Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts 1 and 2 by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Not every element lands perfectly, but the story works far more often than it fails, and proves to be just as exciting as the earlier stories.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋 The plot successfully balances elements from the novel series with a new generation of characters. The book isn’t written solely by Rowling, and being a play, it has some farcical elements that wouldn’t work in a novel, but it still captures the books’ tone.

Published July 31, 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books

ISBN: 9781338099133

Genre: Fantasy, Theatre Play

🔪🔪🔪🔪 Fantasy violence sequences happen throughout the story, none of them bloody, but sometimes shocking.

Nineteen years have passed since Harry Potter and his friends saved the wizarding world from the evilest sorcerer in history. However, Harry and his wife Ginny have to face the fact that saving the world doesn’t make them cool to their kids – in fact, a famous legacy can be a handicap. When their middle son Albus goes off to Hogwarts and befriends Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius, it seems like life has no more surprises. Then Albus and his friends discover time travel secrets that could allow them to save people that their parents couldn’t help. Reality itself is about to change in ways that the Potters would never expect…

Writing a sequel to a well-loved series is never easy – especially when the series told a complex story about a prophesied hero changing his world. In this case, the time travel elements let the writers “have it both ways.” They can reference great moments from the books, while generating new insights about the past that make the concept more than a retread. Like David Eddings’ The Malloreon (a sequel series to his fantasy epic The Belgariad), there are plot twists that cast doubt on what’s come before. Much like Eddings, these twists are clever but don’t completely work – it’s hard to write a fantasy epic that asks big questions, resolves them, then wrenches them open again. In the forced moments, this book feels less like Harry Potter, more like Doctor Who.

However, even when the twists feel forced, the characters are interesting enough that it’s worth seeing them to the end. Harry and his pals are older but no less fascinating, and their adult struggles feel genuine. Harry’s parenting concerns particularly take fans into unexpected territory: the novels talked a lot about his mother, less about his father. As he painfully finds out, being a legendary wizard doesn’t make up for the fact that he is a father with no example to follow. Albus Potter and his Hogwarts friends are equally interesting, especially when their struggles link them to their parents in unexpected ways. Some of them find that they’re more like their parents than they would ever admit. Others have to live down the consequences of their parents’ choices, pain maturing them before their years.

While it has its rough edges, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child captures that thing which made the Harry Potter novels so good. It combines fast-flying adventure with interesting character drama. It introduces plot twists that couldn’t be predicted but make perfect sense in hindsight. The play script format makes it different from reading a novel, but no less exciting.

Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Dear Hero by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ One of the very few books that truly is laugh-out loud funny.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 As a book made up of characters’ texts/emails to each other, it doesn’t have a “recognizable writer’s voice.” That being said, the writers organize events clearly, the formatting is well done, and characters’ dialogue clearly sets them apart.

Published September 2020 by INtense Publications, ISBN: 978-1947796799

Series: Dear Hero #1

Genre: Fiction, Superhero, Comedy, Romance, Chat Fiction

🔪 🔪 Being superheroes and supervillains, the characters organize their lives around fights (minor and major), but the violence is described in minimal terms.
💋 There is increasing “romantic chatter” as the story goes along and a few brief kissing scenes, nothing more explicit.

In a world not unlike our own, superheroes and supervillains exist. But they have a problem: how to find nemeses to fight on a regular basis? Enter Meta Match, an app that allows heroes and villains to meet up and plan fights. Cortex needs a new villain fast, so he uses the site to connect with another young kid on the block: the nefarious Vortex. They hit it off well, but as they get to know each other better… it may be that they’re hitting it off in ways they never planned.

Chat fiction, much like choose your own adventure stories, is a concept that sounds great but is hard to do well. Roat and Bolinger overcome this problem by replicating many kinds of chat rooms – text messages, online message boards, mistyped emails. The descriptions of fickle side characters trying to dominate online discussions makes the story clever and also topical. They also have a great ear for dialogue – smart-aleck comments, villains joking about what they do to their victims, etc. This makes it easy to tell the characters apart, even in the most complicated battle scenes where several characters are sharing messages about what’s happening.

As far as the superhero elements go, the authors use the romantic elements to consider a classic question: what cost does the superhero life carry? The story begins feeling like a Marvel story, but slowly gets darker as the protagonists consider whether these fights are really just games, and whether the game will leave them cynical. The plot never enters grungy Zack Snyder territory, but faces these questions honestly while keeping things witty.

All told, Bolinger and Roat produce a highly entertaining read. This book will appeal equally to superhero fans interested in a prose take on the genre’s tropes, or romantic comedy fans seeking a new angle on the “enemies become something else” trope.

Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Run Away by Harlan Coben

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I’d give this book four stars for incredible pacing, mystery, and plot. My only disappointment is that as focused as the story was on Paige, I didn’t feel her story was woven through the resolution well enough to leave me satisfied in regard to her. But the rest of the plot was phenomenal.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 This book is expertly written and I enjoyed every part of it—the plot twists, the unveiling, and the mystery itself kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat.

Published March 12th, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 9781538748466

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Mystery

🔪🔪🔪 This book gets three knives for violence. There are quite a few murders, but the way they’re written (mostly) leaves the gore out of it. It’s very matter of fact and the violence is handled well. All in all, not as violent as would be expected from a book with hit men, drug dens, and murder mysteries.

Simon Greene’s daughter Paige has been missing for months. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to track her down, until he finally gets a lead that she’ll be playing at Strawberry Fields at Central Park.

When that meeting goes wrong—leading to a few moments of unwanted viral fame as a video of Simon seemingly assaulting a homeless man takes over YouTube—he loses his only chance to save his daughter as she is sucked back into the drug addict life her boyfriend, Aaron, provides for her.

Not long after the internet craze has faded away, Aaron shows up dead in he and Paige’s apartment, and Simon sets out once more to find his daughter. But try as he might, Paige is in the wind, and now he’s a suspect in Aaron’s murder.

States away, Ash and Dee Dee continue down their hit list, taking out man after man until they draw too much attention to themselves and Ash has no other option than to return Dee Dee to the cult that acted as her home—to keep her safe from the police. Ash doesn’t know who hired them specifically, but someone in this cult wanted those men dead. And as long as he got paid, he didn’t care who died.

Private Investigator Elena Ramirez enters the scene in search of a missing boy named Henry Thorpe, and her investigations lead her to Aaron’s murder scene. Uncertain if the cases are connected but not wanting to miss any vital information, Simon and Elena begin comparing notes and sharing information.

But the question remains: how is Paige connected to these cult murders? Who killed Aaron? And where did Paige disappear to?

I really loved this book, all the way up until the end. Coben kept me on my toes, weaving the tapestry of the murders and the characters lives together so that even I, an experienced weaver myself, was left guessing. The final effect was one of a story where nothing is unbelievable—except for the plot thread that kept you reading in the first place. As I’ve already said, I was disappointed with the resolution for Paige’s character. I guess I had hoped she’d have a larger part to play in the murders, a larger part to play in the mystery. We spent much of the book trying to unravel her story, only to have her be connected to the main tension and plot by a very narrow thread that seems too weak to pull the weight.

I am a tough sell, and Coben had me gripped from paragraph one.

Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published March 9, 2020.