TTBF Author Repost Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Team Midsummer, Jessica & Lyv, are attending the Texas Teen Book Festival again this year in Austin, TX! To prepare and get ourselves amped-up for this event, we are reposting some of our reviews by some of the TTBF 17 authors! Today features one of Jessica’s all time favorites: E. Lockhart!

This review was originally posted on August 14, 2014


A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

When I met E. Lockhart at Book Expo America, I was trying so hard not to fangirl because I had been looking forward to this book for months.  Not only did I get a chance to meet her, but she also write an essential message in my copy of the book (which I’m sure she wrote in everyone’s) “Please Lie About This Book.”

Well, it is impossible for me to lie about how much I enjoyed this book.  I want to tell you so much about it in order to convince you to read it, but this is a book that needs to be discovered by each person individually.  The story line is excellent.  There I will tell you that much.

Lockhart’s writing style in this novel really helps add to the characterization of the narrator, Cadence (which is a elockharttweetname I’ve always loved), and it allows the reader to discover things as Cadence does…kind of.  This novel really explores the idea of an unreliable narrator.

I’ve said too much!

I cannot praise this book highly enough, and I won’t tarnish your reading experience with anymore.  Trust me, you will enjoy it immensely.

5 Bards  (I know you asked me to lie, E. Lockhart, but I decided to just withhold information instead!)



Book Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia, neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending- one that will rock his life to the core.

Well, if you’ve followed Midsummer at any point on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll realize that Lyv and I are fans of Jeff Zentner. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

To celebrate Zentner’s win of the William C. Morris award for 2017, I decided it was time to revisit The Serpent King and finally do a review.

Let me preface this review/fangirling with the fact that I grew up in the South. I dated a member of a pentecostal church. I grew up with one of my best friends coming from a more prominent family than mine. I was the nerd who lost herself in books constantly. I also worked a part time job while going to school full-time.  So there are a lot of things that I have in common with these characters and there are things I understand from my personal experiences. I think this is why I enjoy reading this novel as much as I do. Yes, there are very fundamental differences, but it takes me back to growing up in a school with just a couple hundred kids in my class.  Not going to lie, Lydia’s thoughts on Nascar are almost identical to mine.  Although I can’t hate on them too much anymore, because they employee one of my best friends.

So, if you haven’t had a chance to read this or even if you aren’t a giant fan of contemporary, I implore you to give Zentner’s AWARD WINNING, wait, did you catch that? AWARD WINNING NOVEL.

Now, on to my fangirl weird head canon theory:

Upon revisiting Dill, Travis, and Lydia I was distinctly reminded of one of my favorite television shows from high school, The OC. Now, other than the obvious differences between the super rich Orange County area of California versus the lower income small town in Tennessee, I’ve kind of fan cast the characters as the main three:

For all intents and purposes Dill is Ryan Atwood.  Why? Well, look at it from a factual standpoint.  Both characters’ fathers are in prison for an undetermined amount of time.  Their mothers work jobs to try and get by and are both high school dropouts. Not only are both Dill and Ryan struggling for money, but they both are musical. Don’t forget that Ryan was in musicals, and Dill is a musician.  Both are ashamed of their backgrounds and are vilified in their communities because of said background. Let’s see, both harbor feelings for a woman that they feel is out of their league, and neither of them think they are worthy of college.

Travis = Seth Cohen.  My first major reason for equating them to one another is because they were both my favorites. But look at it this way, Travis was the only person his age that was a fan of the fictional book series that he constantly talked about, and Seth was the founding and only member of the comic book club at his school.  He was considered the weird nerd for the way he dressed, much like Travis. In addition, his only friends for most of the first season were Ryan (Dill) and Marissa (Lydia). Also, like Travis, a beautiful girl that they didn’t expect to come into their lives and change it, did.


I’ll fully admit that my Lydia = Marissa Cooper comparison is much more of a stretch, but here we go: Marissa was considered to be one of the richest of the rich because of her father, just like Lydia was one of the wealthiest members of Forrestville.  Marissa was also a fashionista who set trends and was always wearing some awesome outfits, Lydia is a fashion icon on her website and to the blogging world.  Marissa eventually stopped caring what everyone thought of her after a tragic event in her life, subverting her whole persona, and Lydia also stops caring what her readership thinks of her after a tragic event as well. In addition, Marissa and Lydia both just wanted to escape the cage of their cities so they could be who they truly were. 

And that is my OC-Serpent King fan comparison. Sure, it isn’t a fool-proof comparison, but during this read I just couldn’t get these comparisons out of my head!
4 Bards to The Serpent King!

Book Review: Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund

205057Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful—and notorious—secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male.

So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her?

Whisked off into an initiation rite that’s a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”—from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.

I first read Secret Society Girl nine years ago when it first came out, and let me tell you, it still holds up. I love this book just as much now as I did then. Mostly because I can still relate to Amy so much, as a sarcastic (kind of know-it-all) twenty-something who feels like they barely have their life together. Within the first 30 pages I found myself writing “same” in the margins many times. Amy’s not a perfect character, she makes mistakes, she overanalyzes, and sometimes she’s judgmental, but that’s what makes her a great character and that’s why I love her.

The book itself is pretty straightforward and easy to read. Women finally get “tapped” into an all-male secret society and the stereotypical “old boys” push back against being brought into the 21st century for reasons like, “it will turn is into a goddamn dating club” and “I can already foresee the accusations of rape.” Yeah. These old guys are really great. But because the previous class of Rose & Grave actually decided to “tap” women, and this year’s class are also top-notch students, they all save the day and the women are allowed to keep their society status and all the benefits that come with it. Because of all this though, there are some really strong female friendships that come out of this. It’s an amazing representation of different types of women coming together for this common cause and developing strong bonds because of it.

So the book is a little cheesy, and sometimes a little stereotypical. But for the time it was released, I thought it was revolutionary. It was one of the first books I’d read where the main character had THREEE close friends who identified as LGBTQ, and one of them was openly pansexual, and everyone just moved on from her announcement. I was so shocked to see the word pansexual outside of any LGBTQ/ally organizations, PLUS the nonchalant reaction from everyone else was so refreshing.

All in all, it’s one of my favorite books, so four bards!





Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon.

Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.

As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

There is something to be said about a debut novel that tackles some of the most difficult aspects of life in 1969 and the delicately fragile aspects of being a young and impressionable teenage girl.

First and foremost I’m going to address the absolute accuracy of some of the observations that Cline makes about the treatment of women that not only transcends from youth into adulthood, but serves as a commentary on how gender inequality isn’t just a thing of the past.

Specifically, there is one major quote that depicts this for me, “That was part of being a girl – you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get.  If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch.  The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into.  Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”  This is so true to the woman’s journey.  You are told how to act and how to look based on magazines and television shows (also touched on in the novel), and how you are perceived by society is something you have to accept for what it is.

Evie is a very insecure fourteen-year-old in the flashbacks, but let’s be honest, who wasn’t insecure and uncomfortable in their own skin at that age?  Who didn’t desperately seek the approval of their parents, their peers, or those they are romantically interested in?  It is a part of growing up, and for me I noticed that all of these portions of her personality were extremely realistic and I could relate to them.  This novel also explores the discovery of sexuality and sexual preference, which is something that you experience through Evie in an open way.

Not only did I enjoy how brutally honest Cline was about the experience of young teen girls and how their experiences affect them in later life, (through older Evie interjecting throughout the novel and serving as a frame story), but I did enjoy the point of view shifts.  I would argue that Young Evie and Older Evie do represent two entirely different narrators, since Young Evie is naive and desperate for any type of attention or approval, Older Evie is withdrawn and paranoid.  There are only minute differences in the writing style and word choice during these switches, but it was significant enough for it to make a major difference in my reading experience–in a positive way.

On to the other important aspect of the novel: the infamous cult factor.  Now, for anyone who knows me, I’ve read Helter Skelter by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Manson by Jeff Guinn, so I’m aware of a lot of the details of the Manson Family and their abominable crimes, so when this book was announced to have been influenced heavily by their actions, I knew I had to pick it up.  So I won’t lie to you, this was the major selling point for me.

It’s pretty obvious that the three main girls that Evie deals with in the cult are based specifically on the three Manson women, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkle, and Leslie Van Houton (in that order in the picture).

The Susan character (named Suzanne in this tale) plays a much more significant role than the other two, who are relegated as outrageous background characters that flit around Evie and the rest of the cult.

***Side Note*** I did consider this interesting, since Susan Atkins is the only of the three that are no longer living, and that maybe Cline did this partially due to that fact, but it could just be a coincidence.

Anyway, Evie is absolutely entranced by these women from the very moment they appear in the narrative.  It’s absolutely imperative to her character development because she not only fancies herself as one of them but she falls in love with Suzanne, and spends much of her experience within the cult at her side.  Cline does such an excellent job at showcasing how these women could have devolved into the murderers they became, by showing Evie understand and comprehend how capable anyone could be.

It is important to remember where this novel is going, and there will be a lot of things that will make you squirm and make you uncomfortable.  This is not a novel for younger teens, but I would recommend it for anyone 16 and up.  Especially since the narrator spends a lot of time on her experiences as a young teen in this environment.

Parents: If you are concerned about some of the subject matter, then I encourage you to either read the novel first or read along with your teen and discuss. It could open a lot of important dialogues.

4 Bards for The Girls.


Blog Tour: And I Darken by Kiersten White



New from Kiersten White, the author of the Paranormalcy series and the Mind Games duology, comes a novel reimaging the immensely cruel Vlad the Impaler.

Whit_9780553522310_jkt_all_r1.inddNO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Release Date: June 28, 2016

Holy Crap.

This novel has so much going on and so much detail.  Now, unlike some novels that seem bogged down by seemingly useless details and flowery language (looking at you, Charles Dickens), And I Darken seems to be carved from a rich mahogany and it is done purposefully and necessarily.  Side note: it can be a little overwhelming to take in so much so quickly, but push through!

Not only does White immediately establish the tense atmosphere of this ruling family, but she properly exhibits the dichotomy between Lada and Radu.  It is definitely my favorite part of the novel, the sibling love and devotion despite their differences.  As someone who doesn’t always get along with my sibling, I even envied it a bit.  Which is odd considering this is a story about Vlad the Impaler….

Anyway, I find the dual point of view format to be ridiculously helpful in this story, even if Radu’s parts in this are significantly shorter and more to the point.  I sort of wish that there was more of a first person narrative here, but third person limited is always a good alternative to this.

White did such an excellent job portraying the absolute brutal attitude of Lada and the Ottoman empire at this time.  I found it difficult to read at times, but in a challenging way not in a un-entertaining way.  It is something wholly unique to the young adult genre and I have a feeling it is going to inspire many more works not only from White (since this is a series), but from other authors as well.  I sincerely hope it challenges authors to look to new types of storytelling.  Plus, gender-bending classic stories is a huge thing on tumblr, so it isn’t like it would be unaccepted by the readers.

Unlike many heroines in young adult novels, Lada is set up almost immediately as an anti-heroine since we know exactly what the future holds for this brutal teen.  However, it is impossible to not sympathize with this leader born into such a patriarchal and backwards society.  (Does anyone else kind of think Lada would work really well alongside Amarantha and the King of Hybern in the Court of Thorns and Roses Series? )

This book will please you, make you uncomfortable, and make you root for the ultimate bad girl.

4.5 Bards






Book Review: Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

It’s a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it’s a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned–crime pays.

Her latest job is paying very well indeed. Julia is posing as a housemaid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: A disgraced professor who sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison. An aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night. And a mysterious young woman who is clearly in hiding–though from what or whom?

Worse, Julia suspects that there’s a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city.

The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job. To go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she’d ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price. 

Release Date: June 7, 2016

I will be the first to tell you that the first novel I read after the absolutely amazing second installment of Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series was going to have a hard time catching my attention. However, Catherine Egan’s Julia Vanishes was up to the task.

The novel is set in some time period/fantasy world amalgamation of the Gaslight era with a bit of magical Steampunk thrown in.  It’s still a world where there is the clear proletariat/working class and a bourgeois that suppress the continued existence of magic and magical beings.  In fact, within the first third, the main character discusses and witnesses the murder of women who are accused of witchcraft.

Narratively speaking, the plot starts as a very slow burn and advances in a very natural way toward the climax and the culmination of the story.  I really enjoy Julia (also known as Ella) as a character and I found her no-nonsense, straight-forward first person narration to be rather indicative of her personality and it made me like her and connect with her much more on a personal level.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I really love when an author acknowledges and puts sexually active teens into their stories.  It is realistic and befitting of characters, like Julia and Wyn, who are in love to be sexual with one another.  It isn’t blatant and it isn’t smutty, but it is respectful scenes that indicate the act, rather than show it.  Which is still the common practice in YA, but it still gets the point across.  It is okay to be sexually active and safe.  I mean, Wyn isn’t exactly the best of male characters and I’d caution anyone to selecting him as a book boyfriend, but he really is relegated to the background.

This story is Julia’s story of knowledge and coming to find out who she is and what she is willing to do for money versus those she cares about.

I think this is a good first installment, and I have high hopes for the next installment, as this one is billed as Witch’s Child, #1.

The book is already available for pre-order and you can click on the links below my Bard selection!

I’m giving Julia Vanishes a solid 3.5 Bard rating.






Book Review: A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

The summer before college, Hannah swears she’s finally going to find The One. And for five perfect minutes, Hannah does find him. He’s cute and makes her laugh like crazy. She just wishes she’d caught his name, because Toilet Boy Cinderella really lacks sex appeal.
For Sam, the summer is off to a bad start for a million reasons. But for five minutes his luck changes: in a fancy restroom painted purple like it belongs in a Bond villain hideaway, Sam falls head over heels for some strange and hilarious girl. Of course, he doesn’t know her name. With his luck, he’ll never see her again, and he’ll remain a girlfriendless, moony-eyed virgin. Forever.
But another chance meeting brings them together, only to have a chance misunderstanding drive them apart . . . and then the cycle starts all over again. Madcap mishaps, raunchy hilarity, and deep romance follow these two wherever they go. For two people so clearly destined for each other, they sure have a hell of a lot of trouble even getting together.

True Fact: I am a giant Anglophile. My best friend is British, my cousin and her husband live there, and my college roommate and friend is British as well.  I grew up in a household that lauded The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Monty Python, and Doctor Who.  My point is that any novel that is set in Britain, imported to the American market from Britain, or has a character vacationing or visiting from Britain is going to capture my attention immediately.

So suffice it to say that when I realized that this was a quintessential British teen novel I was pretty excited.

Side note: Apparently the original title was “Lobsters,” a reference to Ross and Rachel on F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I kind of wish this title had stuck!  Although, it is possible that maybe publicists didn’t think some of the newer teen generation might not understand the reference, but I have faith they would have.

While I do find the whole archaic idea of “needing to find the one,” or “losing your virginity,” before you graduate from high school/secondary school a bit ridiculous.  However, in this case, I feel that the narrative is somewhat aware of this farcical ideal and takes it to a hilarious level.


Gratuitous shout out to my main Brit, Eve. (She’s the brunette. She looks pretty damn British, right?)

After being close friends with one and best friends with another British woman, I know how different the culture of sex and alcohol is in Britain compared to here in America, specifically in the South, where I grew up.  Sex is much more accepted in teenagers in Britain and it is much less of a taboo subject, so I find the frankness about virginity, hormonal and horny teens to be a breath of fresh air and something that should be more widely accepted in the young adult genre.  Sure, it can be a little polarizing for some readers who are not used to that type of open discussion, but I think it is well done and done in a hilarious way.  But, for parents who are worried about that, then maybe this book should be better suited for your older teens.

The drinking age in England is 18, but it is widely accepted that adults can buy their 16 and 17 year olds a drink.  It isn’t a big deal there like it is in America.  So I found this a completely normal aspect of the British teen novel.

My only real issue with this novel is all of the point of view shifts, because sometimes it really just didn’t create distinguishable voices at points. But overall the book is funny, endearing, blunt, risky, and just plain entertaining.


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One of my favorite parts is probably little noticed by other readers: “I only became aware of how ridiculous I looked when I turned onto the main street.  No one else was walking by themselves, let alone in their pajamas.” –pg 149.  I literally laughed out loud at this part, because the last time I was in England it was winter and my best friend absolutely refused to let me go outside and down the block in my pajamas to just get a bottle of water. It is just NOT DONE, she told me, and INAPPROPRIATE. So this just reminded me of the ridiculous fight we had about whether or not I could go out in my sweats. See?  You’ll learn all kinds of things about British culture.

4.5 Bards.






Book Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

91rrpnxvB3LLong ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

51o4SafxrCL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_After a a couple years of saying that I was going to read these books, I finally bought them (because look how pretty this leather-cloth set is!) and decided to start reading. Now, I have seen all of the series, and part of what motivated me to start reading was how terrible everything has gotten on the show and many friends have all said that the books are much better so, here we are.

It took a little bit to get into this first book, just because it’s honestly one of the best page to screen adaptations ever. The first season of Game of Thrones follows the book almost perfectly, and because of that, I pretty much knew everything that was happening/going to happen. So, with all of that, I’ll say Martin did an amazing job with this book. From creating this fantastical world and its surroundings to writing wonderfully different and distinctive voices. In a book with so many people to keep track of, and so many POV changes, each character is so distinct that it’s easy to follow and distinguish. I also really love the insight we get into characters that don’t have a POV through the characters that do. It’s interesting to see how certain characters are perceived by others while not really having a voice of their own.

I’d always heard that Martin was great at writing female characters and giving them a voice. So far I agree. I hear a lot about male fantasy authors that just write their female characters to serve the story of their main, male characters. Not only does Martin give multiple women characters a voice and a purpose, those voices make up almost half of the book, so kudos to you, George R.R. Martin, an author after my own feminist heart.

I do want to take a second and just mention my faves (which, I’ll be honest, were influenced by the show) because I can’t wait to see how different the books are for them. Tiny Arya Stark who just wants to be a Knight and not a Princess. Sansa Stark, my love, who DOES just want to be a Princess. Jon Snow, just like his father, so conflicted with honor. Daenerys Targaryen, Khaleesi, queen of my heart, finds her own power and demands to heard and followed. Finally, Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, the most sarcastic and abrasive character in the whole book, and honestly, the one with the most sense.

For this first installment of A Song of Ice and Fire series, I give 4 bards.





Book Review: Damage Done by Amanda Panitch

damagedone22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after.

Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend.

After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and memories of those twenty-two minutes that refuse to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police.

Now that she’s Lucy Black, she’s able to begin again. She’s even getting used to the empty bedroom where her brother should be. And her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school, a boy who will do anything to protect her. But when someone much more dangerous also takes notice, Lucy’s forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind.

One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning. . .

This novel is one that snuck up on me.  I really liked the synopsis and knew that I had to read it.  However, I didn’t expect all of the twists that came with this story.  Damage Done will definitely make you squirm a little in your seat as it brings some very uncomfortable topics to light, i.e.  a school shooting.  At first I thought that Panitch was doing something so great by dealing with the aftermath of school shootings by focusing on the family of the shooter and how everything clearly changed for them after such a tragedy.  What really happened in those 22 minutes, however, is something much more sinister and stained by another secret that is just as jaw-dropping.

Julia/Lucy is the narrator of Damage Done and from the beginning she seems like such a sympathetic narrator.  She’s the only survivor of what happened during the school shooting, save her brother who is in a coma after shooting himself.  Her family had to move after they became town pariahs and were pestered by journalists constantly at their home.  So the family moves a few hours away and assumes aliases so they will no longer be associated with the tragedy.  I think that is a really realistic possibility that could happen to families of school shooters.  But anyway, we take everything that Julia/Lucy says as truth because she gives us no reason not to.  The only possible way you could infer that she MIGHT be an unreliable narrator is all of the lies she tells concerning her past, but it is seemingly justified in order to protect her new life.

Many of the secondary characters are a bit weak based on their descriptions and their lack of fleshing out, but again with an unreliable narrator like Julia/Lucy then it is completely understandable that they might not be considerably developed.  Michael is practically a typical version of a “good boyfriend” and Alana is the basic archetype of a best friend who will do anything for her friend.  But really, it just seems that Julia/Lucy has manipulated them like she manipulates the reader.

Kudos to Panitch for surprising me with the awkward and uncomfortable reveal toward the end of the novel, and for providing such an unreliable narrator that was so subtle until the last few chapters that I wasn’t sure what to believe.

4 Bards for Damage Done


Book Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

You can check out Jessica’s review of the first novel, Seraphina, too!

First, I would like to say thank you to Rachel Hartman for including a summary of Seraphina at the opening of Shadow Scale. It has been at least a year, if not more, since I read book one, and having a reminder of the major plot points and characters made it much easier to slip back into the world of Goredd. I wish more authors did this.

I wanted to just LOVE this book, and it quite upsets me that this review isn’t going to be glowing. I loved Seraphina and had been really looking forward to seeing how Seraphina developed in the second book and if and how war between the dragons and the humans would be averted. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I loved it. I liked it, yes. Maybe I even really liked it, but I most definitely didn’t love it.

Let me start with the parts of the story I did like. I enjoyed Seraphina’s journeys – both the physical journey to all of Goredd’s neighbouring countries and her internal journey to learn more about herself. Seraphina has found herself in the middle of a diplomatic crisis, and this crisis gives her the opportunity to travel to a number of different countries where she learns that Goredd’s way of doing things is not the only way, or even the best way. This physical journey corresponds with her internal journey. Seraphina has always felt different (being half dragon will do that to a girl) and now that she has embraced her existence as half dragon and half human, she is learning what that means. It was heartbreaking to me when Seraphina realized that all of the other half dragons could see what they called mind-fire – an internal light that all half dragons have – and she couldn’t. Much of the first book was taken up with Seraphina’s search for others like her, and now that she has found them, she is still different.

I also found the love triangle between Seraphina, Prince Lucien Kiggs and Princess Glisselda very well done. All three characters love each other deeply, and none of them want to see either of the others hurt in any way. This leads to them taking great care with the emotions of the others.  These are characters who are not selfish; who realize that there is more to the world than their wants, or even their needs. It was refreshing to see this. Unfortunately, this also led to a part of the story that I did not like. Throughout all of the first book, and about 80% of the second book, the characters have behaved in one way. Suddenly, near the end of the second book, there is a massive change that has come out of nowhere. I don’t mind plot twists, but this particular twist didn’t seem to serve any function; especially given how the love triangle is eventually resolved. It seemed to me to be pandering to a specific demographic, and I did not see how it added to the story in any way.

I wish that had been my only disappointment in the story, but it wasn’t. Sadly, Rachel Hartman used one of my least favourite plot devices to end the problem – she invoked Deus ex machine. The entire story has been about Seraphina learning to accept who she is, along with all that goes with that, and in the climactic moment, when Seraphina is faced with her nemesis, a supernatural being comes along and walks off with that nemesis. Wait, what? Why couldn’t Seraphina have defeated Jannoula on her own? Why did we need an external force to come in? Seraphina has just discovered her abilities, and is learning to use them, and suddenly the need is gone. It was such a letdown for me. I wanted Seraphina to embrace herself, to accept that she has abilities beyond those of humans, and learn how to use those abilities.

This leads me to my biggest problem with the story – the unequal power between Seraphina and her nemesis, Jannoula. Jannoula was mentioned briefly in the first book, but in this book, she takes centre stage. She has the ability to take over the minds of others – and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many other minds she can control. How does one fight against this? I understand that to create drama, and a build up to a strong climax, the reader needs to feel the hero’s pain, but t his just went too far; so far, in fact, that Seraphina couldn’t defeat Jannoula – it required the last minute intervention of a godlike figure. I wanted Seraphina to learn how strong she really was, and to be able to defeat Jannoula on her own, but that didn’t happen.

For all these reasons, I can only give Shadow Scale 3 bards.







This review was submitted to A Midsummer Night’s Read by Sarah. 

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