Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review

This review contains fun and funky spoilers.

This book is fun. I gobbled it up in about 24 hours. But it was not JK Rowling’s idea. She did not write it. It’s a very good fanfiction, and that’s what it reads like. It’s rushed. This, of course, is in part the nature of the screenplay, but a LOT gets crammed in to 300 pages. The first half is kind of like Back to the Future in reverse, where everything gets screwed up by the changes in time. And I mean, EVERYTHING.

You don’t want to read it without having read the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Another thing that makes it fanfiction-y is the homosexual undertones between Albus and Scorpius. They are “meant to be together” and they say things like, “As pleasurable as it will be to hide in a hole with you for the next forty years . . . .” Not “pleasant.” “Pleasurable.”

It’s punctuated like it was written by a drunk twelve-year-old who’s in love with the em dash and hates commas, except where there should be a period. You can chalk part of this up to special screenplay punctuation exceptions that notate inflection, but the description is just as bad as the dialogue. “James appears at the door, he has pink hair.”

The cover has nothing to do with the story. No bird’s nest comes into play.

The title is false. There is no cursed child. There’s a child who deals with bad rumors. There’s a child who’s a brat. There’s a child who there’s a prophecy about. There is no cursed child. 

Overall, four out of five stars for being a lot of fun but disappointing at the same time. 

At least her ghostwriters got credit. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson

This review contains spoilers.

I enjoyed this book. Some of the descriptions are absolutely brilliant: “He smiled. Suddenly, his whole face was transformed. The slightly-too-big chin, the crooked nose, and eyes maybe spaced a centimeter too far apart—all of it became perfect, symmetrical. Beautiful.”

My main complaint is about the pacing. The first half of the book drags on a bit, with passages that are irrelevant to the story, while the last quarter is rushed. I can appreciate the attempt to make the story more contemporary and speculative and magical realism-y rather than high fantasy, but I also feel like the author was denying what the story really is, by doing that. The reader is left with relatively little of the dreamland that the title promises. What little world-building there is still manages to be good and convincing, though.

The foray into the world of mental health world was annoying to me, as a mental health advocate, because it had nothing to actually say about mental health. It would have been far more interesting and meaningful if Dea had actually had even a minor flaw in her sanity, and it got addressed during her hospitalization. It would have been more interesting and meaningful if she had developed a deeper level of friendship with any of the other mental health patients. The only existing message about mental health patients is this: They’re normally petty, but sometimes they’re not.  

And then this isn’t exactly a plot hole, but it’s something that never gets addressed: When Odea and her mother performed the body-swap and escaped into the modern world, did they leave bodies behind in the dreamland? Were those bodies buried? How does Dea’s father feel about the fact that his wife is no longer in the same body she would have been in before?

There are tension points left over that I would like to see resolved in a sequel. The king of the dreamland needs to let Harriet move freely between worlds, and needs to abolish slavery. But judging from the way this book shied away from the high fantasy label, I doubt we’ll get to see those things happen.  

All in all: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Infinityglass by Myra McEntire


What I liked:
  • It kept my interest. I finished it in two days.
  • The split point of view between Dune and Hallie. The back-and-forth works great, and sparks flew in the romance. The two POVs didn’t differ a whole lot in voice, but I found the male voice adequately masculine and believable as a boy.
  • The New Orleans setting is vivid. I got the feeling like I was vacationing there.
  • The ending is adorable.
What I didn’t like:
  • Dune’s powers rarely show themselves, but his powerful backstory makes up for this.
  • The romance might have overshadowed the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the plot at points, but I didn’t mind.

All in all: 5 stars.

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

I got to hear Myra McEntire speak at UtopiaCon and it was awesome!! I wasn't sure how to go up to someone and say, "Hi, I'm pretty sure we're kindred spirits, but I don't have any weapons on me, so I'm not a total creep."

Anyway, now I have signed copies of all three books!!

What I liked: 

  • It kept my interest. I finished it in two days.
  • Timepiece is told from the head of a boy who can read emotions, and this is done brilliantly. It was adequately masculine.
  • The time travel element sticks around despite the main characters being non-time-travelers.
  • One of the most interesting aspects of this book is Lily’s background. Lately, I’ve been advised not to write about other ethnic backgrounds, and I think many authors suffer from similar advice. Not Myra. Lily is an immigrant who fled Cuba with her grandmother when she was little. Her parents were left behind, and she had to change her name when she came to the states. RTFO more.
What I didn’t like: 

  • I wish the cover had a boy on it, because a blond girl with gravity issues has nothing to do with this story.
  • I think someone told Myra “Your villain has to be actively present throughout your story” and so she threw Jack into scenes where he had no logical reason for being.
  • I’m not sure I actively disliked this, but the romance was a little slow and not nearly as sparky as the romance in Hourglass. I think it has to do with the male POV. This might be the POV is split between two characters in Infinityglass.
All in all: 3 stars.

Read my review of Hourglass here. An Infinityglass review is coming soon!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hourglass by Myra McEntire


I decided to read Hourglass because Myra McEntire will be one of the keynote speakers at UtopiaCon this summer.  Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Things I liked:

  • Protagonist Emerson Cole ventures into a world where supernatural powers seem to revolve around the manipulation of time. It’s fascinating, especially toward the end. The romance is sparky and tumultuous, with Freudian rosebuds and supernatural complications. The guy manages to be flawed without being a total asshole, and the writer doesn’t glorify his jerk moments—Emerson responds with appropriate ass-kicking.
  • As a mental health activist, I have to comment on the book’s treatment of depression and psychosis. During the first few chapters of the book, Emerson confuses her gift—seeing people from the past—with psychosis related to her depression. It’s convincing; it’s not overdone for dramatic effect. The description of disabling depression is realistic, from what I can tell. In one insightful moment, Emerson’s best friend Lily says, “The thing is, Em, you don’t know if you struggled with the depression because of your circumstances or if it’s a chemical thing. You might have to deal with it again.”

Things I didn’t like:

  • This book embraces some tropes I’m rather tired of. Why does every character in a book have to be gorgeous? Somebody throw me a realistic Jane Eyre once in a while. I get enough of gorgeous people from TV shows, I don’t need them in my books. This is a matter of personal taste, but compound it with dubiously necessary love triangulation, and I’m in “I’ve read this before” territory. Then you’ve got all the tropes that go along with that—MC’s best friend pervs over love interest, MC pervs over love interest’s best friend
  • There are no consequences to any action that the MC takes. Well, okay, she gets grounded. But her crimes include multiple counts of breaking and entering, messing with two guys who are best friends, and jeopardizing the space-time continuum. She gets off really easy.
  • Emerson doesn’t struggle enough with fear. I like it when characters do courageous things in the face of their fear. Emerson is conveniently fearless.
  • There’s also a very unnecessary gun.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, though, so I award it: 4/5 stars.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An open letter to David Levithan about Every Day


To David Levithan:
I’ve adored your writing since I read Boy Meets Boy for a YA Lit class (with Professor Diane Johnson at the University of South Carolina), and I got to meet you one year at YALLfest. I loved the pure spirit of your stories and your clever way with words. My connection to Every Day runs deeper than that; this book asks some of the same questions my soul is always asking and inspires me to be a better person.
Reading any book is an exercise in empathy. You step into a character’s shoes for a while. This book amplifies that effect, because the person whose shoes you’re stepping into is also constantly stepping into new shoes. He demonstrates how gracefully it can be done with observations like, “Some girls and boys obliterate their rooms as they grow older, thinking they have to banish all their younger incarnations in order to convincingly inhabit a new one. But Rhiannon is more secure with her past than that…. J.D. Salinger sits next to Dr. Seuss on her bookshelf.”
At one point, A and Rhiannon help a girl who is mentally ill. As a major depressive and a mental health advocate, I want to thank you for a portrayal of mental illness that is scientific and rings true.
But when I read this part, I had a moment of inspiration and wondered if I was predicting how the book would end: Doesn’t A’s existence encapsulate the essence of selflessness? Couldn’t he become inspired to improve the life of each person he inhabits in some small way? He says, “I have the potential to be the devil…. Yes, I could get away with it, but certainly we all have the potential to commit the crime. We choose not to. Every single day, we choose not to.” Moving as this is, why not mention the flipside of this potential? To be a guardian angel? To be the ultimate empath?
I suppose there’s the fear that such a moment of inspiration would come across as didactic; that characters must be more flawed than that; that books are only meant to ask questions, not provide answers. Maybe I ask too much of novel heroes in my own insecure search for wisdom.
Instead of energized inspiration to improve the lives he inhabits, A has a quiet principle of non-interference (which he tends to violate). In its own way, this is pure and selfless, and maybe a moment of inspiration would glorify that selflessness too much. Maybe it would make the book too similar to A’s most loathed book, The Giving Tree. Am I getting this right?
If you read this, thank you a million times over. I would love to hear from you.
Courtney Diles Henderson

Monday, March 7, 2016

Choosing an Editor for Your Book


I’m currently searching for an editor for the book I finished in November. I’ve decided to turn to Upwork.com, the current evolution of Elance.com, which I used to know and love. I set the budget at $400—a little above what I would charge, myself, as an editor for the same job—and I’ve gotten 73 applicants. How to go about narrowing this down?
  1. Most of the time, typos are forgivable. This is not one of those times. If they lowercase “I’m” or refer to the “Huger Games” in your cover letter, this is a reason to archive the proposal. I tried to keep reading until I found at least two typos, but none of the proposals with typos made it into my top 5.
  2. I’m looking for an editor who respects my budget. If someone sends in an $800 proposal, that’s an automatic no. I did carefully consider a proposal set at $450 because the editor went to extra lengths to edit the book synopsis I provided in the posting.
  3. I’m looking for an editor who knows the genre. If Harry Potter is the best YA fantasy example you can come up with, you’re not what I’m looking for. Harry Potter is found in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore, not the YA section. So is Percy Jackson. Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are fantasy, not YA fantasy. The Hunger Games are science fiction, not fantasy. I’m looking for answers like Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor or the Gemma Doyle books by Libba Bray.
  4. I provided filtering questions in the job posting. Everyone who applies had to answer three questions:

    “Are you comfortable copyediting and editing developmentally at the same time?” I mainly provided this question to make it clear what kind of editor I’m looking for. If someone is only a proofreader, they are less likely to apply for the job.

    “Are you comfortable making a second pass after changes are made?” This is nice to know, but not a deal-breaker. Many said that a second pass would be no problem. Others said they would prefer to charge an additional fee. This didn’t really make a difference in the filtering process.

    “Are you familiar with the YA fantasy genre?” See item 3.
  5. I’m looking for an editor who clicks with my story. I provided a two-paragraph blurb in the job description, and I narrowed down applicants to those who commented on this blurb and sounded excited to read more.
Even with all of these requirements in mind, I have four applicants I can’t choose between. The top applicants have worked at publishing houses and literary agencies, have great educations, and have published books of their own. No matter who I choose, I’m bound to end up with a winner.