ARC Review: “Welcome to Romero Park” by Amber Michelle Cook

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

WARNING: There will be slight spoilers in this review! I’ve got them marked with SPOILER, so be careful what you look at!

This novel ends at the setting of the first of the three days of the Harvest Moon. However, the first book in a series needs to be able to stand on its own. Look at Harry PotterInkheart, and Magyk, to name a few. In every one of these, the villain is vanquished and wrongs are set right, even if the reader knows it will only be for a little while. I am sorry to say that Welcome to Romero Park does not succeed in this.

The author spends 3/4 of the book making the reader trudge through dull and relatively uninteresting backstories, leaving them in the head of so many characters that it is impossible to feel any sort of attachment to any of them. We get bits and pieces of cliched backstories, but the characters are unoriginal and bland, and there is nothing that gives us a true connection. Her narrators are spread so thin that the story feels clunky and disjointed. It is often very hard to figure out any sort of timeline in the first part of the novel, but in the later sections it is much easier to see that everything is happening simultaneously.

The biggest grievance in this book, however, is the author’s assumption that her readers have never encountered a book before and therefore must have everything spoonfed to them. All throughout the book, things are told to the reader instead of shown to them, which is the biggest sin an author can make. If things are shown, it is only for a very brief moment and then the entirety of the next scene deals with a character explaining in detail what happened in the previous scene. This is especially prominent when the reader first arrives at the Helgram house, Highland Hall, in chapter 6 of part one. It extends to the prolonged judgment of Mrs. Helgram as well. I think the use of telling was most prominent when SPOILER Sophie Dorchester ran away nearly in tears after the scene in the sitting room near the end of the book. I had not picked up on any slight so monstrous as what she perceived, so it took Rosemary Helgram’s callout of her brother in the next scene to truly understand what had happened. This scene is particular could have had so much more tension in it, but as mentioned before, it is hard to feel any real sympathy for any of these characters, because they are so lacking in things that set them apart. END SPOILER

Another thing that goes along with the “show, not tell” is the author’s absolute delight in hitting her reader over the head with foreshadowing. It is all so painfully obvious (SPOILER and indeed, actually PLAYS OUT predictably instead of just being a red herring!! END SPOILER) what is going to happen all throughout the novel, particularly if you’ve read Jane Eyre. the author so loves writing her bad boys and wants you to know EXACTLY what they are up to.

Be forewarned that the language used will really begin to grate by chapter four. She is trying so hard to sound Austenian, but takes it too far. It also shows that, while the author’s love for archaic language comes out hard, she completely avoids the British “u” in words like color/colour. It’s a very small thing, but it stands out glaringly over the course of the novel, particularly when compared to the author’s enthusiasm over everything else.

I was really excited for this novel and was disappointed. There is so much fluff in the first two parts of this novel that it could’ve easily been cut down by 2/3 and nobody would’ve been the wiser. Stuff really didn’t start happening until I’d hit 82% in the Kindle edition! I understand it’s meant to sound Austenian, but Austen had a purpose for everything she wrote. Nothing was fluff. I spent an entire course studying Austen and her writing style, and while the author tries, it falls short for a few reasons:

  1. There just is not enough character development for the reader to care about anyone, and the characters are all cookie cutter lifted from other novels (Mr. Dorchester, for example, SPOILER is totally Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre END SPOILER, and Mrs. Helgram is SPOILER a dead ringer for Mrs. Bennet from Pride & Prejudice END SPOILER, and Miss Helgram reminds me of SPOILER Marianne from Sense and Sensibility END SPOILER).
  2. The author puts so many things in your face while keeping minor things infuriatingly vague (SPOILER Georgie’s condition, for example; does he have fainting spells? What’s up with him? He’s never been bitten or encountered anything unnatural; let us know what his problem is! END SPOILER)
  3. THERE IS SO MUCH FLUFF.

Had I not read Jane Austen’s novels first, and if I hadn’t studied them and other Gothic novels nearly to death during my time as an English undergraduate and graduate student, I might have felt okay with giving this book 3.5 or even 4 stars. As it stands, though, I’ve thoroughly studied (and thoroughly enjoyed!) Austen’s work and the work of the Brontë sisters over the past six years (I’m due to graduate with my English MA in May 2018), that I cannot ignore what is going on here.

I feel like there is potential for this book, but as it stands now, I feel like the only reason I would read the others in the series would be to see if the author can possibly wrap this up in a satisfying way. The end of book one was not satisfying, and the “preview” of book two at the end actually turned me away from attempting the next one. I give this book 2/5 stars. I really wanted to like it, but I just can’t.

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