The Great Animorphs Re-Read #35: “The Proposal”

363393Animorphs #35: “The Proposal”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are stepping up their invasion tactics. And Marco has problems of his own. His dad is starting to date. But Marco knows his mother might still be alive.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I mean, look at that cover? You know it’s going to be bad when that’s the cover. I didn’t have a whole lot of memories from this book, other than the fact that Marco’s dad wants to get married to a woman who owns the featured “evil poodle.” I had successfully blocked out the rest of the story. Or, more likely, merged it with Rachel’s crocodile-allergy story from which this book LIFTED ITS ENTIRE PLOT LINE! But I will vent about that in my small review section at the end. In the mean time…

Marco and Dean are right: those small dogs are evil!

Marco and his dad’s night of video game playing is interrupted by a phone call from Marco’s math teacher, a woman whom is dad is now dating. To drown out the mushy gushing the two are exchanging via the phone, Marco begins channel surfing. He gets caught up on a self-help talk show where an uber chill man named Tennant is famous for giving his calm, collected advice to callers to the show. Marco recognizes the self-help guru as fairly famous and sits back to watch, only to be bolted out of his seat when he hears Tennant suggest to one caller that the best place to help her loneliness is the perfectly lovely organization called “The Sharing.”

Marco immediately calls Jake and arranges to meet with the group at Cassie’s barn. He begins to morph his usual osprey, but halfway through, things go terribly wrong: he ends up as a half osprey/half lobster monstrosity. Marco manages to morph out, but is too shaken to morph again and instead rides his bike to the barn. There, the others rib him for taking so long, but he quickly distracts them with news of Tennant. Surveillance is called for.

Over the next three days, the team takes turns watching Tennant and establish that he has a very fixed routine involving jogging, working from home while cuddling his pet birds, and airing his show in the evenings. Another pair had already caught him sneaking in through a known Yeerk pool entrance, so his status as a Controller is confirmed. While Marco and Cassie are on watch, Cassie asks how Marco is doing, having caught on to his being shaken recently. He ends up venting about his dad’s dating life and the struggles of knowing that his mom could still be alive.

The next day, they decide to take their scouting to a new level and infiltrate his house. Tennant’s pet birds roam free throughout the house, so Marco and Rachel sneak in to acquire and morph two of them. The others wait to provide back-up should anything go around. Parakeet!Marco and Rachel head into Tennant’s office. There, they see him writing an email to a CEO of the television company that runs his current show. It appears that he is going to be offered an award in the next week followed by a promotion to prime time where he will have an even larger audience to promote The Sharing to.

He gets a phone call from Visser Three, and while he talks to him, discussing plans, Marco feels himself beginning to lose control of his morph. He begins squawking and poops on Tennant’s desk. After Tennant gets off the phone, he explodes into a manic rage, screaming about how he hates all of these animals and he’ll be happy when he’s free to kill them all. He grabs parakeet!Marco and begins crushing him in his hands. He’s only stopped by his host body that begins to fight back. He lets Marco go, but then decides to play the little game his host plays with his pets: getting the birds to say their own names. Of course, Marco doesn’t know the name of the parakeet he morphed.

Tennant quickly realizes that he is an Andalite in morph and hits him with a book, breaking his small bird body. The other Animorphs barge in in battle morphs and Tennant calls for Hork Bajir back-ups who seemingly appear out from….somewhere? Marco manages to de-morph, but when he tries to morph his gorilla battle morph, he again splices two morphs together, this time a fish and the gorilla. Barely making it back to human, he manages to shut the office door in Tennant’s face while he and the other Animorphs make a break for it out of the window.

Back in the barn, the others are furious with Marco for not revealing his morphing problem. Ax suggests that he may be struggling due to some type of stress factor in his life. Jake immediately benches Marco until he gets things under control. Marco heads home, frustrated. But he doesn’t find any relief there, since his dad’s girlfriend is visiting, and what’s worse, she has her evil toy poodle with her. The dog starts barking and biting at Marco, and he ends up acquiring it to get it to settle down, before hiding out in his room.

Marco’s ban doesn’t last long, however, since their new mission is coming up and the team needs him. They decide that the best course of action is to expose Tennant as the wacko he is. Even by Yeerk standards, it is clear that the Yeerk in Tennant is barely clinging to sanity, and if he was to explode like he did at his home, but in a public place, his future as a TV personality would be ruined. To do this, they decide to crash the awards ceremony later that week.

The team sneaks into the banquet halls as cockroaches and make their way to the kitchen. Their plan is to crawl onto Tennant’s salad plate with spider!Marco directing them to the right plate. Once in the kitchen, Marco demorphs in a bathroom and tries to morph the spider. Instead, he ends up as a mixture of spider and poodle. A bunch of kitchen workers spot him and chase him. The others ask what is going on, but Marco puts them off, saying everything is fine. Using thought-speak, he is finally able to scare off the kitchen workers. He then demorphs, grabs a kitchen uniform, and tries to pass himself off as a busboy. He gets the rest of the Animorphs onto one of the plate and tells the cook to set it aside specifically for Tennant. He then gets caught up in other kitchen chores by a tyrannical chef. Once he gets a chance to breath, he sees that all of the plates have been mixed up again and are heading out. Instead of being placed in front of Tennant, the plate ends up in front of of Zac Hanson (cuz of course a teen pop group is also at this B-level TV event). Much screaming ensues, but Tennant is unmoved. The Animorphs manage to scurry away.

They come up with Plan B. Ax morphs his human morph and the others morph flea. Jake instructs Ax and Marco to deliver the fleas to Tennant, but Marco gets trapped outside, leaving Ax to do this. Predictably, whenever Ax is near food, things to not go well. Marco gets inside just in time to see Ax licking the plates clean from Tennant’s table. However, he does manage to transfer the fleas to Tennant. Marco convinces the outraged people that he and Ax are just really big fans and they escape to the back of the room to watch Tennant’s speech. The Animorph!fleas make their way beneath Tennant’s wig (which they discovered when parakeet!Rachel accidentally nabbed it while trying to dive bomb Tennant the other day) and begin biting. Tennant twitches and squirms but manages to get through his speech without blowing up. Defeated, the team returns home.

The next day, Marco’s week gets even worse when his dad tells him that he is thinking of marrying the teacher girlfriend. He wants to make sure it’s ok with Marco. Marco simply bolts. Later, Cassie shows up at his house asking if he wants to talk. She says that there’s really no one outside of the group who can listen, but she’s willing to do it. And she knows that he had another failed morph while in the kitchen; she could tell from the sound of his voice. Marco vents that his stress isn’t special, they all have burdens they’re carrying, some of them (like Tobias) have much worse going on than him. Cassie shares a story about her anger when she sees hurt animals that have been harmed by cruel people. She says that her dad said to focus on what is: the hurt animal and how to help it. So in this case, is his dad happy now?

Running out of time, the team comes up with another plan. Poodle!Marco begins stalking Tennant. Whenever he is out in public, and unable to respond, the terror that is the poodle shows up and begins biting him, but Tennat’s animal-loving persona can’t respond. All week this goes on, with Marco succeeding in controlling his morphs the entire time.

Finally, the night of the first prime time airing of the show arrives. The team stake out the studio in various morphs, ready for Marco to make the grand scene once the program begins airing. But as he begins to morph poodle, his ailment strikes again and he ends up as a mix of a poodle and a polar bear. He loses control of the morph and goes after Tennant, only barely able stop from killing him. Cassie wants him to talk about his feelings to help him stable himself. Jake tells her that he loves her and cares for her, but shut it. The two bicker a bit, but Jake shuts her down saying now is not the time for her approach, and Marco just needs to suck it up and deal with his crap. Jake finally breaks through by bringing up Marco’s own philosophy (that he, in turn got from his mom), that you can either laugh or cry at the struggles of the world. Marco gets it together and finishes his morph to poodle. Seeing that “the Andalite” is now fully helpless as a small dog, Tennant grabs poodle!Marco and begins strangling him. Just then the cameras go on. Everyone is horrified and Tennant immediately releases Marco and tries to say it was a mistake. The Animorphs all bail

The clip goes viral and soon enough Tennant’s future as a TV star is over. The book ends at the very slap-dash wedding between his Dad and the teacher who get married two weeks later. Marco is still struggling with it all, but has come to accept it. But never that dog.

One evening the phone rings. The answering machine picks it up, and it’s Marco’s mother, asking for him. Dun dun dun.

The Comic Relief: The unfortunate bit of this whole thing is that after the very real, very serious events of the book before it, this one just seems…beneath him. Like, I get that this book is trying to fill a niche of dealing with a real-life issues that reader kids may be dealing with, a widowed parent re-marrying. But in the world of these books, Marco’s character specifically has had to deal with so many traumatizing things with his parents, that the fact that he would break down to the point of failing his morphing over this particular issue is just hard to believe. Let’s go through it. In the first few books, he’s dealing with the death of a parent. On top of that, he’s had to parent himself as his dad has completely lost it and hasn’t been parenting him at all. This has been going on for who knows how long. Then he finds out his mother is alive, but the leader of the Yeerk invasion. Then he thinks she dies, several books later. Then he rediscovers her, but has to plan her death himself. And now, again, he’s unsure whether she’s alive. So yes, I understand the quandary he is in with his father re-marrying, and I would have been completely on board for that being a through-line in the story that he is dealing with. But to make it the crux of the story by having it impact his morphing…nah, not buying it. That’s not the Marco we’ve come to know through all of these books. Cold, calculating, brutal Marco isn’t going to break down over just this. Even Marco thinks it’s out of character:

I was going insane. Hard to believe that after all the craziness I’d been through since this war started, a simple, everyday, domestic problem would be the thing to push me over the edge.

And then, on top of that, Marco’s usual bits, even in books that aren’t his, weren’t up to snuff. The author of this book pretty much recycled Marco jokes from the past (the back-and-forth between Marco and Ax about Ax’s use of “your minutes” could almost have been directly lifted from another book. Not only wasn’t it funny, but it’s boring to read the same joke over and over, especially without any new twist), and also re-used Marco’s philosophy from book 5. Didn’t expand on it. Didn’t bring anything new to the table, pretty much AGAIN lifted it directly from there and plopped it down here to serve the exact same purpose. It was incredibly frustrating, especially since Marco books are some of my favorites.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake tries to bench Marco when he realizes that he’s struggling with his morphing. But, unlike Rachel and her crocodile experience, Marco’s breakdowns are further apart. He goes several days and many morphs without any issue, so it’s easy to understand why Jake would let him back on missions. Not only is Marco’s gorilla morph one of their best battle morphs, but we know that Jake recognizes Marco’s smarts as the best planner of the group. So benching him is a big loss. In the end, when Marco’s struggling once again, Jake comes down on him hard. He tells Marco to get it together, no excuses. Fix it. That’s an order. Cassie tries to argue that Marco just needs to talk about it. But Jake shuts her down firmly. They’re in the middle of a mission and Marco just needs to deal with his crap. Period. Jake also must have talked with Marco about Marco’s life approach, since he knows Marco’s whole bit about looking at life with a sense of humor. We, as readers, know this because Marco shared it with us in an internal narrative back in book 5. But we never hear him tell it to Jake. Instead, it’s a nice reference to how close these two are and that they must have talked about stuff like this at some point.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel tries to give Marco a lecture about hiding his morphing issues from the group. He rightly calls her out on the hypocrisy of this given her crocodile-lying incident. She agrees that someone else should take over lecturing Marco from this point. She’s also paired up with Marco on the parakeet mission, of course furthering my secondary Marco/Rachel focus. She also dive bombs Tennant while morphed as a parakeet, proving that the morph itself has very little affect on Rachel’s general plan of action. She will attack with whatever she has available.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias gets very, very little to do in this book. I mean, even adding up his lines of dialogue, it’s pretty sad. If anything, he mostly serves as a point to fuel Marco’s self-disgust. In the very beginning, after Marco’s first failed morph, he comes down hard on Tobias and ends up feeling guilty about it. And later, when he’s talking to Cassie, he says all of the other Animorphs have stressers and aren’t freaking out. He particularly emphasizes Tobias’s situation. Other than that, Tobias mostly just serves as the eyes in the air and joins in on the group activities, like being a flea biting Tennant’s head.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has quite a lot in this book, mostly utilizing her super power as the group counselor. She is quick to understand why Marco is stressed and suggest that he needs someone to talk to. Right away, on the first scouting trip, she manages to get Marco to open up and vent his frustrations. She’s also the only one to pick up on the fact that he had another morph melt-down while in the kitchen at the banquet. And she then takes it upon herself to come to his house and offer supporting, knowing that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to about all of this. She shares some nice philosophies and ways of thinking about the situation with his dad that do seem to help, though Jake’s method, in the end, is the one to break through.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: You’d think they’d learn about Ax and food! I mean, yes, I get the fact that Ax has the only human form that doesn’t put them all at risk, but man, he’s got to win the award for having the least control over any given morph. Any other animal, any other morph, sure they all might struggle here and there, but they usually get the hang of it, especially with morphs they’ve used more often. But man, Ax has zero self-control in that morph. Is it worth the risk having him go in? I mean, I’m finding it hard to believe that had Marco even been there when Ax was clearing tables that it would have made any difference.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: It’s a hard toss between all of the gross morph combinations that Marco experiences and the fleas biting Tennant’s head. I mean, I think I’ve got to go with the second. Sure, they’ve “accidentally” bitten other people as fleas, but the whole goal of this mission was to crawl under some skeevy Controller’s wig and bite away. Even Cassie calls it out:

<This is the grossest thing we have ever done,> Cassie complained.

Couples Watch!: In the very beginning, Rachel is angry at Marco for calling the meeting in the barn because he interrupted her and Tobias watching “Felicity.” Awwww, cute dates! Jake does tell Cassie he loves her….just before he tells her to shut up. So….romantic? They also have a nice little spat after this about how to handle Marco’s ongoing morphing issues. This is one of those small moments that kind of highlights why this relationship was always doomed. They really don’t have that much in common in the way they look at the world and how they make decisions. It’s clear why Jake is attracted to and relies on Cassie, she provides much-needed emotional support and insight into others. And Cassie…thinks Jake’s good looking? But when you get down to it, they have very different philosophies, so while I can see why they end up together throughout the series, you can also see the tension between them, more so than Tobias and Rachel who have some more obvious similarities and mutual supports.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is taking an extended absence! This is how many books in a row now that he hasn’t made an in-person appearance? The phone call doesn’t even include any dialogue from him, though we hear a bit of Tennant’s side of things and apparently part of the discussion is Visser Three ranting about how he looks forward to the day when the Yeerks can wipe out any unnecessary life forms on Earth. Obviously not the cats, though. Visser Three loves cats.

As for Tennant himself, we see yet another crazed Yeerk. It’s kind of hard to believe that this many crazed Yeerks ended up in positions of power. I mean, you have Tobias’s experiences several books ago and now this. You’d think with all the Yeerks available, they’d be able to assign more stable Yeerks to these crucial roles. Maybe it’s supposed to be yet another reflection on Visser Three’s own questionable psyche. That maybe, somehow, he gravitates towards Yeerks who are a bit unbalanced, just like himself. Chapman’s Yeerk, for example, seems perfectly steady and unlikely to have been caught up in the nonsense the Animorphs were pulling here. Especially because with all of the poodle-attacking lead-up, trying to catch him on TV was a pretty predictable move by the “Andalite bandits.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Really, nothing. Marco books usually have some good stuff with reflections on his situation with his mother, but there really isn’t much here. From the very sophisticated, cold Marco that we saw only a few books ago, in a lot of ways this doesn’t even feel like the same character. It’s hard to believe that this situation is what would cause the breakdown in stress, and I could just never really buy it. From the big tragedies presented in the past of a son setting up his mother to die, it’s hard to feel much about the struggles of his Dad marrying a lady with a poodle.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, Ax with the food. And along those lines, the whole business at the banquet. With everything that went wrong in the kitchen, it’s hard to understand what exactly their plan had been to ensure that Tennant ended up with the correct plate. It doesn’t seem surprising that this would fail. And then when they morph fleas…there’s literally a line that says “somehow we managed to morph fleas.” Really? “Somehow we managed…” It’s the most cop-out explanation of all cop-out explanations. They would have all had to go through human morphs and Ax had to go through Andalite to get to his human. And there is ZERO explanation for how they manage this in a crowded room. It’s incredibly stupid.

Favorite Quote:

<I am confused,> Ax said. <Are you saying that your father is considering taking this woman as a new mate?>

“You could put it that way,” Cassie said.

“But I’d rather you didn’t,” I added. “He’s just -”

<Ah. Perhaps your father is Young and Restless. Those who are Young and Restless frequently change mates.>

And I couldn’t have put my feelings for this book any better myself:

<Someday when this is all over people will ask us about the war against the Yeerks,> Tobias said. <Let’s leave this part out>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

No score! Sure, the Animorphs technically succeed. But I’m mad at having to read a repeated book essentially, so this is what happens, I take it out on my score sheet.

Rating: I really disliked this book. Not because it’s the dumbest one out there (pretty hard to top the horse!Controllers/Andalite toilet book or the split Rachels), but because I’ve already read this freaking book!!! Whomever was the ghost writer for this thing has to be, up to this point, the laziest of the bunch (just looked it up, this guy also wrote the polar bear!Marco book which I also didn’t love, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised). Others have come up with some pretty wacky and questionable bits, but at least those were original. This book is essentially the exact same book as Rachel’s crocodile story. Not only do you have the same morphing problem (though at least Rachel’s allergy made more sense, as Marco’s issue, here, just comes out of nowhere conveniently for plot purposes and then disappears again, also, conveniently for plot purposes), but the Yeerk plot was the same: some famous guy getting on TV and telling people to join The Sharing and the Animorphs breaking it up by crazy shenanigans on a TV studio! I mean, c’mon, at least mix and match your plot points!! Re-use one or the other, but both together just highlights the lack of creative thought in this book. On top of the two major plot points being directly lifted, you have the re-use of jokes (the “minutes” thing) and repetition of Marco’s major philosophy, with nothing added. By the end of the book, I was just mad. The stupidity of other books is frustrating enough, but again, at least those were original. A bit thumbs down for this one. All the more upsetting coming off the rare good Cassie book, only to have the usually good Marco book turn out to be a hot mess. The only good thing about this book, really, is the last paragraph or two that sets up “Visser.”

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”

34499251Book: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Scarlett Hart, orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, is determined to carry on in her parents’ footsteps—even if the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But whether it’s creepy mummies or a horrid hound, Scarlett won’t back down, and with the help of her loyal butler and a lot of monster-mashing gadgets, she’s on the case.

With her parent’s archrival, Count Stankovic, ratting her out to T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. and taking all the monster-catching rewards for himself, it’s getting hard for Scarlett to do what she was born to do. And when more monsters start mysteriously manifesting than ever before, Scarlett knows she has to get to the bottom of it and save the city… whatever the danger!

In his first adventure for middle-grade readers, acclaimed YA author Marcus Sedgwick teams up with Thomas Taylor (illustrator of the original edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to create a rip-roaring romp full of hairy horrors, villainous villains, and introducing the world’s toughest monster hunter—Scarlett Hart!

Review: Rarely can you find an author who can jump from genre to genre with ease. A lot stick within their strengths, which may  be limited to one or two genres. It’s true that sometimes you get some who can shift between them and be strong in all of them (Stephen King and J.K. Rowling come to mind for me), but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it of an author, great ones included. So Marcus Sedgwick just keeps completely surprising me. He has written dark fantasy (“Midwinterblood”), straight up horror (“White Crow”), speculative Science Fiction (“The Ghosts of Heaven”), and realistic crime fiction with a literary zest (“Saint Death”). And he does a good job in all of them. Now we can add children’s graphic fantasy to his already impressive list of genre jumping, with “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”. Given that the last book I read by him was the brutal and violent and depressing “Saint Death”, I thought that he couldn’t POSSIBLY make a realistic shift to a fun fantasy for children.

And yet “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is exactly that. Scarlett is a mix of Anne Shirley and Buffy Summers, as she’s a plucky monster hunter with a lot of heart but also a bit of sad baggage. She is determined to follow in the footsteps of her parents, both renowned monster hunters in their own right who died in the line of duty, but is too young according to The Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (T.R.A.P.E.Z.E.). With the help of her guardian/former servant Napoleon White she breaks the rules, wanting to make her parents proud. I loved Scarlett, for her tenacity and her recklessness, and I loved how she and Napoleon banter and work together in their monster hunting. Napoleon himself is a fun stereotype/send up of the stuffy Gilded Age British  butler, with his worry about the state of his car and restrained frustration with Scarlett’s antics. Their interactions are both funny and sweet, and you get a good sense of both their motivations and devotions to her late parents as well as his devotion to her because of a sort of surrogate parental instinct. It’s very Buffy and Giles.

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With all the father/daughter-esque joy and none of the angst. (source)

The monsters themselves are pretty standard villains, but they have some fun tweaks and twists added to them. We’ve all heard of the Hound of the Baskervilles Church Grims, and mummys and gargoyles. But while they are presented as menacing and definitely scary, the tone is lighthearted enough that kids who may not like scary things will probably be able to enjoy the monster hunts themselves. The true villains of this story are Count Stankovic, who was the arch rival of Scarlett’s parents and hates her just as much, and, in some ways, society. T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. is a very strict group, seeming to  be mirrored off of old Victorian secret societies that you might see in other books like this, and one of the rules is that Scarlett is too young to officially hunt, under threat of punishment if she is caught. But given that is her main source of income now that she has been orphaned, she has little choice, especially since women during this time period (Victorian? Edwardian? I’m not totally certain) really didn’t have many options if they were on their own. Seeing her fight against norms of the society she lives in is fun and encouraging, and I think that a lot of people, kids and teens alike, will find a lot to relate to with her.

I also really enjoyed the artwork for this book. It’s cartoony enough to be entertaining to the audience it’s written for, but there is a lot of depth to it as well. I’m not too surprised, given that Thomas Taylor was the original artist for the cover of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K. He’s made a career for himself beyond that, but he was the first. And his talents are definitely on display in this book.

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 3.28.56 PM
(source)

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is a comic that I think will be perfect for end of summer reading for kids and teens alike. Heck, if stories about spunky orphans getting into some daring do is your thing, you’ll probably like it too! Marcus Sedgwick has now branched his writing talents into the middle grade community, and I think that he is going to fit in just swimmingly!

Rating 8: A fun and sweet romp with good characters and a solid premise, “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is just another example of Marcus Sedgwick’s talent as a writer.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is fairly new and not on many Goodreads lists. But it is included on “Great Graphic Novels for Girls”, and I think it would fit in on “Women Leads: Kids Books and Comics”.

Find “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Ones Who Got Away”

34569847Book: “The Ones Who Got Away” by Roni Loren

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher

Book Description: It’s been twelve years since tragedy struck the senior class of Long Acre High School. Only a few students survived that fateful night—a group the media dubbed The Ones Who Got Away.

Liv Arias thought she’d never return to Long Acre—until a documentary brings her and the other survivors back home. Suddenly her old flame, Finn Dorsey, is closer than ever, and their attraction is still white-hot. When a searing kiss reignites their passion, Liv realizes this rough-around-the-edges cop might be exactly what she needs…

Review: Yes, you’re reading that right: this is a romance book review here on The Library Ladies. I think it’s probably the first strictly romance book we’ve featured! Neither Kate and I are avid romance readers, but I will admit that I’ve picked up one or two over the years. When I do read them, typically, I gravitate more towards the historical romances ala Julia Quinn and such. I think I’ve maybe read one or two Nora Roberts here and there, and that’s probably about it for contemporary romance. But when I was sent this e-ARC, I thought why the heck not?

After surviving a school shooting, Liv and her classmates have went on to live very different lives than the ones they had planned for themselves. Plagued with lingering PTSD and in a job that consumes her life and time, Liv barely recognizes the budding photographer that was her younger self. What’s more, when re-united at a documentary covering the aftermath of the shooting, she barely recognizes Finn, her secret high school fling whom she lost contact with after the tragedy. Together again, Liv and Finn find that some things haven’t changed, like their attraction for one another. But will they be able to find a balance between their old selves and their new, much more broken, current lives?

All romance novels have a “hook,” especially ones that are set up as a series where multiple women may be connected some how and each will go on to lead their own story and happily ever after. With this series, that hook is the shared trauma from a school shooting at the characters’ high school prom. I think a lot of romances live and die around the strength of any given series’ hook. Most historical romance novels use family ties, but I’ve read other contemporary romances where the ties are shared businesses and such. This one is perhaps particularly effective as it is a shared tragedy that would affect all of the main characters differently, leaving a plethora of avenues for the author to explore.

With Liv, it is her ongoing PTSD and her feelings of betrayal and abandonment by Finn, who left her in the closet they had been making out in when the shooting started. He went on to save another girl, Rebecca (whom I’m sure will get her own book) and be heralded a town hero. Finn, too, has his own fallout from this choice, going on to pursue a life as an FBI agent working to prevent killers from hurting more innocents. Both characters had a legitimate arc to build upon as the story progressed, and I appreciated the exploration of shared tragedy and the various coping (or lack of coping) methods that can be utilized by survivors of such events. Further, neither character is completely defined by this event, even though it changed the directions of their lives. The story highlights paths of healing and reclaiming ownership over the direction of life.

Of course, it’s a romance novel, so much of the story was based around the re-kindling romance between Finn and Liv. They had fairly solid chemistry, though I didn’t prefer their particular stereotype: reunited ex-lovers. I always enjoy romances where new characters are coming together for the first time versus stories like these where half of their conversations are relating back to moments during their highschool days. Sure, those were cute scenes, but it’s more interesting to me to see what’s going on now.

There’s also probably a reason I prefer historical romances if I’m going to read one. I don’t think of myself as prudish by any means, but there are some limits on just what I want to read about, particularly when we get into the man’s mind in some of these books. There’s nothing offensive or anything like that, but, more like, I have a hard time taking the man seriously when some of his train of thought is so juvenile sounding. I think the restraints on language and word choice help the historical fiction heroes sound a bit less like pubescent teenagers in a locker room. This isn’t to say that I disliked Finn, particularly. It’s just a general dislike that I often run into with contemporary romance.

As far as characters go, I did like both Finn and Liv. I liked that Finn, too, was still clearly dealing with things. It wasn’t just him protecting and comforting Liv, which I would have found tiresome very quickly. But he, too, needs the support of Liv to deal with the ongoing emotional fallout of his job as an FBI agent and the grueling requirements of his role there.

Without much knowledge of the genre or a good baseline for contemporary romance, I thought that this book was perfectly good for what it was trying to do. It’s “hook” was decent, and the supporting characters who are being set up for their own stories also seemed interesting. Finn and Liv were also solid. I didn’t love this book, by any means, but that could largely be due to the fact that this just isn’t my preferred genre. If you, though, like romance fiction, particularly of the contemporary type, I recommend checking out “The Ones Who Got Away.”

Rating 6: Perfectly solid for what it was, just never going to be a favorite of mine due to simple genre preferences.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ones Who Got Away” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best friends/childhood best friend falling in love” and “Best Second Chance Romance.”

Find “The Ones Who Got Away” at your library using WorldCat.