2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: Secrets the Walkers Keep by J. Morgan Michaels

First things first: How awesome and eye-catching and wholly intriguing is this cover?! It’s what drew me to the book, honestly. And then I read the blurb and was hooked: family secrets, magic, a world-within-the-world – it might has well have been titled “Read Me Jill-Elizabeth”… Then I started reading. I really liked the beginning – the character development of Hat and his family felt authentic and engaging. The pace was steady and the detail level consistent and solidly focused on driving the story forward. I’ve seen other reviews who called this a slow-burn, but I was hooked with the opening pages. Unfortunately, once things hit the “action-phase”, I got lost in the details and struggled to find my way back in…

There were great plot developments (I can’t name them without spoilers), but I felt like they got mired in the details of the party atmosphere, his sudden utter and complete withdrawal from his family, and the amorphous relationship/sexuality issues… It felt like too many subplots were suddenly layered together and the story lost its core – which to me, was the family and Hat’s place in it. It’s the source of his strength and the secrets that underpin the story, and when he pulls back from them the story flounders I think. As the secrets that nobody knew existed were revealed, the family drifted in and out of the story in a way that, while (cursorily) explained, never really made sense to me given how vital they all were to everything about Hat’s life up to that point. It hurt the continuity to my mind and cost the story – but not as much as Hat’s increasing “oh woe is me” tone…

In the beginning of the book, Hat is a great character – quirky, engaging, and full of potential. As that potential morphs into something different, he dramatically shifts and becomes a whiny, self-doubting, inward-focused, “I don’t deserve this” 20-something – which to me is a character trope that is way overdone.

It’s like there are two stories going on here. The first is the supernatural, very engaging one full of secrets and worlds-within-the-world and mystery and danger around every corner. The second is a coming-of-age, personal growth tale about a young man who receives earth-shattering news and whose whole world is shaken up as a result. The former story is fantastic and engaging and original and what I was expecting here; the latter has been done and is not my cup of tea. Layering them together made for a convoluted read that required shifts in focus and pacing that kept losing me and sending me skimming until the “real” story picked back up…

The Big Bad Reveal tried to piece everything back together and it worked, sort of, by bringing many of the disparate elements into the same room for tea – with a side of cyanide. It recaptured my interest by refocusing on the family, but still never quite managed to reengage me to the level of the opening chapters. Even in the resolution pages near the end, things were being layered on top of the action in a way that felt distracting and overplayed – and unnecessarily complicating. A prime example is the reveal underpinning all of Hat’s new relationships – it literally made me roll my eyes and start looking for Bobby to walk out of the shower (yes – Dallas reference, yes – it dates me, no – I don’t care because it works). There is plenty of drama in this story without adding it in the form of unlikely relationship reveals. Details like that are what pulled me out of the story from time to time by turning attention away from the main story line. They felt like a kitchen-sink attempt to draw readers in, but at least for me they had quite the opposite effect.

I think there’s a LOT of potential here for a truly fantastic series – if the next books focus a little more sharply…

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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