4 Facts Gone Fans Should Know When Reading Monster by Michael Grant

ARC of Monster by Michael Grant

I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for the ARC!

Four-star rating

When I heard Michael Grant was writing a new book set in the Gone universe, four years after the final, epic battle in Light, my emotions ranged from wild elation, to nervous anticipation, to desperate need, and back again. The Gone books have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf, ranking among my favorite and most frequently read series. For that reason, I knew that Monster could either be an absolute joy or a crushing disappointment, depending on the execution.

Now that I’ve had an opportunity to read Monster, I would equate the experience to gulping a glass of water after months of walking in a desert: while it didn’t fully quench my “thirst” for more of the Gone characters and their trials and tribulations in the FAYZ, it was still a hell of a relief to be back in that familiar world.

If you, like me, are a rabid fan of the Gone series but are somewhat nervous about whether you’ll like Monster, I would definitely recommend giving it a go. That said, below are:

4 Things You Should Know Going Into This Book:

1) It’s more of a spin-off than a continuation of the original series.

One thing you need to be aware of is that Monster has a very different vibe than the six “original” books in the Gone series. The story picks up four years after the events of Light, when bits of the same outer-space material that the gaiaphage was made of begin falling to Earth. Governments, scientists, civilians, terrorist groups and others race to claim pieces of the space rock, hoping to be granted the same epic powers that the kids in Perdido Beach had acquired four years earlier. Little do these power-seekers know that although the rock will transform them, it will do so in new and terrible ways.

Everything takes place on a much grander scale than in the other Gone books. The powers themselves are crazier and far more destructive, almost to the point where they’re just too much. Sam, Caine, and the other mutants from the original novels, despite having special abilities, were always recognizably human. They had human flaws, vulnerabilities, weaknesses, etc., and this made the triumphs all the more spectacular and the failures all the more distressing. In contrast, the mutants in Monster are transformed to the point of being more like creatures than people. They’re stronger, faster, more dangerous, and less vulnerable, and it robs the characters of some of their human “potency” as a result.

It’s weird, too, to see adult characters in Monster. Part of what I loved about Gone was that the FAYZ was its own little world, isolated from the rest of the planet. This brought unique challenges, such as food shortages, weird plagues, and a breakdown of social norms, and it was up to children and teenagers to solve the problems, fight the battles, etc. In Monster, that’s no longer the case. The events of the book play out on a global scale, with involvement from militaries and governments. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I was admittedly wistful for the FAYZ and the “you’re on your own, you poor suckers” aspect.

2) Monster focuses on a brand new cast of characters.

This is important: if you are expecting a reunion of the entire gang from Light, you are going to be disappointed. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of fantastic appearances from beloved characters – I’ll get to that in a minute – but the only main character who’s a carry-over from the first six books is Dekka Talent. While Dekka wasn’t my favorite character in Gone, I’d always liked her and was happy to have at least one familiar face among Monster’s protagonists. She’s the same awesome, sassy Dekka I knew and loved from before, which was a comfort and a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was a huge fan of any of the new characters in Monster. My biggest challenge was Shade Darby, who plays a large role in the story. She’s driven, manipulative, and determined, with a sharp intellect and a will of iron. Although she’s a complex and interesting person, there’s something about her that just doesn’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on exactly what rubs me the wrong way about her, but I’m hopeful that she’ll grow on me as the series progresses. After all, Sam and Caine, my two favorite characters in Gone, came a long way over the course of the books as far as character development is concerned.

“[Shade] was aware that she had a tendency to analyze people with the intensity and the emotional distance of a scientist counting bacteria on a slide.”

3) There are plenty of references to, and cameos from, the “old” characters.

I realize that so far, my comments may not sound like a ringing endorsement for this novel. However, I really did have a great time reading Monster, and this is 100% due to the wealth of references to the previous books in the series. Even though Dekka is the only person from those stories who I would count as a main character in Monster, many other characters from Gone make an appearance. These moments had me gasping in shock at times and jumping around like a joyful lunatic at others. [BEGIN SPOILER] The last line of the book in particular had me squealing in absolute glee. [END SPOILER]

You get glimpses of where some of the survivors of the FAYZ have ended up, with hints about who’s thriving, who’s had a breakdown, who’s developed a substance addiction, and so on. It’s sort of like those “where are they now?” celebrity specials that are occasionally on TV.

“‘Among survivors of the Perdido Beach Anomaly who did not have any mutations, thirty-six percent have had serious psychological or behavioral problems. Among those with major powers? The number is closer to ninety percent.’”

In a way, the survivors are a bit like celebrities. They’re famous – or infamous, in a few cases – and I found myself grinning at some of the references. There’s a fabulous scene where a woman scornfully derides Dekka for being known only as “Sam Temple’s strong right arm,” to which Dekka responds:

“‘Every single person…every single one…who came out of that hellhole alive is alive because of him. Sam Temple’s strong right arm? You can chisel those words on my tombstone, lady, and I’ll be a proud and happy corpse.”

4) Monster is only the beginning.

In addition to Monster, two more Gone novels – Villain and Hero – are in the works. I mention this because I expect the spin-off series to improve as it goes. There’s a LOT going on in Monster, to the point where it feels a bit disjointed at times. There are moments when the sheer number of pieces in this “puzzle” make it hard to see how they might come together to form a comprehensible picture; however, I’m willing to be patient and wait for the next two books to complete the image. Michael Grant laid the story’s foundation and began assembling his cast of characters in Monster, and I anticipate that once he starts building on this further the series will improve with each installment.

About the Book

Book cover for Monster by Michael GrantTitle: Monster
Author: Michael Grant
Synopsis:

In the stunning follow-up to the globally bestselling Gone series, Michael Grant continues the story of the teens who morph into superheroes—and supermonsters—when they ingest an alien virus.

Four years after the events of the FAYZ, new meteorites are hitting Earth, and the whole world is exposed to a strange alien virus that gives humans unique superpowers.

As some teens become heroes and others become dangerously out of control with their new powers, the world will become more terrifying than the FAYZ—and only a monstrous battle between good and evil can save them.Add to Goodreads Button

Audiobook Review: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tantalize Audiobook With Headphones and Wine Glass

About the Book

Audiobook cover for Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich SmithTitle: Tantalize
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read By:
Kim Mai Guest
Synopsis:

Are you predator or prey?

CLASSIFIED ADS: RESTAURANTS
SANGUINI’S: A VERY RARE RESTAURANT IS HIRING A CHEF DE CUISINE. DINNERS ONLY.
APPLY IN PERSON BETWEEN 2:00 AND 4:00 PM.

Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything? Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as a preeminent author of dark fantasy.

Review

1-star rating

Well, that was a mess.

I picked out this audiobook completely on a whim. I’m constantly in search of new books to listen to, as I have upwards of 10 commuting hours a week that need to be filled with audiobooks so I don’t go mad from boredom and/or road rage. Although I knew almost nothing about Tantalize, I liked its cover and title and decided to give it a whirl.

Not my greatest decision. I’m pretty sure Tantalize GAVE me road rage instead of preventing it.

I usually enjoy YA vampire stories (I will love the Twilight series until the day I die, terrible movies be damned), but the ridiculousness and stupidity of Tantalize grated on my nerves. If I had to describe my feelings towards this book in one word, I think “scathing” would be the most accurate choice.

Tantalize’s main character is Quincie Morris, an orphaned teenager being raised by her uncle in Texas. Quincie has inherited her parents’ Italian restaurant, and although it’s her pride and joy, it’s not flourishing as it should. So, how do Quincie and her Uncle Davidson decide to turn things around? By transforming their family restaurant into a theatrical, exclusive, vampire-themed restaurant, of course! You see, vampires and werewolves are real in the world of Tantalize, and even though most people are afraid of them, they apparently also want the thrill of dining in a restaurant that glorifies vampires and has staff pretend to be vampires.

Unfortunately for Quincie and her Uncle Davidson, someone brutally murders their chef shortly before their restaurant’s grand reopening. They scramble to find a replacement and end up with 20-something Henry, who Quincie is tasked with prepping for his spectacular debut as executive chef/master of ceremonies/lord of the night. This involves doing everything from finding Henry the perfect vampire duds to helping him create a darkly exotic new menu.

This brings me to my first problem with Tantalize: Quincie and her uncle’s efforts to convert their restaurant into a vampire fantasyland don’t make any sense. It’s not so much the theme itself that seems bizarre – I’ll be the first to admit I love attending Renaissance Faires, murder mystery dinners, and any event that involves costumes and playacting – but the way the Morrises go about their plans for the restaurant seem random at times and over-the-top at others. For example, why is the chef sashaying around the restaurant every night reciting monologues in full vampire attire? Shouldn’t he be spending his time, oh, I don’t know…cooking? And why does it take days upon days for Quincie and Henry to select just the right clothing for Henry’s costumes, and to select the “perfect” name for Henry’s vampire alter ego? And speaking of which, what makes anyone think that perfect name is BRADLEY, of all the options they could possibly have chosen from?!

There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense in this book, to be honest, like the many seemingly pointless scenes that don’t do anything to move the story along. I also found myself questioning nearly all of Quincie’s reactions and decisions:

– Why, when your family friend has been murdered, do you immediately and automatically suspect your CLOSEST FRIEND, who’s always had your back, of being the murdered? Instead of, hmm…just about any other, far more likely culprit?

– Why, when you’re a 17-year-old girl, do you think it’s normal to be spending all of your time one-on-one with an older guy you barely know, even if he is your uncle’s new employee? Why do you not care that it’s super weird and inappropriate for him to come on to you, and especially for your own uncle to insinuate that there’s something between the two of you to the point of nearly encouraging it?

– Why don’t you think it’s weird that two grown men, including your legal guardian, are suddenly plying you with alcohol at every opportunity, even in the morning? Especially when your uncle apparently never let you underage-drink before the creepy new chef started? Hmm, maybe that’s a sign that something weird is gong on!!!!

In short, Quincie, you’re as dumb as a rock and I have no idea how you’ve survived for 17 years.

Kim Mai Guest, the narrator for this audiobook, didn’t help matters. Her “Quincie” voice was way too cutesy, almost babyish, and was the aural equivalent of a cheese grater to the face. While Guest’s voices for Henry and Uncle Davidson weren’t bad, her portrayal of Quincie’s male friends was awful. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which cartoon or movie character the guys sounded like, and I finally realized it was Babe the Pig.

I do suspect I might’ve been able to tolerate Tantalize a little better if I’d read it in print as opposed to listening to the audiobook. Sure, Quincie would’ve still been infuriating, and the story would’ve still been ridiculous, but maybe it would’ve seemed a teensy bit less ridiculous if I’d been able to reread certain parts and try to make more sense of them. Then again, maybe not. At the very least, I wouldn’t have had to put up with the narrator’s piping, saccharine take on Quincie’s voice for hours on end. I’m pretty sure that voice is what pushed me over the edge and drove me to be completely and utterly annoyed by every aspect of the book by its conclusion.

Blog Tour, Review and Giveaway: The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

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About the Book

Book cover for The Uncrossing by Melissa EastlakeLuke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can’t break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn’t be falling for.

Jeremy’s been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something’s missing. Jeremy’s family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it’s tied to Jeremy.

This might be the one curse Luke can’t uncross. If true love’s kiss fails, what’s left for him and Jeremy?

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Review

Four-star rating

It’s been 24 hours since I finished reading The Uncrossing, and I’m still starry-eyed over the wondrousness of this story. Usually it’s romance that makes or breaks a book for me, but in the case of Eastlake’s debut it was the world building and the tangled web of magic, secrets, curses, and complex family relationships that really swept me away.

The Uncrossing is set in an alternate-universe New York City where magic is an accepted part of everyday life. Protection spells, hex bags, magical herb farming, and the like are commonplace, and the most powerful families have carved out territories for themselves in a sort of sorcerous turf war. These families operate like magical mafias, exercising tremendous authority in their neighborhoods and vying with their rivals for control. The leaders specialize in different brands of magic and are celebrities in their own right, with the Zhangs running Manhattan, the Malcolms controlling New Jersey, and the Kovrovs holding court in Brooklyn and the boroughs.

“It was hard to name what the Kovrovs did – protection, cooperation, extortion – connecting magical suppliers and consumers across New York.”

Luke Melnyk, one of the book’s two protagonists, knows what it means to be under the thumb of such magical mafiosos. His family has been indebted to the Kovrovs for decades, and Luke himself is recruited at 17 to serve as the Kovrovs’ curse breaker. He goes into the job under strict instructions from his family to keep his head down and his mouth shut, but this directive becomes harder and harder to follow as he realizes there’s something not right with Jeremy, the Kovrovs’ cursed young protégé.

I want SO BADLY to gush about the brilliantly inventive curse at the center of Luke and Jeremy’s relationship, but I’d have to tiptoe around a minefield of spoilers in order to do so. Suffice it to say that the curse is a doozy, with fascinating repercussions both at a practical level and a relationship level. Complicating matters is a snarled mess of secrets, bindings, feuds, and blood magic, which Luke and Jeremy must attempt to unravel.

While I can’t talk about the plot itself, I can and will spend some time singing the praises of Melissa Eastlake’s character building. I was endlessly mesmerized by the Kovrovs, who are the definition of “morally gray.” While Jeremy loves them and sees them as protectors, Luke views them as self-serving monsters. It’s fascinating to see how adroitly Eastlake presents evidence in support of both of these views.

“Alexei’s bindings wove a web, and he, in the center, felt every twinge the way a spider feels her web catching flies. That was a bad metaphor, because it made it sound like an evil, stalking thing, and it wasn’t – it only meant that he knew what was happening, when his people were in trouble or pain. It took a lot out of him, too. His mind stretched in a hundred directions all the time, and the people he’d bound to him haunted his dreams. Alexei always said the Kovrovs worked hard for their people, and so they asked for very reasonable things in return: loyalty, compensation, occasional favors. He said the people they helped – he called it helping – were grateful.”

This is especially true when it comes to Jeremy’s interactions with Alexei and Sergei, the heads of the Kovrov family. Eastlake does a marvelous job of showing tenderness and affection side by side with gruffness and callousness, shouting matches and hurtful comments next to fond gestures and brotherly protectiveness. The relationship among the three main Kovrov men is a work of art, the family dynamic fantastically complicated and muddied by obligation and guilt and love.

“When you’re the Kovrovs’ people, they make it feel like a family. Except, you miss a payment? You make a mistake? You’ll find out real quick who their family is.”

There are so many other great elements of this book as well, too many to name; they include the painfully insightful explorations of identity, personal limitations, and what it means to call someone family. There are moments of wonderful humor, too, as shown in the quotes below:

“‘Hostage-taking is a valuable tool and a fine tradition.’ Alexei sat on the couch and turned on the TV. ‘I personally have been taken hostage three times. The night I spent as Linh Zhang’s prisoner remains one of my fondest memories.’”

“‘We have had adventures today. Apparently I am so evil that performing a routine cleansing on my place caused our witch doctor to swoon.’ He sounded terribly pleased with himself.”

If I had to list one complaint about The Uncrossing, it’s that I spent a decent chunk of the beginning of the book ranging from mildly to severely confused. I was completely lost at first and wasn’t able to figure out what the “rules” of the world were, nor could I immediately get a good handle on who/what the Kovrovs were and how I was supposed to view them. Everything eventually came together, but it took me a while to get a good “grip” on everything.

I also struggled with understanding the basic meaning of some of the sentences. For some reason the way certain passages were worded really confused me. I’m usually a fast reader, but I had to take my time with this novel to make sure I wasn’t misconstruing anything important. For example, Luke’s two best friends are both named Wesley, so he differentiates between them by jokingly referring to them as Straight Wesley and Short Wesley. Because this wasn’t explained until midway through the book, though, I initially assumed they were brothers with the last name Wesley, and “Short” and “Straight” were their (admittedly strange) first names. I realize that probably makes me sound incredibly stupid, but something about the way this book was presented left me really confused at times.

The ending threw me for a bit of a loop as well, and I can’t say that I fully understand what happened, why it happened, and what the significance was. (Anyone else who reads this book, please hit me up and let’s chat about it, okay? I want to hear your thoughts.) All the same, this book had me under its spell from beginning to end, and I will be eagerly awaiting more novels from Melissa Eastlake in the future.

About the Author

Author photo for Melissa Eastlake

Melissa Eastlake’s debut novel, The Uncrossing, is coming in 2017 from Entangled Teen. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her partner and their dog.

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Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Mask of Shadows Book Cover Mask of Shadows
Linsey Miller

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the review copy!

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’ve procrastinated writing this review. My feelings towards Mask of Shadows are so “meh” that it’s been hard to bring myself to care enough to write down my reaction.

Mask of Shadows’ synopsis makes it sound WAY more exciting than it really is. Thieves! Assassins! Fights to the death! While the book does deliver all of those elements, they fall so far short of their potential that I was severely annoyed. I’ve read enough books that do have amazing thieves, assassins, and fights to the death that I get frustrated when other books promise me the same thing but don’t live up to my expectations.

Below are a few of the problems I had with this book.

1) Sal has no personality: Sal basically has two – and only two – defining qualities: they’re genderfluid, and they’re driven by a thirst for vengeance. That’s it. That’s really all I’ve got to say about them.

2) The book is confusing: Keeping up with all of the characters, nations, and historical events in Mask of Shadows is a struggle. In order to understand where Sal’s desire for revenge comes from, Miller has to unpack the history of a war and the different countries and cultures involved in it. At the beginning of the book Sal info-dumps a ton of details about old battles, magic systems, political views, allegiances, and rivalries. My understanding of who everyone was and what they believed and what they were responsible for was murky at best. It was hard to take it all in, and I kept forgetting key points and players. For a while I tried flipping back and forth through the pages to try to remind myself, but eventually I gave up caring.

3) The competition’s inane: The entire premise of this novel is that a bunch of cutthroat adversaries are competing in a deadly contest to join the queen’s elite group of assassins. I expected something like a tournament, or a battle royale, or at the very last a free-for-all like in The Hunger Games. Nope. Instead, there are optional training sessions wherein the members of the Queen’s Left Hand teach the auditioners skills like poisoning and archery and etiquette. (That’s right. Assassins-in-training are taking freakin’ ettiquette.) And basically the auditioners are just supposed to go along with this and also randomly take opportunities to try to kill each other along the way. Um…okay. Seems kind of lame to me.

Also, why would the Queen’s Left Hand take the time to teach an entire group of auditioners the skills they want the new Opal to have; why not just select someone who’s already got most of those skills? Likewise, why waste resources on arranging a special tutor so that Sal, a single auditioner, can learn to read? Sal could very likely die during the competition – it would make far more sense to wait and see if they survive and win before investing the time to train them.

Something else I didn’t understand about the asinine competition was how far some competitors made it, seemingly without cultivating the desired skills. I’m thinking of Sal in particular. They might’ve been a thief, but they weren’t particularly gifted at sword fighting, feats of strength, or any of the other skills that the Queen’s Left Hand were teaching and evaluating. So how did Sal make it as far as they did? It made no sense.

4) I just wasn’t feeling any of it: Unfortunately, I wasn’t convinced by anything Mask of Shadows tried to tell me. I was supposed to think Sal was cunning and dangerous; I didn’t buy it. I was supposed to find the romance heartfelt and life-changing. Um, not so much. I was supposed to admire the queen and be a little in awe of her. Nope, sorry.

All in all, I’m intensely glad to be done with Mask of Shadows. I’m ready to go out and find a different book with a thief/assassin/competition, one that actually does those subjects justice.

Blog Tour, Review, and Giveaway: Counting Wolves by Michael F. Stewart


About the Book

Counting Wolves
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: August 14, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

The Breakfast Club meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the lair of an adolescent psych ward.

Milly’s evil stepmother commits her to a pediatric psych ward. That’s just what the wolf wants. With bunk mates like Red, who’s spiraling out of control; Pig, a fire-bug who claims Milly as her own—but just wants extra dessert—Vanet, a manic teen masquerading as a fairy godmother with wish-granting powers as likely to kill as to help; and the mysterious Wolfgang, rumored to roam for blood at night; it doesn’t take long for Milly to realize that only her dead mother’s book of tales can save her.

But Milly’s spells of protection weaken as her wolf stalks the hospital corridors. The ward’s a Dark Wood, and she’s not alone. As her power crumbles, she must let go of her magic and discover new weapons if she is to transform from hunted to hunter.

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Review:

Four-star rating

I received a free copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the review copy!

Counting Wolves was a pleasant surprise for me. When I requested an ARC of the book, I was anticipating a dark fairy tale set in a creepy psych ward with sadistic nurses and tormented teenagers who aren’t crazy but can’t convince anyone of that fact. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve loved a book like that, but I ended up loving what Stewart actually delivered – a look at mental illness and recovery through the lens of a fairy tale – even more.

Fifteen-year-old Milly Malone, the book’s protagonist, knows that fairy tales are more than mere stories – after all, she’s being stalked by a creature from one of the tales, a ravenous wolf that’s out for her blood. The only way to keep the wolf at bay is a magic spell, which requires Milly to count to 100 every time she wants to speak, enter a doorway, take a bite of food, etc. Although Milly knows the spell’s necessary to keep herself and her loved ones safe from the wolf, no one else understands her motivations, and she ultimately finds herself locked away in a pediatric psychiatric ward.

Stewart does a fantastic job of imbuing his novel with symbolism, and the role fairy tales play in Counting Wolves is one of the things that appeals to me most about this book. Milly’s mother raised her on these tales as a way to teach her important lessons, and so fairy tales are how Milly views the world. There are myriad references to these stories – “What big teeth you have, Doctor” – and several of the fables Milly’s read over the years are interspersed throughout the book. The people she meets in the ward are the embodiment of various stories, like the comatose “Sleeping Beauty,” and it’s fascinating to see all of the fairy tale threads woven into the tapestry of this novel.

“This is how every fairy tale starts. With the storyteller explaining to the reader just how it is. There once was a girl named Milly who was the wolf’s coveted meal. Whose father left her in the clutches of an evil stepmother. Whose stepmother imprisoned her with monsters.

At first, Milly’s compulsions are exasperating to read about, in that waiting for her to count all the time can be frustrating and tedious. Her counting consumes her and alienates her from everyone, including the reader. After a while, though, as I grew used to Milly and more information was uncovered about the root of her battle with the wolf, I found myself less annoyed and more intrigued/sympathetic. I was especially enthralled by the sections of the story that focus on Milly’s respective relationships with her deceased mother and new stepmother.

I really appreciate how Stewart approaches mental illness in this book. As much fun as I admittedly have reading psychological thrillers and books about eerie asylums, it’s gratifying to see a positive portrayal of mental healthcare. It’s so rewarding to watch Milly gain strength and courage and to watch her personality emerge once she stops letting her fears define her. The progression of her treatment strikes me as believable and realistic, though I’m not an expert and can’t say for sure.

One of the only negatives about this book for me was Milly’s fellow patients. It’s not that they’re poorly written; it’s just that I didn’t really connect with them. They’re very intense, and while they’re memorable, they’re not especially likable. The times when they exhibit endearing traits are overshadowed by really bizarre, off-putting behavior, like masturbating in plain view or mentioning that they once slit a goat’s throat as part of a Satanic ritual. The characters did grow on me a bit by the end of the novel, but I still wouldn’t say that I felt comfortable around them.

That aside, I greatly enjoyed Counting Wolves and will likely seek out more of Stewart’s work. While this story wasn’t the dark, twisty psychological thriller I originally anticipated, I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve read those kinds of books before and will almost certainly read them again, but I haven’t come across many books about mental illness that use fairy tale symbolism effectively.

Author Bio

Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.

He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.

For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.

Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.

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