Review: The Supernormal Legacy: Book 2: Root

RootThe Supernormal Legacy: Book 2: Root (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2018) by LeeAnn McLennan

Book 2: Root picks up 6 months after the events of Book 1: Dormant (read my review here), in which Olivia Woodson developed the supernormal abilities she’d been suppressing since childhood, in time to help defeat a rogue supernormal cousin who had joined a terrorist organization. That cousin is in prison, but the rest of the Brighthall cousins are kept busy by an influx of monsters, many of them rarely if ever found in Portland, OR. And Olivia is having visions of her cousin breaking out of prison, but that’s impossible: supernormals don’t have visions.

Olivia is equal parts appealing and exasperating, for the same reason: she thinks like a teenager. She makes bad decisions for good reasons and continually finds herself in trouble with authority figures, usually because she’s trying to stay out of trouble. For example, she keeps her visions to herself because she’s sure she knows how the adults will react and she’d rather not go there. With good reason: more than one of these super-powered adults is dealing poorly with past trauma and tends to blow up at the nearest target. Young readers might miss that aspect of the story, but I found it compelling and moving. Olivia’s normal father has processed his grief over her mother’s death much better that her supernormal aunts and uncles, who aren’t used to needing help. Olivia’s secret strength may be her connection to the normal world, so I was pleased to see her make an effort to maintain relationships with her normal friends.

Although there’s some “sequel syndrome” here, having to re-introduce characters and situations, it is lessened by the introduction of a host of peculiar, goofy, gross, and/or terrifying monsters, such as a vampire-like thing that feeds on human lymphatic fluid. There were almost too many for me to keep track of, but that may have been the point; I think Olivia felt the same way.

Meanwhile, Olivia harbors warm feelings for another young supernormal, but he’s locked up and in a medically-induced coma to suppress his mindreading ability. When he’s released to help track the escaped prisoners, Olivia makes additional ill-advised but well-intentioned choices that lead to a road trip, a ghost town, grave peril, and a cliffhanger ending. There better be a Book 3!

Review: The Supernormal Legacy: Book 1 Dormant

DormantThe Supernormal Legacy: Book 1 Dormant by LeeAnn McLennan (Not a Pipe Publishing, February 2018)

I was predisposed to like this story of a reluctant teen superhero in the Pacific Northwest; it’s my sub-sub-genre, too. McLennan delivers the goods with a relatable young protagonist in a recognizable real-life setting. Dormant provides a nice twist on the origin story, too: rather than being surprised by the sudden advent of powers, Olivia has known about them her whole life and doesn’t want them.

Who wouldn’t want superpowers? But 14-year-old Olivia has good reason. Descended from a long line of “supernormals,” as a child she witnessed her mother’s death in action and blames herself. She rejected her powers and that side of her family, suppressing abilities that should have manifested when she was 13. When a bank robbery compels her to use her abilities, Olivia is drawn back to the “family business” and begins training with her cousins to learn to control her powers and help protect the city of Portland from supernormal bad guys and monsters. (I really loved that her superteam is a group of cousins, a special kind of friend-relative that everyone should have a bunch of to grow up with.) When more than one local landmark is violently destroyed in her presence, Olivia and her family begin to wonder if she’s turning into a villain herself, unconsciously using powers when upset or angry. Meanwhile, she’s trying to keep up her old normal life of school, friends, and boyfriend while avoiding a mean girl who has it in for her; but the universe—and her aunt and uncles—have other ideas. Plenty of action–and humor–keep this from devolving into an angsty-teen emo-fest.

For someone who spends most of the book rejecting or suppressing her powers, Olivia takes great delight in using them. She knows deep down that this is who she is and what she does. I especially liked those scenes, which showed she was still capable of joy. Although she had good reason for turning away from that identity, embracing it seems like her one hope for healing from her early trauma. By the end of Book 1, she has endured more than one tragedy, but has excellent motivation for training and using her abilities. Book 2, Root, comes out in June. Read Book 1 now so you’re ready.

Review: Djinn

Djinn+ebook+Cover+edit+3Djinn by Sang Kromah (Not a Pipe Publishing March 2018)

I received a review copy of the e-book from the publisher. It will be released March 20, 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Djinn is a twisty page-turner about magic and identity, rooted in folklore but with a 21st century spin. The unfolding tale keeps the reader guessing right to the end.

Bijou Fitzroy just wants to fit in. She knows she’s different, perhaps mentally ill; she constantly shuffles cards to calm her nerves, she’s hypersensitive to the feelings of others, and her color-changing eyes seem to freak people out. She has no idea what’s wrong with her, and Gigi, the wealthy, uncannily young grandmother who raised her, isn’t telling. Home-schooled until the age of 16, everything she knows about high school comes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So when she moves to the small town of Sykesville and enrolls in public school for the first time in her life, she hopes to make friends, go to parties, maybe have a boyfriend. She thinks her wish has come true when she meets Sebastian and Amina Sinjin, though she can’t tell what Sebastian is feeling. Her teacher Mr. Jennings has it in for her, and seems to think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is non-fiction. And what’s up with mean girl Mandy, who takes an immediate dislike to Bijou? Is she only jealous about Sebastian, or is something more going on?

When Bijou learns that local girls who share her birthdate have been disappearing, she can’t resist digging into the mystery. What she learns causes her to question everything she thought she knew about her family, her new friends, and most of all, herself. It’s possible she’s not only different; she may be the Chosen One. Who can she trust when no one is what they seem? What looks at first like petty teenage rivalry turns out to have earth-shattering stakes, and Bijou has to choose: escape to safety or risk everything to protect those she has come to care about.

Bijou’s story, like Buffy’s before her, applies a magnifier of myth and magic to typical adolescent issues of identity, belonging, and empowerment. Author Kromah widens the folklore scope to include African (specifically, Liberian) sources, enriching material that may be familiar to some readers and new to others. And this satisfying book’s ending is temptingly left open for sequels. More? Yes, please!

Available March 20, 2018. Order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Review: Wrestling Demons

Wrestling Demons cover

WRESTLING DEMONS by Jason Brick (Not a Pipe Publishing, 2017)

The title might not make you think “lovable,” but that’s what Wrestling Demons is. This sports-fantasy mashup is smart, funny, and sweet.

It opens with the natural drama of a high-school sporting event, in this case a wrestling match. Protagonist Connor Morgan is big and athletic, good enough to get a varsity slot as a sophomore. But he’s the new kid, unsure of himself socially (a nice realistic touch), and on the bad side of the senior he beat out for that varsity slot. After the match, things go weirdly supernatural in a scene that is equal parts horror and farce. Apparently some of Connor’s schoolmates are . . . demon hunters? And apparently, so is he.

Connor is an appealing character, his inner voice filled with comedy and pathos. His Maori heritage is a nice touch of diversity in the beginning (and should appeal to fans of the movie Moana, too!). With its sports and action emphasis, this is a story aimed at male readers, but with plenty of genuine, natural emotion and strong female characters, including Connor’s wrestling teammate (and demon hunter) Sage Kaiser, like-interest Susan Freaking Parker, and his mom, a hardworking nurse who moves herself and Connor frequently to stay away from his dad’s addiction issues.

Exposition about wrestling and Connor’s backstory are handled gracefully, dribbled into the action of the early chapters so even readers with little or no background in the sport can keep up, and Connor’s loneliness makes sense. He longs to make connections, but almost doesn’t dare because what if he has to move again? But—Susan Freaking Parker seems to like him, and training to fight demons naturally leads to friendship with his fellow champions. Can he dare to care when they’re up against a powerful, unknown enemy? Brick does a terrific job of hiding the main villain’s identity from both the characters and the reader while providing several plausible candidates, leading to a nailbiter final confrontation in which Connor has to reach down deep and find his real strength.