Also Known As – Robin Benway // Once Every Never – Lesley Livingston // The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

One and a half of these books I read last week but never blogged about; the third, I just finished.

Also Known As:

“Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.

Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She’ll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school’s security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.”

I’m a big fan of Robin Benway (I’ve talked about Audrey, Wait! many times), and I was really excited to read her spy novel that came out over a year ago but that I kept forgetting to buy until earlier this fall. So it pains me to say this but…it was good. It just wasn’t great.

I liked Maggie, I loved Angelo, even Roux was pretty swell. But I feel like I’ve read these characters before. And not just in my frequent forays into YA, I mean in another Robin Benway book. Maggie was a more socially awkward Audrey (and, by being so, was automatically May from The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June), Roux was Victoria x 3. There’s a scene where Maggie’s getting ready for a date that reads almost identically to the scene where Audrey goes out with James for the first time (incidentally, that’s one of my favourite chapters, which is probably why I have most of it memorized).

“You’re being awfully nitpicky”, you might say, and I’d agree. I draw these comparisons because I’ve read Audrey, Wait! a thousand times, and April, May, and June at least half that. I make these connections because I admire and respect Robin Benway, and I desperately don’t want her to fall into the Cassandra Clare “all my characters in one series are basically older versions of all my characters in the other series” trap.

I also didn’t love Jesse Oliver, but that’s because I compared him to James, Henry, and even Julian (from Benway’s other books), and found him lacking whatever spark I liked in the other guys. He was very sweet, but sort of “meh”. Which is not to say I didn’t like the book; I liked the plot, the pacing was decent, the dialogue was (as always) hilarious. And Angelo was far and away the best character – I’ll read the sequel if only to spend a little more time with him.

Once Every Never:

“Clarinet Reid is a pretty typical teenager. On the surface. She’s smart, but a bit of a slacker; outgoing, but just a little insecure; not exactly a mischief-maker … but trouble tends to find her wherever she goes. Also? She unwittingly carries a centuries-old Druid Blood Curse running through her veins.

Now, with a single thoughtless act, what started off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville suddenly spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, avert an explosive catastrophe, save a Celtic warrior princess, right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Clare was even born, and if there’s still time— literally—maybe even get a date.

This is the kind of adventure that happens to a girl once every … never.”

Apparently this week I was just disappointed by normally beloved authors.

I’ve read (most of) Lesley Livingston’s other books. I’ve yet to finish the Starling series (just waiting to pick up Transcedent when I have the time), but I liked them all. This one…this one bothered me for some reason.

First of all, I couldn’t figure out why it took Clare so long to understand who Connal was. Like, pay attention, girl! It’s slap-in-the-face obvious, but it took her 100+ pages to be all “OH, I GET IT NOW”.

There were “romantic aspects” that annoyed me beyond reason. She falls through time and the first thing she thinks is “hey, that guy holding a sword is pretty hot…I wanna see him again”. Even though there’s a hot nerd living in London who’s madly in love with her (of course).

I could forgive that, but the thing that bothered me the most was the frequent messing-with-time-without-any-real-consequences. When she goes back and messes with things, the people who know what’s she’s doing still remember the original series of events. When she literally changes history, everything is still hunky-dory at home. With that much of time travel, I expected one – or more – of her loved ones to cease existing because she accidentally set off a chain of events that altered her life as she knew it. As Ron Stoppable once said, “Time travel…is a cornucopia of disturbing concepts”. You’d think that someone would disappear and raise the stakes, but no. Not yet, anyway.

I almost want Al (Allie, Clare’s best friend) to be the heroine because at least she’s smart and more likely to catch on quickly compared to Clare’s rather delayed reactions.

The Enchanted:

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it, but I do.” The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption—ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.”

On a completely separate (i.e. non-YA) note, I read The Enchanted.

One thing I loved about this book was the writing: it was lyrical, poetic, and sometimes disturbing. Our nameless narrator often talked about books and reading in general; as a life-long book lover, it was lovely to read his descriptions of how the act of reading was soothing, how the books transported him to a different place, even when he was stuck in his cell.

This was also a book that can give you pause: on the one hand, you’re reading about death row prisoners, men who have committed unspeakable, disgusting crimes. On the other hand, you can’t help but feel sorry for them, especially the narrator (so that, even though I guessed halfway through which inmate was telling the story, the revelation at the end still punched me in the stomach in a “how can you sympathize with someone like this” way). It was also fascinating to see York’s story unfold, told by such an unconventional narrator.

Overall, it was an excellent read. It definitely fell out of my usual comfort zone (in terms of subject matter), but it was very well done.

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