half-remembered TV show, Deep Space 9.

And that’s what this new Harry Potter feels like, forgettable, not bad, not great, pretty good maybe, but with none of the moments that made the original series so great. Instead of decisions and consequences, we get an apocalyptic future that may happen, all of the books undone by a bad guy that, frankly, isn’t all that powerful or smart, which means that the book isn’t clever. If this was an episode of a pretty good TV show, yeah, it would be great. But as a reader, I was left thinking that this wasn’t a new Harry Potter story to stand tall beside the books. I’m not even sure how much of it Rowling actually wrote. My guess is, not much, maybe none of it.

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Photo by Manuel Harlan

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Photo by Manuel Harlan

I bet it would be a lot of fun to see the play though. It’s probably amazing, but more like a superhero movie than the Harry Potter series. Feel good, cheer-worthy moments are not bad, but it’s not what the Potter series was built around. If you’re a Potter fan already, read it. And hell, if you’re not, see the play if you can. I bet it will be great. But I doubt in twenty years that children will be reading this. In fifty, it probably won’t be remembered. And I know this is sort of grandiose, but in 10,000 years, I think people will still be reading the original seven books.

Joe Strummer said in London Calling that “Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.”

A lot of that song’s lyrics are murky in their specifics for me, but I’ve always assumed he meant the Beatle lookalikes that toured for a while in the ‘70s, playing Beatles songs for people who would never hear the actual Fab Four in concert. Did those concerts scratch the itch? I know people slept out for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, re-creating part of the fun of the original seven books. I know that the book is breaking sales records everywhere. But is this just Beatlemania? Sadly, I must say, yes. Sure, it’s a reasonable simulacrum, but the one thing no one has ever been able to match is the magic of the McCartney/Lennon harmonies or whatever the hell it was that made the Harry Potter books so amazing.

So, read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Scratch the itch. But don’t expect to be thinking about it in ten years.

P.S. J.K. Rowling says, “This is it! The last Harry Potter story!” She said that last time too. I, for one, would welcome any time Rowling decides to return to her classic creation.

P.P.S. I think the Butterfly effect is poetic, right? If we killed all the butterflies in Asia would we have less hurricanes? I propose an experiment!


Muggle Mob

More than 300 Harry Potter fans formed a massive flash mob, or “Muggle Mob” on July 21, 2016. They took over Broadway in front of the Scholastic headquarters building in New York City, just 10 days before the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II. The fans, who were Scholastic employees and their children, flooded onto the street, reading from a favorite Harry Potter book. They stopped traffic in the busy SoHo area.

At the culmination of the estimated two-and-a-half minute event, the fans lowered their books and raised up paddles showing the cover of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II. As the crowd dispersed, “Muggle Mob” participants handed out their Harry Potter books from the Harry Potter series to very lucky passersby.

In a press release, Ellie Berger, President, Scholastic Trade, said, “Scholastic introduced Harry Potter to readers of all ages nearly 20 years ago. What better way to celebrate the release of the eighth story and start the countdown to the biggest publishing event of the summer than to gather a flash mob of dedicated Harry Potter fans eager to share their love of books and reading.” She continued, “We could feel the excitement and anticipation as hundreds of people were reading and one of the busiest streets in Manhattan came to a standstill. It was an incredible moment and we can’t wait until July 31st!”

Muggle Mob Photos

Thanks to Scholastic Media for sharing their photos from the Muggle Mob.

 

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