reading, Young Adult fiction

The First Book Club Meeting!

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Good morning! Today is the day! We’re discussing Masters and Beginners (Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes). As previously mentioned, all you have to do to participate is have read the book, and be willing to answer the following questions in the comments!

What were your favorite parts of the story?

Which characters were you drawn to the most, and why?

Did you identify any particular themes?

Who would you like to see cast as who in the movie version?

The Order is a secret organization stretching back about 3,000 years. What historical figures do you think could have belonged to the Order?

All right, that’s all from my end for now! Looking forward to seeing what you all share! Have a great day, moths!

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reading, Young Adult fiction

Coming Up On The TBR

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Good morning, all! Today I’ll be waxing a bit nostalgic about what will happen when NaNo is finished and I have more free time to read again. Also, I’ll be complaining a little about how I cannot afford new books very often. Okay, I just did. There, we can comiserate. I feel a bit better.

So, fall has been a big deal for new YA releases. And as usual, this is a time of year when I am not doing so hot on the wallet part of life (you know, back to school expenses and getting ready for the holidays). (So everybody go buy a copy of my short story collection, just released on Barnes & Noble.com. Wait, did I say that out loud?)

An-y-way… I am very lucky in that I live in an area with a really good public library system, and therefore I do not have to wait approximately 7.8 years to acquire titles that I am currently drooling over. Here are some of my major recent anticipated releases:

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater:

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I honestly am game for trying absolutely anything Maggie Stiefvater publishes. While she just misses my list of top favorite authors, I do love the hibiscus out of The Scorpio Races and Shiver, and hence All The Crooked Saints makes this post, without a doubt.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green:

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Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of John Green (maybe I haven’t hit the right one yet?), but White Fang has expressed an interest in trying his books, so I figure this would be a good way to get him started.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao:

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See this cover? With the lovely flower being molested by the snake? I *hate* snakes. I want to defend the flower. I will just manage to read this (despite needing to turn it facedown every time I’m not actively tackling the content), because I want to know if the flower makes it. (Hush, I know Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is about Asian-mythology-inspired fantasy, and this is a subject I am very interested in. So I *do* want to read it, although I will genuinely hope and pray for a cover change, quite soon.)

Warriors: A Vision of Shadows: Darkest Night by Erin Hunter

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The latest installment in the Warriors: A Vision of Shadows series we’ll absolutely be buying. White Fang already owns most of these books, so we’re trying to complete his collection. Pre-orders are so easy for this series, and I am very grateful for that.

Wild Beauty by Anna Marie McLemore:

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I was extremely on the fence about this author’s previous works (I did try them both and was not a fan). But the premise of this one sounds very much up my alley, and I totally cover judge, and THIS COVER alone is worth swooning over and grabbing ASAP.

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic:

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I haven’t a single clue what this book is about. Yup, you read that right. Do I want to? Eh, kind of? I am 100% cover judging, and sincerely crossing my fingers that my impulse pays off with a great story.

So, what new releases are you looking forward to, moths? Any of these on your TBR this season? Can we all survive until they arrive in our libraries/bookstores/on our Christmas lists?

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books, Young Adult fiction

Discussion: Presenting What We See Versus What We Hope For In YA Fiction

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So, last night we watched the movie version of “Everything, Everything,” and while I haven’t read the book (and realistically, I wouldn’t, because it’s a contemporary and a romance and I don’t read those), I’m certainly capable of reading reviews and finding out if the book was different from the movie.

Now, after doing some research, I have a bunch of “interesting” thoughts to share. (Cue a big rant.)

Alert: Massive spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I will ruin it all for you. Hey, at least I warned you.

Okay, here is the premise of the story: Meet Maddy, nearly 18 and stuck in her house, because she has an autoimmune disorder, meaning that she’s allergic to the world (and, yes, this is a real, complex condition). Her mom is a doctor, she gets all her treatments at home, via a visiting nurse, and she takes online classes. Then one day a lovely young lad moves in next door, and attraction happens, and of course they try to find ways to have a relationship in spite of Maddy’s situation.

(My first thoughts as we watched the early scenes of the film were comparisons to an episode of the TV show “Scorpion,” but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

Maddy’s mom is super overprotective — yet, can you blame her? The mere fact that her daughter will probably get pneumonia just by going outside and being exposed to germs would be enough to make most parents in those circumstances overprotective. However… This is where the spoilers start. As the movie progresses, you begin to get the idea that something is up.

You never see any of the medicines Maddy must have to take. You never see a list of her food restrictions, which there must be. She doesn’t have an oxygen tank or an epi-pen or protective medical gear anywhere in her house. All the nurse has to do, apparently, before examining Maddy, is wash her hands. This does not seem to make much sense.

The episode of “Scorpion” I mentioned earlier had a girl “in a bubble” — the poor thing was so autoimmune that she wasn’t allowed human contact (they had to wear those CDC suits to get close to her), her room had to be temperature controlled, she couldn’t be in direct sunlight, etc. From the criticisms I’ve read of “Everything, Everything” it sounds to me like “Scorpion” has the more accurate portrayal.

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Well, there is a very good reason for this — SPOILERS DON’T GET BIGGER THAN THIS — it turns out Maddy isn’t actually sick at all. Her mother is a complete whacko who has been keeping her daughter trapped in a clean house, because after Maddy’s dad and brother died suddenly, she couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to Maddy.

Now, from a writer’s point of view, this is an incredible twist, and as a viewer/reader, I thought it was such an impactful choice for plotting. And I thought that the ending — Maddy abandoning her mother after she learns the truth, to go live the life she’d never had and deserved — was perfect.

But on the other side of the coin, I was also furious. To say that what Maddy’s mother did was unethical is merely the tip of the iceberg. Not only should she lose her medical license and go to jail, but it would also be fitting for Maddy to never speak to her again. And for someone to start a foundation for kids who really do have the autoimmune condition that crazy witch faked for Maddy. (If I was the author, that’s what would’ve happened.)

I can see why this novel has garnered extreme criticism from people who actually are ill with what Maddy is supposed to have. It’s like this story is trivializing such a serious medical issue because, surprise!, Maddy’s in fact healthy and can just run out of her house to go live a normal life. Although I imagine this was not the author’s intention, I can totally understand how this perspective could be misconstrued. And I get why it would make people mad.

As White Fang and I watched the movie, we kept expecting something to happen to Maddy, basically that she’d quickly pass away, and we were ready for that to be the ending. And the point would be, “Hey, she took a chance and died with no regrets, and hopefully her mother would see that.” (And for anyone who has issues with that, yeah, I get you, too.) But for the big reveal to be what it actually was…

Well, that makes me bring up this: Why is it that the parents in YA fiction always have to be such complete !@#$%^&*. (You can mentally fill in your impolite word of choice there.) This story is a MESS on steroids when it comes to the adults. Maddy’s mother is certified mentally unstable. Olly’s father is drunk and a wife-beater, and his mom is too afraid to leave, so she stays in a situation that threatens her own kids’ safety. Maddy’s nurse — well, the movie didn’t make it clear whether she knew the truth or not, but if she did, OH MY GOD, why didn’t she tell Maddy and turn in Maddy’s mother to the authorities?!?! As a parent myself, I simply cannot imagine what the point is of having such horrific role models presented to the very impressionable audience of teenagers.

Yes, there are some adults in the world who are piss-poor examples of adults. I know that, but I don’t accept it. If we’re really going to teach our kids how to be decent adults, we have to give them good role models to follow.

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When did it become totally okay for fictional parents to be everything from low-key neglectful to downright vile, sub-humans, with none of the other characters calling the police, contacting Social Services, going to teachers or ministers for help? In real life, we tell kids all the time that if they’re being abused to go to a trusted adult. Well, how are they going to do that if they think there are no trustworthy adults?

When did it become the gold standard in publishing for 16-year-olds to have to save the entire world? I’m specifically thinking of dystopias like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, in which anyone over the age of 20 is a complete schmuck (or gets killed if they’re not). Compare this to Harry Potter, where the kids are indeed going forth to battle evil — but their parents and teachers are right there beside them.

There are major reasons I don’t read contemporary YA romances — this is one of them.

This is also why I write parents who care, who can be trusted, who make sure the kids finish their chores and homework and eat their greens.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We need MORE adults like this in YA. Period.

Okay, rant over. Any thoughts, fellow readers and writers?

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

The Masters and Beginners Book Club!

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So, my apologies for not making the official announcement a little sooner — sickness swarmed in, as some of you may know, and my whole house was down for a week and a half. It was a miracle the cat got fed and the dishes got done, never mind editing and self-marketing.

Anyway, now we are more or less better, and I’m trying to get back to normal in my writerling ventures. One of these is the book club I’ll be hosting for each of my own books here on the blog!

We’re starting with (makes sense) Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes. To join, all you need to do is have read or be currently reading the first novel, Masters and Beginners. Either cover/edition works (it’s the same story), and both are available for purchase. The most recent edition (new cover seen below) can be obtained through Barnes & Noble.com (the link is working on my Goodreads author page, or you can email me, per the sidebar/top menu, for details). Or I have copies of the original Toby cover as well (again, contact me by email).

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Okay, the awkward please-buy-my-stuff moment is moving on to what the actual discussion will consist of.

On October 30th (see, plenty of time to join in!), I’ll be posting an open conversation on the following questions:

  1. What were your favorite parts of the story?
  2. Which characters were you drawn to the most, and why?
  3. Did you identify any particular themes?
  4. Who would you like to see cast as who in the movie version?
  5. The Order is a secret organization stretching back about 3,000 years. What historical figures do you think could have belonged to the Order?

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See, easy! Just post your comments on October 30th, engage with your fellow commenters, and get ready for Volume 2!

Happy reading, all!

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Mini-Reviews: Just Finished And What’s Next

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So lately, I’ve gone through a few reading selections! One was an ARC, one was from the TBR, the rest happened because of the long sickness, and the fact that I simply didn’t have the energy to do much besides sit and read. (Yeah, I know, the tragedy.)

Anyway, onto the reviews…

The ARC: The Traveler by EB Dawson

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This is an interesting cross of sort of a spec-fic mystery and third world travel guide. (Yes, this works, trust me.) It was a bit slow to start, but definitely picked up the action about a third of the way in, and kept going. The world-building felt a little tricky early on, as it seemed we weren’t really given a concrete reason for Anissa’s disconnect to the society she lived in. Once we get to the “other world” (no spoilers, I promise), we definitely get a lot of established emotions and background and connections with other characters to propel the plot forward. There is a somewhat open ending, but I am aware a sequel is planned. If you like unique tales that don’t just tick the boxes of genre fiction, you might want to give this one a try! It’s a very clean writing style, little violence, no swearing or sexual references, totally appropriate for YA, but the subject matter may be more suited to adults.

The library-helping-me-through-my-sickness: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

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I’m aware that there are many, very negative ratings for Thirteen Reasons Why. This was a novel that I’d decided never to read, based solely on the negative comments. But I saw it as a completely new selection to my local library (it’s a small town, this is a big deal), and went for it, after all. While I could definitely see some holes in the writing/plotting, and could understand why certain scenes upset some readers, overall there is a lot in this novel that’s very important to consider and discuss and mull over.

One, I don’t agree at all with anyone who felt that the book actually condones suicide and suggests it as a “solution”. I didn’t see that depicted at all. Nor the idea that the narration somehow supported Hannah’s method of making the tapes and sending them out to blame individuals for her death. Some of the characters were truly horrible people, and something had to be said or done; but Hannah’s logic was skewed because of her depression and whatever else was going on with her that they weren’t responsible for. Are they actually to blame for her decision to take her life? No, of course not. Just because she felt that way doesn’t make it true. And while I don’t agree with Hannah’s ultimate choice (it was a selfish, cowardly move — the really hard part is sticking around trying to make it get better), I can honestly sympathize with her in a way. As someone who was a suicidal teen myself (well, this remark will get some interesting reactions), I completely understand her anger, her lack of rationing, her confusion and denial and urge to self-destruct.

Suicide is such an important topic to address, and most people are not. Novels like this are a good step — even if you thought it addressed the topic in the wrong way!, because that gets a necessary conversation started.

Onto lighter things now…

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I am still in a hurry, but still don’t understand astrophysics. I’ve wanted Neil DeGrasse Tyson on TV, but in text, I had a hard time pinning down the explanations. It seems that Tyson has created an interesting breed of celebrity scientist, while maintaining the elite view of keeping science unfathomable to the general public. I’m really not sure how I feel about this book.

Reading it in the doctor’s office will give you major bonus points with the staff, though, as you’ll appear smart and deep. 10/10 for that.

The TBR conquer: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

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And “conquer” is totally accurate — this book is a doorstop. (If you’re being attacked by a Wildling or an Other, just throw a copy at them — you’ll survive.) I was so surprised I managed to read it within 2 weeks. Towards the end, there were parts I really didn’t like, and characters that made me want to scream, but overall this was a compelling tale with an engaging writing style and a well-thought-out plot. I found it easy to connect the dots as I progressed, and for a novel of this length (most over 400 pages can’t seem to follow their own stories after 75%), that’s impressive.

What’s next: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

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Since it’s next in the series, makes sense, right? There are a few other random holds kicking around my library requests list, but most likely this will be the one that shows up the quickest. (There are multiple copies in the system, thanks to the popularity of the show.)

Anyway, here’s my latest round-up. Hope you all are doing well, moths!

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Review: Beaumont and Beasley by Kyle Robert Shultz

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So, here we are, with the first regular book review I’ve done in ages! We’ll start with the Beaumont and Beasley new fantasy series by indie author Kyle R. Shultz. The first novel is called The Beast of Talesend (new cover above), and the latest release (below) is The Tomb of the Sea Witch.

The premise of Beaumont and Beasley is that, in an alternate history and alternate Europe, fairytales were real, and very different (more dark and gritty) than those of us in the Disney-as-king era may be aware. The clever bit is that the author does go back to the actual Grimm, Christensen, etc. tales (which were often quite nasty indeed).

The protagonist/narrator is Nick Beasley, a private detective who is convinced magic is not real, and makes sure to uncover all the fraudulent wizards and the like of his city/time period. However, Nick gets the rug yanked out from under him when a magical spell turns him into a beast.

(None of this is spoilers; it’s all available in blurb form on various websites.)

Anyway, this sets the stage for some great adventures. Nick is quickly paired with Cordelia Beaumont (who’s a rather wild card enchantress), and along with turning our versions of Beauty and the Beast and Snow White inside out, there’s so much clean, fun humor, action, and witty banter (without an obvious lead to romance — something unexpected, and refreshing for many readers).

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If you’re looking for a fantasy read that’s different, not-tropey, and appropriate for a range of ages, I strongly suggest getting a copy of The Beast of Talesend. (Paperbacks and e-books are available. And now an audio version, too! See, you have no excuse!)

Also, if you don’t read The Beast of Talesend, then you’ll soon be behind, since book 2 has just been released!

The Tomb of the Sea Witch (original planned title was Song of the Drowned, which, sorry, but I liked better) picks up fairly soon after the events of book 1, but in a very different setting. This time Nick’s half-brother Crispin joins Nick and Cordelia for the adventures.

Let me wax poetic about the characters for a moment. As an autistic reader, I really enjoy it when I find characters I can connect to. Nick and Crispin (especially Crispin) Beasley do this. In book 1, there are very few secondary characters (which actually was refreshing, since 756 supporting cast in a fantasy novel becomes rather difficult for me). In book 2, there are many, but the major ones are fleshed out, with plenty to like about some of them.

To say I was infatuated with Headmaster Malcolm Blackfire is an understatement. Usually I don’t go for “the bad boy” type, but I totally loved his sophistication, sense of authority, refusal to take any sass, and his deep-down noble character. Also, the second novel includes a pooka, centaur, satyr, dryad, unicorn, and salamander. (I need Sparky the salamander and Edmund the unicorn.)

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I received an ARC of TotSW, but this does not sway my opinions. (I can be a bit merciless like that…)

Whereas Beast had a very light-hearted feel to it, Tomb seemed a bit more serious. Not necessarily in a bad way, though. I could tell that the author was working hard to further develop his characters, and when it comes to Crispin, it’s obvious that’s happening. With Nick and Cordelia, it seems slower, but it’s there (particularly Nick). (Maybe it’s because I’m not as attached to Cordelia, though? Honestly, I wasn’t completely sure Nick could trust her until about 25 pages from the end of Beast, so I guess it’s fair to say I’m not as invested in her growth? Part of me is still waiting for her to be revealed as a secret master villain.)

There are also many hints that the next books (at least two more are planned) will introduce more new characters and bigger plots. I like that idea, since the world-building has established early on there’s so much to possibly explore in this premise. My only concern (not even a concern, really, more of a note) is that, whereas Beast seemed to have all the relevant plot points covered down to a tee, Tomb had moments that felt a bit…disjointed? underdeveloped? But I read an ARC, remember, and sometimes changes are made to the manuscripts before the final sales product hits shelves/websites.

And please don’t let this minor notice deter you from this very fun, interesting, exciting, and sometimes poignant series. It hits a lot of high notes, and it’s appropriate YA fantasy, without feeling at all stodgy or too silly. Recommended for fans of fairytale re-tellings and modern-ish fantasy, of all ages.

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cats, Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

Warriors Update: Power of Three Series

This third sub-series of the Warriors saga was rather different than what I’ve grown used to in The Prophecies Begin and The New Prophecy. Well, in some ways. There are certain things that you’ll always find in every Warriors book — the routine of Clan life, new kits born, apprentices trained, some cats (inevitably or unexpectedly) go to join StarClan. And although I’ve reached the point in the series where new cats are constantly being introduced, and some of my favorites are relegated to supporting roles, at least as a reader I get to visit them, and there’s always the chance to develop new loves.

What’s most, vividly, different about Power of Three is the tone. Secrets are being kept in ThunderClan, and the new narrators really have no clue. Some of that is for their own good (the cats who are keeping the secrets firmly believe that). But the protagonists add many secrets of their own, and this creates an undercurrent of tension that just didn’t exist before.

One of the big reasons for this difference is the change in the location of the Clans. Since they were driven from their home in The New Prophecy, and have to start again in a new territory, their horizons have been broadened. They’ve met new animals and encountered different types of human places or things that they weren’t familiar with. Now they’ve been in their new home long enough that there’s a generation who doesn’t even remember life in the forest, because they weren’t born yet. Despite the Clans trying really hard to keep to the Warrior Code, and carry on the way they did in previous years, some of their old ways are really being tested.

In many ways, I understood why the Clan leaders, deputies, and senior warriors found it important to maintain the traditions and customs from their old home. It kept a sense of stability, of ensuring the future of their society, their families. Although some things had changed beyond their control, this was something that they could decide what happened and how.

There were also many references/throwbacks to the previous series (plural), and it was clear to me that this was considered very important (by the author) to make sure the new cats knew all of their history. A lot happened after they left the forest, yes; but a whole lot happened in the forest. Some cats that we thought had exited the series are back — for example, The Tribe of Rushing Water, the loner Purdy, and most importantly Graystripe.

Now, although I try to stay spoiler-free in these posts, I have to say, in this instance, it’s going to be impossible. One: I really, really feel sorry for Firestar in this series. He’s one of the best leaders any of the Clans have ever known, and he has to worry about his own grandchildren inadverently bringing down the whole Clan structure that he fought so hard to protect and nurture. (Remember what I said about the undercurrent of tension?)

Anyone who’s read through the series to this point understands a couple of very important things: Two:  There are some critical flaws in the warrior code, and it puts a strain on Clan life, and for particular individuals (Yellowfang, anyone? Bluestar, right?). Three:  There is a serious case of history repeating in this series, and it really started to get to me.

Moment of rant: To me, it just seems unnecessary to continue imposing on your society/family rules that appear to be tearing it apart from the inside. Classic example: Four: Firestar receives a lot of flack from the other Clans for taking in loners (in this case, barn cats), and kittypets (cats who used to live with humans). Supposedly, this action will corrupt the “purity” of the Clan bloodlines, and weaken their whole system. While I greatly appreciate that the author creates lots of great discussion points for the reader in this way (allegories for adoption, racism, and prejudice abound), for me, it became a bit frustrating as I read. What about the fact that Firestar is simply compassionate, and in the (not so distant) past, the other Clans know very well they may not have survived the Great Journey to the lake without his compassion?

And, we need to talk about The Tribe of Rushing Water — Five: They faced extinction because of their unwillingness to change the way they’d been doing things “forever.” It shows a powerful lesson that change doesn’t always have to be thought of as a bad thing, and that, unfortunately, sometimes if you don’t change, it results in tragedy.

Okay, end moment of rant.

Six: The Power of Three focuses on a trio of new kits-to-apprentices-to-warriors, Jayfeather, Hollyleaf, and Lionblaze. In their search for answers to some of the aforementioned secrets, they develop a very unhealthy habit of forming more secrets, and keeping them from their Clan leader, their kin, and even each other. It causes them to seek out the aid of a mysterious stranger named Sol, and to try to find more information about “the ancients” (cats who lived in Clans before the term “Clans” was coined).

All of this provides many plot twists, and fills in a lot of gaps in the background (that, as an astute reader, I was wondering about…about 8 books back). But it got rather twitchy for me as I read it, because I realized that the warrior code has become more important to some cats than thinking for themselves, and determining how to figure out what’s right and what’s not based on their experience and conscience.

And it’s also, unfortunately, revealed that there are traitors in our midst — and proof comes to light that keeping secrets not only breeds more secrets, but that sometimes the stakes are raised too high as part of maintaining them.

Overall, this was a rather difficult series for me to read. There were several parts that just made me sad — not in the regular way, because a cat had just died, or because something happened that I didn’t see coming. It made me sad because things happened that didn’t have to — it came about as a result of stubborness, pride, or clinging to ways that probably don’t work anymore, or from not understanding what loyalty really means. It made me ache for cats whose lives had been shattered, when there was no need. And for the first time ever, there were deaths that occurred that I honestly felt the individuals brought it on themselves — and we’re not even talking truly evil cats like Tigerstar. We’re talking cats who should have known better, whose hearts should not have turned that dark, and who deserved to have a happier ending.

As I proceed to Omen of the Stars (the last “regular” series), I know there are some very solemn, and somewhat dark, things brewing — but I’m actually looking forward to it, because I know there’s a serious resolution coming, for old wounds that are still festering in the Clans (remember what I just said about Tigerstar?), and that there will be healing for some of my favorites (Bluestar, Yellowfang, Firestar, just to start with), that desperately needs to come to the Warriors.