Sullivan - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Shadowbloom
(The Rhyme of the Willow series, Book 1)
Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan
Justin Sullivan, publisher
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Axton and Aniva Rhyme may be twins, but their personalities couldn't be more different. Aniva has a chip on her shoulder the size of a tree, willing to bully anyone, even her own brother, into getting her way. Shy Axton, on the other hand, prefers schoolwork and books, letting his fears run his life. Both were left orphans by a car crash, leaving little more than dim memories of their real mother and father... until one of Axton's plants inexplicably bites them both, and they share a strangely vivid dream of that fiery crash - and a mysterious woman with yellow-green eyes who offered help...
Compelled by their dream, the Rhyme twins sneak out of their grandparents' house to the massive willow at the site of the crash - and are swept into a dark and dangerous world, a forest gone mad. Luminous vines, stone-barked trees, evil thorns, plants made of shadow... and not a single bird, insect, or animal to be seen. Stumbling upon an outpost of civilization, Axton and Aniva discover many shocks and surprises - not the least of which is that their parents may still be alive somewhere in this forbidding, deadly Garden.

REVIEW: A compellingly original fantasy, Shadowbloom starts quickly and rarely slackens its pace. Axton's shyness has crippled him, and continues to do so throughout the book, while Aniva's rage becomes entwined with a darker fate, threatening to consume her very soul. Together, they form one reasonably competent adventurer, exploring a world composed almost exclusively of plants... and ill-favored plant/human hybrids known as Wilds. It could've been just another lightweight kids-in-Wonderland tale, but the Sullivans weave in darker, more complex threads beneath the seeming utopia of the sheltered human enclaves, and both Rhyme twins find their lives changed in ways that many young adult authors wouldn't have dared. It almost earned itself another half-mark, but the ending felt a little awkward, even allowing for it being Book 1 of a series. (It also could've used slightly more diligent proofreading.) Nevertheless, it read fairly fast and I enjoyed the world... enough that I may finally find myself paying for a Kindle book when the second volume becomes available. (For a cheapskate like me, that's saying something...)

You might also enjoy:
The Everworld series (K. A. Applegate, YA Fiction - Four Chicago teens are pulled into a world of elder gods and magic)
Abarat (Clive Barker, YA Fiction - A Minnesotan girl travels to the bizarre archipelago of the Abarat)
The Ghosts of Evolution (Connie Barlow, Nonfiction - An examination of anachronistic plants, whose fruits and defenses point to extinct animal partners)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - An immortal flying boy takes three children away to a magical island)
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron, YA Fiction - Protecting a redwood grove from loggers, a girl is swept back in time to face an even greater threat)
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, YA Fiction - A tornado whisks a Kansas girl into magical Oz)
A Hollow World: Down the Rabbit Hole (R. G. Beckwith, Fiction - A young scientist, fresh out of college, joins a government team investigating a mysterious hole in Greenland)
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan, YA Fiction - When a boy finds a faerie prince in the garden, he is pulled into a brewing interdimensional conflict)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
The Best of Lewis Carroll (Lewis Carroll, YA Fiction - Includes the tales of Alice's adventures in Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land)
Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins, YA Fiction - A boy and his toddler sister fall into a mysterious underground world beneath New York City)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - Pulled into a magical world, a Silicon Valley programmer turns his coding skills to magic)
Clockwork Kingdom (Leah R. Cutter, YA Fiction - Modern twins are lured into the schemes of a dangerous fairy queen)
The Stoneheart trilogy (Charlie Fletcher, YA Fiction - A boy finds himself plunged into the invisible war between London's gargoyles and statues)
Coraline (Neil Gaiman, YA Fiction - A girl finds a doorway to a mirror version of her flat, where a dark entity awaits her arrival)
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman, Fiction - Helping a wounded homeless girl pulls an ordinary man into the bizarre, invisible realm of LondonBelow)
The Dinotopia books (James Gurney, YA? Fiction - Shipwrecked, a professor and his son discover a lost world where humans coexist with sentient prehistoric animals)
The Lives of Christopher Chant (Diana Wynne Jones, YA Fiction - A boy learns to travel to other worlds in his dreams)
The Merlin Conspiracy (Diana Wynne Jones, YA Fiction - Pushed into another world, a boy learns of a dangerous plot that threatens many worlds' magic)
The Divide (Elizabeth Kay, YA Fiction - A sickly boy accidentally falls into a world where magic is real and humans are myths)
The Dark World (Henry Kuttner, Fiction - A World War II vet finds himself in a parallel world of magic, fighting memories of an alternate, evil self)
Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp, YA Fiction - Two American teen girls find their way to the mystical Scottish kingdom of Doon)
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, YA? Fiction - A teen attends a special boarding school to deal with the psycholgical aftermath of having been to a magical world)
Un Lun Dun (China Miéville, YA Fiction - Two London girls discover wonders and dangers in the city's surreal "abcity" mirror)
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen, YA Fiction - A mysterious light transports a boy to a hostile alien wilderness)
The Diadem series (John Peel, YA Fiction - Three children from three worlds must undertake a quest to save magic)
Switch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu (Karen Prince, YA Fiction - Three modern African boys become entangled in magical dangers in a hidden world)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Alchemyst (Michael Scott, YA Fiction - Modern American twins are pulled into a magical struggle involving godlike Elders, monsters, and immortal mages)
The Imaginality of Somewhere (Someone, YA Fiction - Twins discover a portal to a magical world)
Rex Rising (Chrystalla Thoma, YA Fiction - In a dystopian world, parasites twist humans to suit their needs)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams, Fiction - A man finds himself in the world of Faerie, where a war with Earth is brewing)
The Birthright series (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, YA Graphic Novel - A young boy disappears, only to return a year later having grown up in a fantasy world, corrupted by the forces he was supposed to destroy)
The 100 Cupboards trilogy (N. D. Wilson, YA Fiction - A boy finds strange worlds beyond little doorways in his attic bedroom)

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Darkroot
(The Rhyme of the Willow series, Book 2)
Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan
3DAL, LLC
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****

DESCRIPTION: Since passing through the willow into the dark, dangerous world of the Garden, Axton and Aniva Rhyme have slowly adapted to a world with no sunlight and no animal life: only humans, a fanastic variety of plants, and plant-infected humans known as Wilds. While Axton still searches for clues to their lost parents' whereabouts, Aniva considers his search a waste of time, still full of anger at being abandoned. Besides, they're hardly the same children their parents once knew. Both have been irrevocably transformed since the Green Witch pulled them through the willow - literally. Infected by Wilds, they are now Crows, transforming into winged, shadow-feeding beings whenever they are in darkness. Aniva carries the extra curse of the Blood Demon, changing into an unstoppable monster at the mere sight of blood. The humans of the Lighthavens fear and hate all Wilds, driving them from their midst and killing them without hesitation... a hatred that might soon be repaid in blood.
Following a clue left by the ever-cryptic Green Witch, Axton and Aniva travel to the powerful Lighthaven of Fire Grove. Here, Axton hopes to find his parents, or at least a fresh trail to follow... a hope tempered by fear of what would happen if he and his sister were found out as Wilds. Fire Grove's populace hates Wilds with a passion, all too ready to start a witch hunt to protect their populace. But fear of discovery soon become the least of the Rhyme children's worries, as lethal Darkroots strike in the very heart of the Lighthaven.

REVIEW: The second installment in this trilogy picks up fairly close to where the previous book left off, with just enough refreshers in the narrative to remind the reader where things stand. Once I got my bearings again, I was off on another fast, wild adventure with the Rhyme twins. Some old allies (and rivals) follow them to Fire Grove, and they pick up some new ones along the way, each with a little more to them than is initially revealed. The Rhyme children have both grown and changed, though they still have more to learn about this world and themselves. The world of the Garden continues to present fresh wonders and dangers to explore. It almost earned itself another half-star, until I hit the abrupt cliffhanger of an ending. I'm not sure how the Sullivans intend to wrap up the many threads of the trilogy in one more book, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

You might also enjoy:
The Everworld series (K. A. Applegate, YA Fiction - Four Chicago teens are pulled into a world of elder gods and magic)
Abarat (Clive Barker, YA Fiction - A Minnesotan girl travels to the bizarre archipelago of the Abarat)
The Ghosts of Evolution (Connie Barlow, Nonfiction - An examination of anachronistic plants, whose fruits and defenses point to extinct animal partners)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - An immortal flying boy takes three children away to a magical island)
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron, YA Fiction - Protecting a redwood grove from loggers, a girl is swept back in time to face an even greater threat)
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, YA Fiction - A tornado whisks a Kansas girl into magical Oz)
A Hollow World: Down the Rabbit Hole (R. G. Beckwith, Fiction - A young scientist, fresh out of college, joins a government team investigating a mysterious hole in Greenland)
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan, YA Fiction - When a boy finds a faerie prince in the garden, he is pulled into a brewing interdimensional conflict)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
The Best of Lewis Carroll (Lewis Carroll, YA Fiction - Includes the tales of Alice's adventures in Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land)
Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins, YA Fiction - A boy and his toddler sister fall into a mysterious underground world beneath New York City)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - Pulled into a magical world, a Silicon Valley programmer turns his coding skills to magic)
Clockwork Kingdom (Leah R. Cutter, YA Fiction - Modern twins are lured into the schemes of a dangerous fairy queen)
The Stoneheart trilogy (Charlie Fletcher, YA Fiction - A boy finds himself plunged into the invisible war between London's gargoyles and statues)
Coraline (Neil Gaiman, YA Fiction - A girl finds a doorway to a mirror version of her flat, where a dark entity awaits her arrival)
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman, Fiction - Helping a wounded homeless girl pulls an ordinary man into the bizarre, invisible realm of LondonBelow)
The Dinotopia books (James Gurney, YA? Fiction - Shipwrecked, a professor and his son discover a lost world where humans coexist with sentient prehistoric animals)
The Lives of Christopher Chant (Diana Wynne Jones, YA Fiction - A boy learns to travel to other worlds in his dreams)
The Merlin Conspiracy (Diana Wynne Jones, YA Fiction - Pushed into another world, a boy learns of a dangerous plot that threatens many worlds' magic)
The Divide (Elizabeth Kay, YA Fiction - A sickly boy accidentally falls into a world where magic is real and humans are myths)
The Dark World (Henry Kuttner, Fiction - A World War II vet finds himself in a parallel world of magic, fighting memories of an alternate, evil self)
Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp, YA Fiction - Two American teen girls find their way to the mystical Scottish kingdom of Doon)
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire, YA? Fiction - A teen attends a special boarding school to deal with the psycholgical aftermath of having been to a magical world)
Un Lun Dun (China Miéville, YA Fiction - Two London girls discover wonders and dangers in the city's surreal "abcity" mirror)
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen, YA Fiction - A mysterious light transports a boy to a hostile alien wilderness)
The Diadem series (John Peel, YA Fiction - Three children from three worlds must undertake a quest to save magic)
Switch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu (Karen Prince, YA Fiction - Three modern African boys become entangled in magical dangers in a hidden world)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Alchemyst (Michael Scott, YA Fiction - Modern American twins are pulled into a magical struggle involving godlike Elders, monsters, and immortal mages)
The Imaginality of Somewhere (Someone, YA Fiction - Twins discover a portal to a magical world)
Rex Rising (Chrystalla Thoma, YA Fiction - In a dystopian world, parasites twist humans to suit their needs)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams, Fiction - A man finds himself in the world of Faerie, where a war with Earth is brewing)
The Birthright series (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, YA Graphic Novel - A young boy disappears, only to return a year later having grown up in a fantasy world, corrupted by the forces he was supposed to destroy)
The 100 Cupboards trilogy (N. D. Wilson, YA Fiction - A boy finds strange worlds beyond little doorways in his attic bedroom)

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Witchvine
(The Rhyme of the Willow series, Book 3)
Justin Sullivan and Samuel Sullivan
3DAL, LLC
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***

DESCRIPTION: Since coming to the Garden, Axton and Aniva Rhyme have changed in ways they couldn't have imagined. Both have become Wilds, humans altered by the strange and dangerous plants of this world... and both have been part of the turmoil sweeping the Lighthavens, where untainted humans live fearing and hating Wilds. After the disaster in Fire Grove that left much of the council dead, Axton and Aniva have been separated. Axton, tainted by the Green Witch and her "gift" of Witchvines, heads back to Linnea, his first friend and guardian in the Garden. Aniva, meanwhile, returns to the Crows, who are planning a fresh assault on the humans and their Lighthavens; as both a Crow and a Blood Demon, she's become a valuable weapon, but every mindless killing frenzy makes her feel more like a monster. Meanwhile, the Green Witch is up to something, teasing Axton with glimpses of Ivan Rhyme, the siblings' long-lost father. Everything is heading for a cataclysmic event, one that may shake the Garden to its roots. Will the Rhymes survive, or is it already too late?

REVIEW: The final installment of the imaginative Rhyme of the Willow trilogy starts as if it weren't a separate book... and this is a bit of a problem. There's no chance to catch up or even let the reader catch their breath as it plunges ahead into the growing chaos and tension sweeping the Garden. This wouldn't be an issue if there had been no gap between reading the previous two installments and this one - but there was, and I never shook the feeling that I was just reading a part of a larger story, that I was missing significant connections that had dimmed with the passage of time. The breakneck pace and many characters worked against me, here.
That said, it does move decently, finally bringing the Rhyme parents into the picture. Aniva and Axton have both changed, not simply physically, during their adventures. It builds up to a tense finale... but then things start falling apart, with some side-stepping, a bit of an eye-rolling revelation, and a solution that, given the trauma and bloodshed and death endured during the trilogy, felt far too clean and quick, not to mention a trifle forced. This feeling, plus the sense that the trilogy itself was unnaturally presented (it really felt like one story roughly cropped into three installments), ultimately lost it the fourth star in the ratings.
All in all, the Rhyme of the Willow trilogy gets points for imagination and intensity, worth exploring if you want a portal fantasy with some threat and substance, if one with a bit of an abrupt end.

You might also enjoy:
The Everworld series (K. A. Applegate, YA Fiction - Four Chicago teens are pulled into a world of elder gods and magic)
Abarat (Clive Barker, YA Fiction - A Minnesotan girl travels to the bizarre archipelago of the Abarat)
The Ghosts of Evolution (Connie Barlow, Nonfiction - An examination of anachronistic plants, whose fruits and defenses point to extinct animal partners)
Peter Pan (James M. Barrie, YA Fiction - An immortal flying boy takes three children away to a magical island)
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron, YA Fiction - Protecting a redwood grove from loggers, a girl is swept back in time to face an even greater threat)
The Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum, YA Fiction - A tornado whisks a Kansas girl into magical Oz)
A Hollow World: Down the Rabbit Hole (R. G. Beckwith, Fiction - A young scientist, fresh out of college, joins a government team investigating a mysterious hole in Greenland)
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan, YA Fiction - When a boy finds a faerie prince in the garden, he is pulled into a brewing interdimensional conflict)
A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fiction - A Civil War veteran finds himself transported to the dying, hostile planet Mars)
The Best of Lewis Carroll (Lewis Carroll, YA Fiction - Includes the tales of Alice's adventures in Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land)
Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins, YA Fiction - A boy and his toddler sister fall into a mysterious underground world beneath New York City)
The Wiz Biz books (Rich Cook, Fiction - Pulled into a magical world, a Silicon Valley programmer turns his coding skills to magic)
Clockwork Kingdom (Leah R. Cutter, YA Fiction - Modern twins are lured into the schemes of a dangerous fairy queen)
The Stoneheart trilogy (Charlie Fletcher, YA Fiction - A boy finds himself plunged into the invisible war between London's gargoyles and statues)
Coraline (Neil Gaiman, YA Fiction - A girl finds a doorway to a mirror version of her flat, where a dark entity awaits her arrival)
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman, Fiction - Helping a wounded homeless girl pulls an ordinary man into the bizarre, invisible realm of LondonBelow)
The Dinotopia books (James Gurney, YA? Fiction - Shipwrecked, a professor and his son discover a lost world where humans coexist with sentient prehistoric animals)
The Lives of Christopher Chant (Diana Wynne Jones, YA Fiction - A boy learns to travel to other worlds in his dreams)
The Merlin Conspiracy (Diana Wynne Jones, YA Fiction - Pushed into another world, a boy learns of a dangerous plot that threatens many worlds' magic)
The Divide (Elizabeth Kay, YA Fiction - A sickly boy accidentally falls into a world where magic is real and humans are myths)
The Dark World (Henry Kuttner, Fiction - A World War II vet finds himself in a parallel world of magic, fighting memories of an alternate, evil self)
Doon (Laurie Langdon and Carey Corp, YA Fiction - Two American teen girls find their way to the mystical Scottish kingdom of Doon)
Un Lun Dun (China Miéville, YA Fiction - Two London girls discover wonders and dangers in the city's surreal "abcity" mirror)
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen, YA Fiction - A mysterious light transports a boy to a hostile alien wilderness)
The Diadem series (John Peel, YA Fiction - Three children from three worlds must undertake a quest to save magic)
Switch! The Lost Kingdoms of Karibu (Karen Prince, YA Fiction - Three modern African boys become entangled in magical dangers in a hidden world)
The Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson, Fiction - A stormswept world of war and magic faces a grave threat)
The Alchemyst (Michael Scott, YA Fiction - Modern American twins are pulled into a magical struggle involving godlike Elders, monsters, and immortal mages)
The Imaginality of Somewhere (Someone, YA Fiction - Twins discover a portal to a magical world)
Rex Rising (Chrystalla Thoma, YA Fiction - In a dystopian world, parasites twist humans to suit their needs)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Catherynne M. Valente, YA Fiction - An Omaha girl travels to Fairyland for an Adventure, and finds herself fighting an evil Marquess)
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams, Fiction - A man finds himself in the world of Faerie, where a war with Earth is brewing)
The Birthright series (Joshua Williamson and Andrei Bressan, YA Graphic Novel - A young boy disappears, only to return a year later having grown up in a fantasy world, corrupted by the forces he was supposed to destroy)
The 100 Cupboards trilogy (N. D. Wilson, YA Fiction - A boy finds strange worlds beyond little doorways in his attic bedroom)

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