The Blood of Olympus Review

“In this fifth and final installment of the Heroes of Olympus series, author Rick Riordan pulls together a myriad of storylines, characters, and ancient myths that keep his audience glued to their books until the final sentence. I wouldn’t normally write a review for the last book in a series, but Riordan’s work has made such an impact on pre-teen and teenage audiences that I wanted to share my experience with his books, and especially his latest novel. I will try to avoid spoilers, and I will flag any spoilers I do share in order to adequately review the work…”

This review was published on The End in Mind. To read the full review, please visit:

http://theendinmind.net/?p=42550

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Soman Chainani’s A World Without Princes

A world without princes

This is a follow up article to last month’s review over The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. Chainani’s first book centered around Agatha and Sophie, two friends who were kidnapped from their town, and taken to the School for Good and Evil. Beautiful Sophie was placed in the school for evil, while spunky Agatha was placed in the school for good. The story revolved around both girls trying to switch schools, until it became clear they were exactly where they needed to be. Sophie gave in to her selfishness, and transformed into a horrible witch, while Princess Agatha had to defend the school from the ensuing attacks.

At the end of the story Agatha had a choice to save and return to the town with Sophie, or to stay with her prince, Tedros. Agatha chooses Sophie and the two are transported back to town to live “happily ever after.”

The problem?

Agatha still wants her prince, and makes a wish to be back with him, thus inciting the events of the sequel A World Without Princes.

In this installment, Agatha unknowingly re-opens the portal between worlds because of the strength of her wish, and the two girls are taken back again. This time, things are different. No longer are witches and princesses enemies–this time it’s men who are the enemy. (Yes, you read this right. I had to set down the book and groan when I read that part, so I understand if you need a moment.)

Because of Agatha’s choice to return with Sophie at the end of the first book, princesses from all parts of the enchanted world are throwing their husbands out, or “asserting” their rights to rule alone. This, of course, makes the men angry and hostile, and the general notion is that in order to get balance restored, Agatha and Sophie need to be killed.

To make matters worse? The one leading the charge to restore order is Tedros, Agatha’s prince. He believes that he must kill the “witch” in order to win the heart of his princess, and Agatha is told she must either choose Sophie again, or kiss Tedros. Again, Agatha is caught between her best friend and her true love, and there is no easy way out of the situation. To raise the stakes, Tedros, believing that Agatha has betrayed him puts a price on her head, and Sophie may or may not be showing symptoms of turning back into the evil witch.

It’s up to the two best friends to restore balance in the kingdoms, or a full out war will ensue between men and women.

The biggest problem is the fact that the series target audience is children aged 7-12. This book was sold in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble. Chainani’s first book focused on blurring the lines of good and evil, and this one focused on blurring the lines between gender roles. These books are too old for their target audience, and promote moral and gender confusion at an age where children are bombarded from all angles with the confusion of just growing up. They don’t need more confusion from the books they read. Chainani’s writing, being hailed as original and a fresh look at fairy tales borrows troupes from classic fairy tales and twists them into a “modern” perspective. The books are too long, with the endings springing up quickly from drawn out middle scenes. Character development is minimal, while sentence structure is confusing, and dialogue is cliché. Chainani’s immature writing style muddles any message he would send to the reader.

On the topic of muddled messages:

First of all, readers see that Agatha’s choice set off a chain reaction she never intended. When the girls return to the school, they see it split, not into good and evil, but into the boy’s school and the girl’s school. All the girls whether from the “good” or “evil” side are allowed into the school for girls, and are also allowed to do whatever they want with their appearance. Princesses can have mohawks, and witches can try to improve their appearance. Girls are encouraged to read, study art, play instruments, and better their minds. This should be a good change, but it makes the girls hard, cruel, and they are encouraged to be both men and women in attitude. Their femininity is now perceived as weakness. Meanwhile, the boys school disintegrates into hormonal chaos, as there is no softening element to “hold the boys in check.”

Agatha, like the reader wonders why girls couldn’t improve their minds, strengthen their bodies, and still be feminine? Why couldn’t boys work alongside their princesses, without being pushed out? Sophie even asks the question of “Why can’t a girl have both a best friend and a prince?”

Neither men nor women were portrayed in a great light in this story. The men were violent, and the women power hungry. I don’t even know why Agatha wanted to be with her Prince so much. He was shown throughout most of the story to be focused on the fact that because his mother betrayed the family when he was a young child, that every woman must betray him. He is too full of bitterness and distrust to have a healthy relationship, and the author presents “true love’s kiss” as the healing element. That is not a good message to be sending out to young girls. “Oh just kiss him, and all of his bitterness will melt away.” Not likely.

Sophie, throughout the story, is afraid of losing her best friend to a prince and will therefore do anything to keep the two apart. She is not doing this for Agatha’s benefit, but for selfish reasons. She believes that if Agatha has a prince, then their friendship will be over. She does everything in her power to prove she’s changed, that she is not evil, but her actions still come from a place of self-protection.

At the end of the story, Agatha is again given a choice: Tedros or Sophie, and this time she chooses Tedros. What is alarming, is that the aftermath of that choice makes the reader question if her decision was correct. Sophie, heartbroken, runs straight into the arms of the series villain, and the last line of the book reads: “…two girls now pulled apart like strangers, each in the arms of a boy, Good with Good, Evil with Evil…”

It is a terrible thing to instill in children from an early age that they must “choose” between friendship and romantic love like it’s a choice of life or death. The author is trying to create an edgy fairy tale for children, but is leaving out the redemption, the solidity of friendship, and the beauty of real love. Everything is tainted with lust, ambition, and selfishness.

Perhaps the final installment will clear some of this up, but as of now, both books in the series have left a negative impression with me. I wish I could encourage the reading of these stories because it is a creative idea, but the poor writing style combined with the inappropriate material for the age level forces me to encourage readers to let this one pass by.

The School for Good and Evil: Soman Chainani

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“Welcome to the School for Good and Evil, where best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.

But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are . . . ?”

-Amazon

I read Soman Chainani’s debut novel in one day. I’d seen the gorgeous cover for the book on a fairytale site I frequent and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the story. My hopes were high. I dove into the novel headfirst and immersed myself into his created world where Good and Evil are not what they seem.

At the beginning, I thought the book was going to be about two friends who discover that physical beauty is nothing compared to the condition of their souls. Sophie was physically gorgeous but her attitude towards others was shallow and at times even cruel. Agatha did not consider herself physically attractive but through the story she is revealed to be a brave, kind, and complex character.

After their placement, Sophie was furious at being put into the School for Evil and did everything in her power to “fix” the situation. She was not above manipulation, violence, or seduction to get what she wanted. At one point, after she’d performed her first act of pure evil, she decided to seduce her way into people’s good graces by wearing skimpy outfits to flaunt her body. This was not shown as acceptable in the story, but the scenes where the author describes Sophie’s transformation are too risqué for younger readers.

At the heart of the conflict is a handsome prince (Surprised? Me either) who is more annoying than charming. Prince Tedros is obsessed with his looks, and the looks of others. He hates Agatha from the beginning because she looks different from the “beautiful” girls in the school. Tedros is physically attracted to Sophie and vows to help her get out of the School for Evil. Through a series of events, it becomes clear to Tedros that Sophie is not kind at heart and his affections shift to Agatha. The scenes where Tedros was allowed to express his point of view were supposed to create complexity in the character, but only made me roll my eyes at the stereotypical “misunderstood hero” who couldn’t be held accountable for his actions because he’d had a rough childhood. Despite this, he did grow as a character and honestly he and Agatha made a great pair, but this was only explored near the end of the novel after the reader had been exposed to his melodramatic side for over four-hundred pages.

The ending of the novel was vague (to many readers) about the course of love and this opened the doorway for the sequel A World Without Princes in which Chainani says that not only will the lines between good and evil be blurred, but so will the lines of gender expectations.

I was severely disappointed by this story because of the content being explored in a novel for a target audience of middle grade readers (ages nine to twelve) and I was confused as to the message being sent to readers. For clarification, I decided to do some research on the author. In interviews he stated that he wanted to re-invent the ideas of good and evil in his story to show kids today that they do not have to be what society demands of them. He wanted to create an unfamiliar world for the readers where conventional ideas are cast aside and people are allowed to explore different ideas of morality and gender. He wanted to show that we are all human, that we all have areas of light and dark in our hearts, and are all in are in need of redemption. While this is true, his “redemption” or conclusion to the story caused more harm than good.

Blurring the lines between good and evil does not necessarily equal a complex story. Some novels with a clear cut “good vs. evil” theme have seemed contrived as of late, but I blame authorial laziness and not the theme itself. It’s time for authors to leave behind the idea of “perfect” heroes and “one dimensional” villains. That’s one thing Chainani and I have in common. But I believe the exploration of humanity’s utter depravity and our desperate need for redemption should draw readers towards hope, not point them down a path of moral ambiguity. 

City of Bones

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Cassandra Clare’s novel, City of Bones follows a girl named Clary Fray as she discovers the supernatural world of “Shadowhunters.” They are a group of individuals blessed with Angel blood who destroy demons, and try to keep peace with various other mythical races (fairies, werewolves, warlocks…etc). Clary has grown up mortal, but is gifted with the “Sight,” a talent that allows her to see the Shadowhunters (who are normally invisible to ‘mundanes’) and to interpret their healing runes. (Intricate tattoos they give themselves in order to heal or defend).

I will begin by saying that it’s taken me months to gather my thoughts on this book. I’ve begun this review several times and scrapped it because I couldn’t articulate myself in the way I wanted. I actually debated whether or not to write this review, but I found out that some of my middle and younger high school girls read this series, and I decided I needed to share my views on the novel.

I began the book with high hopes. It came recommended to me by some friends who I trust when it comes to literature. I trust their judgment, but City of Bones was not what I’d hoped it to be. The story was highly entertaining, but I felt myself bored with many of the main characters, and felt the dynamics between Clary and her two love interests (Jace the mysterious Shadowhunter, and Simon, the sweet and quirky best friend) overdone and far too dramatic.

The premise of the story was fascinating to me, and I did enjoy the plot. I was saddened by the author’s portrayal of the main character. Clary had all the potential to be a unique and fascinating heroine, but she reacted to situations in juvenile, predictable ways: stomping her foot, rolling her eyes, or storming out of a room when she did not like what was going on around her. Yes, the author is writing a YA novel, but these actions made Clary seem younger than the author intended. Maybe this changes as she grows as a character during the rest of the series, but in the first book, these actions took me out of the story.

The style of the book, to me, left something to be desired. Sentences like “a small flower of apprehension began to open inside her chest,” and similes such as “the moon hung like a locket in the sky” felt as if the author were trying a bit too hard to find her voice. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were beautifully constructed sections of this story, but the overly decorated language distracted me, rather than adding depth to the story. I’d be interested to see how this progresses in the other novels. Cassandra Clare definitely has a knack for story, and I’d be curious to see how the writing style matures as the series progresses.

One aspect of the novel that did not sit well with me as I thought of my younger students reading it was the way in which most of the characters are so focused on whether or not they have a significant other. Many of the emotions in the novel were authentic, but there was one point when Clary’s crush Jace thought that Clary was cheating on him with Simon(which she was not), and instead of letting her explain the situation, he slinked off like a wounded animal. There is not much honest communication in the story. Maybe that comes later in the series as the characters develop…but it was severely lacking in the first installment.

Also, parents of teens might shy away from the moral ambiguity that many of the characters possess, plus the flippancy with which modesty is treated in the story. Clary, encouraged to bloom out of her ‘mundane’ self, gets a makeover and ends up in a short, tight dress that truly impresses her crush.

Overall, the story had potential but I felt that it stayed ‘safe’ in choosing to rely on surface level dialogue and character stereotypes instead of digging into the meat of the story and developing rounded characters. I do not like to write off an entire series by only reading one book, so I will read the rest.

Things to be aware of before reading:

There are many references to angels and demons, but instead of a Biblical account, the theology of the story is more of a “universal” church which involves many truths that come together to create ‘good.’ There was not much discussion of this, but the moral ambiguity has the potential to become spiritually threatening to younger readers who aren’t as grounded or familiar with different worldviews.

Also, the book does show open flirtation between two male characters. Again, as I said in another review, it is not just the fact that the author choose to include this, but what she did with the characters that I found inappropriate. The character in question was angry because the one he loved did not return those feelings. He only became less antagonistic when his feelings drifted to someone else. The message that our feelings dictate our actions is one that I did not appreciate. Yes, unrequited love is unbearably painful, but romantic love should not be the guiding factor in finding happiness or joy in life.

That wraps things up for now. The second book in the series will not be my next post but if you’re curious about the series, stay tuned and I will review it in the coming months.

I also take requests if there is a book you’d like reviewed, let me know in the comments section.

Thanks for reading,

A.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

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“When a great white bear promises untold riches to her family, the Lass agrees to go away with him. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle. To unravel the mystery, the Lass sets out on a windswept journey beyond the edge of the world. Based on the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon, with romantic echoes of Beauty and the Beast, this re-imagined story will leave fans of fantasy and fairy tale enchanted by Jessica Day George.”

–Amazon

I’ve had this book on my ‘to read list’ for over two years, and was thrilled when I received it as a Christmas gift this year. I had no idea what to expect, but the premise looked entertaining, and I already owned another book by the same author that I quite enjoyed, so I decided to take some time the day after Christmas and read a chapter or two.

By the second page, I was hooked, and knew I’d be reading much further than anticipated. Several hours (and too many Christmas snacks) later, I finished reading the book. I don’t normally have time to ingest a book in one sitting, and I don’t usually sit still long enough to do so, but I was utterly captivated by Jessica Day George’s story of a girl with no name and the adventure she embarks upon in this novel.

The story is a re-telling of a Nordic legend entitled East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but also has elements from several other tales including: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen, the story of Cupid and Psyche from Greek Mythology, and Beauty and the Beast. In some cases, the blending of an original idea plus so many stories would be tedious, and seem contrived, but in this scenario, it was the opposite. The story was fresh, and although it held allusions to other tales, it was authentic in its own right, and extremely creative. It was clear the author did her research (there’s even a select biography in the back of the book), but the research only added texture to the story.

George spun her tale with apparent ease. The plot moved forward at a pace that was engaging, the prose was clean and crisp, and the characters developed as the story progressed. I will say that the style of the book is very ‘simple,’ in the way a fairy tale is ‘simple’ at first, but George manages to hide subtlety within the pages of this re-told fairy tale.

As in the tradition of fairy tales, some of the characters remain static (unchanging), and some felt a bit underdeveloped at times, but that is the way that traditional fairy tales go. The focus was on the heroine, and in this case, it worked for me. Our unnamed girl goes through a journey that forces her to grow up and look at how her decisions affect not only herself, but those around her in a wider circle. She learns the importance of honesty, humility, and of putting others before herself. George’s focused attentions on her main character were well spent. I went from liking the protagonist, to not liking her, to respecting her in the end.

Before I write any more on the subject, I need to submit my one and only hesitation about the story. This will include SPOILERS.

*** BEGIN SPOILER ZONE ***

The lass’s world is under a reign of terror from the Troll Queen and her daughter. The Troll Princess brings havoc on the lives of men. Every century or so, she decides to find a new husband, but no man would want to marry a troll, so she forces them. Her first husband struck a deal with her that once a husband is chosen, he may live away from the Princess for a year in a castle of ice. The only catch: the man is transformed into a polar bear by day, then back to a man each night (think Swan Princess). If, while in bear form, he can find a maiden to live in the castle as a ‘bride’ for one year, without looking at his face during the night, the spell will be broken.

When the heroine of our story goes to live at the palace, she is alarmed because each night, a stranger climbs into bed with her and sleeps there. There is no sexual promiscuity, they do not even kiss, or touch. He just sleeps in the same bed with her because the rule states that she has to be a ‘bride.’ It is very chaste.

There is also a scene near the end of the novel where the Lass rescues the Prince, but is locked in a room with him for a whole night without enchanted sleep. George has them talk, kiss once, and the Prince kisses her hands…there is no other explanation of the events of the evening.

***END SPOILER ZONE***

Would I recommend the book? Yes, I would, with one hesitation that I raised above. The book, as a whole, inspired me as a writer in the best way possible.

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.

A.

The House of Hades – Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus Book 4

House of Hades

Yes, I’m kicking off this blog with a post about the fourth book in a series. Bad form? Possibly. But I couldn’t sit quietly by and let this opportunity slip past.

I have loved this author for about four years now. The majority of his works are wholesome, educational, and tremendously fun for the young adult (and even adult) community. If you are not familiar with the world of Percy Jackson, please visit the link below read about the first book, “The Lightening Thief.” There is a lot of information in that ‘Rationale’ but some of my favorite points about the first book, I’ve quoted from the website:

“The uneasy mix of Classical Greek and Roman heritage and Judeo-Christian values is the oldest conflict in Western Civilization. Understanding both strands, which blended to form our modern culture, is critical to becoming an informed member of society. The Lightning Thief explores Greek mythology in a modern setting, but it does so as a humorous work of fantasy, and makes no attempt to subvert or contradict Judeo-Christian teachings. Early in the book, the character Chiron draws a clear distinction between God, capital-G, the creator of the universe, and the Greek gods (lower-case g). Chiron says he does not wish to delve into the metaphysical issue of God, but he has no qualms about discussing the Olympians because they are a “much smaller matter.” The gods of Olympus are depicted as powerful beings who interact with their children and demand respect. They are archetypal forces deeply embedded in and inseparable from Western thought. However there is no suggestion within the book that pagan god worship be revived, or that it replace modern religion. Rather, the whole of Western culture is seen as a tribute to the enduring legacy of Olympus.

Similarly, the fantastical elements in the novel are drawn directly from Greek mythology, and thus operate at a deeply symbolic level. As with all stories based on the hero’s quest, The Lightning Thief presents monsters as external manifestations of the internal conflicts Percy must win to achieve his coming of age. The fight with Medusa is symbolic of the tension between Percy and Annabeth. The gorgon is the age-old grudge between their parents which the two children must put behind them. Facing the Chimera in the St. Louis Arch is really about Percy facing his own fears of inadequacy. The trip to the Underworld is central to Percy’s changing world view. When he returns to his family, he realizes he cannot simply petrify his step-father, as much as they loathe each other, because Percy now understands something about mortality and the responsibilities that go with his power. He appreciates the consequences of taking a life. Despite the trappings of fantasy, Percy is no magician. He must rely on his sword skills, his strength, and most of all his wits to think his way out of problems.”

— Source: http://www.rickriordan.com/my-books/percy-jackson/resources/rationale.aspx

That being said, I felt that Riordan crossed a few boundaries in his latest installment.

First of all, If you haven’t read the Percy Jackson or the Heroes of Olympus series, have no fear. I will give fair warning before any spoilers happen in this blog.

Secondly, I will be reviewing the Percy Jackson series book by book on here in the future.

Without further ado:

My review of The House of Hades.

(Note – most reviews will contain more plot/writing style/character development topics but there were some issues in House of Hades that need to be addressed).

After reading The House of Hades, I was stunned by the amount of violence that was in this book. Yes, the characters had to face many challenges, and they all proved worthy, but I was alarmed by the amount of anger that presented itself in most of the characters. They’re ‘growing up’ and losing innocence. I get that. I also get why Riordan pushed his characters to the breaking point. He took each one of them and made them confront their biggest doubts, fears, and insecurities. He had to do that as an author to allow his characters the maturity they needed for the final battle. Okay, that’s good character development, BUT, the way he left them straggling, taking on the adult roles, having to BE adults at 13, 15, 16, 17…etc. I did not appreciate.
A major theme in the novel was Anger. Each character had to make a choice to let anger rule them, or to let go of it.  Only one or two of the characters showed remorse for their anger, or really questioned the reason behind the anger. Once it was said that a character had to let go of anger or have it destroy them…but no way was given as to HOW that was possible.
Maybe Riordan will address this in the fifth book, maybe not. But I was disappointed by the tremendous reliance on anger and the lack of a way to process that anger.

Now on to the next point…once the story was finished, I immediately jumped onto the review sections of Amazon and Good Reads to see how Rick’s ‘surprise revelation’ about a certain character’s sexual orientation went over with the readers.

I’ve seen a good many people who are in full support of ‘Uncle Rick’ as he likes to be called by his readers, and many who have made a bold statement of never buying books from the author again.

Where do I fall?

Well,
First of all, let me say that I’m NOT going to send back my book, and yes, I will read the last of the series, but I am disappointed. The introduction to homosexuality is NOT why I’m disappointed, not in itself. I am disappointed because of the way it was introduced, how it was handled, and because the book had no parental warning or any pretext before the introduction.

After the ‘reveal’, a lot of people laid down the story and said goodbye to Riordan’s world. Many others whooped and cheered for an author who wasn’t afraid to be ‘real’ with his audience.

I kept reading, wanting to see how Riordan handled the revelation during the rest of the story.
My conclusion – there were probably several reasons why Riordan went the way he did, and there are also several reasons why I think he made a poor choice in the way he handled the situation.

1. Riordan was a teacher. He taught middle school, and even began his YA writing career by telling stories to his son at bedtime. As a teacher, it’s heartbreaking to see a student not connecting with others, because they feel as if they’d be bullied, shamed, or cut out if they let their guard down. You want to help them. You want to tell them that their identity does not lie in their sexuality(whether homosexual or heterosexual), that they are so much more than that. I feel for Riordan if he was trying to take a stand against the bullying, or the suffocating silence so many teens face today.

BUT — that being said: Rick could have (out of respect for his readers) put in a statement in the back of the book, put out a parental warning with the book, or could have done a written ‘reading group discussion guide’ so that families could have walked this path together. IF Riordan was trying to show that a character is more than their sexual orientation, to take a stand against bullying in schools, then he could have done so in a more appropriate manner.

2. As a writer, Rick Riordan, with the way he handled this, distracted from his own story.
Any artist – when they take yank the audience out of the ‘absorbing experience’ (whether in a visual medium, theater, music, writing…etc) to push an agenda, or to be ‘shocking,’ they break the author/audience trust.

As an artist, you have to know your audience, and respect the limitations your audience gives you. Yes, Riordan’s characters are growing up, yes they’re facing many challenges, but that does NOT mean that younger children aren’t still wrapped up in the series, and aren’t emotionally ready to dive into the discussion of homosexuality without some guidance. Riordan didn’t offer any of that guidance. I hope he gives his characters that guidance in the final installment to the series.

Riordan drew his readers out of his world, out of the story. Maybe that’s what he intended. Maybe he wanted to spark discussion between students, teachers, parents. I do not know. But anything that distracts from the overall story in such a way as to yank a reader out of the world of the book is not usually a good idea.

Let me say again, I’m not attacking Riordan’s character choices. I think the character that was revealed to be dealing with same gender attraction was and is a fascinating character, but the way in which Riordan created the ‘reveal’ did more harm than anything for the fan base.

3. The way the revelation came was dramatic, climactic, literarily gorgeous, but ultimately forced and destructive. Cupid/Eros, a malignant force, pulled the secret to the surface in a humiliating way. Love is deeper than anger. Forcing a secret of that nature from someone induces shame, fear, and regret. It victimizes the person. I feel that Riordan made a victim out of that character in this book by not allowing some resolution or peace to be given to the character.

As of now, so many readers are angry about the fact that someone has to deal with unrequited love. There is so much more to the story than romantic love. Friendship, acceptance, mercy, compassion, bravery, sacrifice…these are all themes of the story…but now the focus seems to be on whether or not everyone will have a date to the ‘Olympian Senior Prom.’

Would I recommend this author anymore? Yes. I would…but definitely NOT as unreservedly as I would have a few weeks ago. I would let any parent know beforehand about the violence and the character reveal so that they could read it, and choose for themselves if this series is right for their family.

Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts!

A.