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NEVER series by Lesley Livingston

Hi readers, here’s a review round-up for you! This time featuring a throwback YA fantasy series featuring time travel.. but this time our characters travel back to the time of Boudicca and Druids, Celts and Romans, and more.

Clarinet Reid is a pretty typical teenager. On the surface. She’s smart, but a bit of a slacker; outgoing, but just a little insecure; not exactly a mischief-maker … but trouble tends to find her wherever she goes. Also? She unwittingly carries a centuries-old Druid Blood Curse running through her veins. Now, with a single thoughtless act, what started off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville suddenly spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, avert an explosive catastrophe, save a Celtic warrior princess, right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Clare was even born, and if there’s still time— literally—maybe even get a date.

This is the kind of adventure that happens to a girl once every … never.

Title Once Every Never
Author : Lesley Livingston
Series : Never (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 312
Genre : YA fantasy / paranormal / historical
Publisher : Penguin Canada
Release Date : July 1, 2011

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

As part of my unhaul project, I’ve attempted to pull a few old favourites off the shelf each year to see if they were worth keeping or if, well, they were destined for the unhaul pile. Like many readers these days, YA isn’t quite doing for me what it used to and most, though not all!, of my rereads/retries haven’t quite held up. So far though.. this series is doing good things!

The basic premise is a girl, banished from Toronto to the UK for the summer for reasons, ends up discovering a unique and unexpected ability to travel back to a specific past when she touches certain ancient artifacts. At first she isn’t able to speak to or interact with those around her, and her trips are brief before she’s flung back to the present, but eventually she finds herself connecting with those in conflict and, despite them being long dead, trying to help them. Maybe even.. change the future?

Considering just how old this series is (2011! my god..) this really held up well. It’s not without a little silliness (some of Clare’s word vomit to the Celts was just painful and there were some other moments that veered towards OTTness but oddly enough only in the adults) but honestly less in the dumb way and more in a fun way. The historical element, the specific time this details, it’s all really interesting. And I really enjoyed the limited conditions in which Clare was allowed to influence, and interact with, the past. Adding to the good was her fantastic bestie slash sidekick and all their great banter and there was also a nice little romance at play.

From what I remember I’m pretty sure book two is Allie, said bestie’s, turn at a time travel adventure and considering I did like her more than Clare, I think the next reread might do even better than this one.

It’s happening again!

Despite their vow to each other at the end of Once Every Never, best friends Clare and Allie once more find themselves in trouble—and travelling in time. Indulging in a low-key vacation at Glastonbury Tor, taking part in an archaeological dig while soaking up the sights of summertime England, the girls have promised each other: no time travel shenanigans; no involvement with dangerous Druids or villainous museum thieves; and definitely no weirdness about the fact that Clare is now seriously dating Milo, Allie’s super-genius hottie cousin!

But when Allie makes an unexpected discovery at the dig site—a skull—the grisly artifact sends her spiralling back in time to a Roman encampment besieged by rampaging Celts. Caught between the Legions and the war band, Allie is rescued from certain death by Marcus, a young Roman soldier with a secret. As she struggles to survive in the past, Clare and Milo race desperately against time in the present to bring Allie home…before she loses her head OR her heart.

Title Every Never After
Author : Lesley Livingston
Series : Never (book two)
Format : physical
Page Count : 256
Genre : YA fantasy / paranormal / historical
Publisher : Penguin Canada
Release Date : March 12, 2013

Hollis’ 3 star review

Okay, I realize it’s been seconds for you between my hope for better for book two and the writing of said review. Not that it’s been all that long on this end, I’m literally bingeing the last two books the day after reading the first, but. Somehow this wasn’t at all what I remembered it being. I had no review to look back on but I did rate this higher (highEST! it was a five. oh precious bb Hollis..) so I expected something great.

And.. I mean, I wasn’t wrong. Allie, the bestie, does get her chance at time traveling, this time in a different manner, with different parameters, than Clare, but.. other than the fun of who she runs into, and thus has a romance with, this one felt chaotic.

The whole trilogy is basically focused around the same things, with the same characters, and that’s made even more clear by the cliffhanger in book two. So while we get to see how some things piece together in this middle instalment, and there are a lot of pieces — some still unresolved or unclear — it’s just also a lot. There’s so much going on at the end of this one, and it gets very timey wimey wibbledy wobbledy (though that bit is mostly fun), that it sorta feels unsatisfying.

Also, I don’t know if it’s the slightly shorter runtime or the general chaos but the aforementioned romance just doesn’t come across convincing. I would’ve liked less of that, more of a promise of it to come, then how it played out but then again.. this is one of those YA issues I have these days. Not that adult romance is any better at times!

So yeah, lots of questions and confusions still abound, and more time travel adventures still to come, so I’ll just dive right in and hope we can really bring it all home in the finale.

Past and present collide on the high seas when Clare and Allie hurtle back in time once more in a perilous attempt to retrieve Marcus Donatus—Allie’s blast-from-the-past crush—and put an end, once and for all, to the Time Monkey Shenanigans. But when Clare and Allie unexpectedly find themselves temporal stowaways on a Roman warship full of looted Celtic gold, sailing straight for the heart of a magic-fuelled maelstrom, there’s not much they can do but hang on for the ride—and hope Milo can tap into the Druid lore trapped in his genius brain to help bring them home, before it’s too late. The only thing that’s going to save Clarinet Reid and Allie McAllister now is if they join forces with old enemies, new loves … and unexpected friends.

Title Now and For Never
Author : Lesley Livingston
Series : Never (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 280
Genre : YA fantasy / paranormal / historical
Publisher : Penguin Canada
Release Date : May 27, 2014

Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Okay, this was pretty fun. Did it blow my mind? Maybe not. Is this series going to stay on my shelves? Also no. But it was, in the end, a little better than book two. And I’m glad I made a point to revisit these because they do hold up, they do some neat time travel-y things that aren’t quite the usual format, and well.. it’s pretty fun. It’s also not a huge time investment as these are easy to breeze through as opposed to some of the more chunky fantasies.

While the England setting isn’t all that unusual for this kind of story, the when of it all is. In this one we have a Roman vessel, and governor along with his legion, finding their way to North America in 92 AD and boy does that get complicated. I appreciated the very real historical awareness woven into this series and this was only one example of that. Throw in all the complicated paradoxes and whatnot, well. Clearly Livingston is a smart cookie.

If the YA lover in your life is keen for adventure and hijinks, history and romance, and enjoys a good quirky and smart ensemble, this might be one to fit the bill. And the bonus is it’s a backlist series and there’s no need to wait ages for the next instalment!

A RIP THROUGH TIME by Kelley Armstrong

In this series debut from New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, a modern-day homicide detective finds herself in Victorian Scotland—in an unfamiliar body—with a killer on the loose.

May 20, 2019: Homicide detective Mallory is in Edinburgh to be with her dying grandmother. While out on a jog one evening, Mallory hears a woman in distress. She’s drawn to an alley, where she is attacked and loses consciousness.

May 20, 1869: Housemaid Catriona Mitchell had been enjoying a half-day off, only to be discovered that night in a lane, where she’d been strangled and left for dead . . . exactly one-hundred-and-fifty years before Mallory was strangled in the same spot.

When Mallory wakes up in Catriona’s body in 1869, she must put aside her shock and adjust quickly to the reality: life as a housemaid to an undertaker in Victorian Scotland. She soon discovers that her boss, Dr. Gray, also moonlights as a medical examiner and has just taken on an intriguing case, the strangulation of a young man, similar to the attack on herself. Her only hope is that catching the murderer can lead her back to her modern life . . . before it’s too late.

Outlander meets The Alienist in Kelley Armstrong’s A Rip Through Time, the first book in this utterly compelling series, mixing romance, mystery, and fantasy with thrilling results.

Title : A Rip Through Time
Author : Kelley Armstrong
Series : A Rip Through Time (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 352
Genre : mystery / sci-fi / historical fiction
Publisher : Minotaur Books
Release Date : May 31, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 

Hollis’ 3 star review

Once upon a time I used to associate Armstrong with paranormal novels. Now not only are detective/mystery plots her speciality but she seems to be using time travel a lot, too. Not that I’m complaining..

This one veers in a different direction from her last time travel story and whereas that was a romance this has none to speak of — though.. maybe set up for something in the future? there were glimmers — due to some complicated dynamics but also the strangeness of the whole situation Mallory suddenly finds herself in. One minute, it’s 2019 and she’s a detective on leave in Edinburgh, just out for a jog. Next, she wakes up after having been attacked, but it’s 1869 and she finds herself in the body of an unrecognizable housemaid. Not only does she have to quickly adjust, adapt, and come up with a plausible reason for being confused and out of sorts (beyond being attacked), but she also has to solve her own case; and the case of a local murder or two.

If this had been a standalone, well, a) that would’ve been a very unsatisfying ending (but it also would’t have ended that way) and b) this would be a very different rating. It’s still not as high as I think it might be in the future because, now that we have the set-up out of the way, and know our cast of characters, I think the next book (books?) will be very very good. I really enjoyed both siblings that Mallory finds herself, as Catriona, working for — one is a funeral director (well, what passes for one in the times) and also has a side hustle with the police as a medical examiner, and the other is more or less a chemist. Both intelligent, if a little unusual, for the times and for even more reasons than I’ve mentioned (leaving some surprises for you). Another character is the local criminal investigator who is also a friend to both.

It was fascinating to see Armstrong, through Mallory, try and determine what criminology and forensic sciences were already at work at the time and navigate the conversations and investigations with her own knowledge while, somehow, trying to make it fit. She didn’t always succeed, and often surprised those around her, but I think that made it more believable. I always side-eye a story that has the time traveler way too prepared to blend in to new surroundings.

While the mystery and reason behind why Mallory was attacked in the first place, and why she continued to be targeted, was kind of.. well, not exciting, I also respect having this kind of storyline play out. So often we expect big nefarious reasons for these crimes but rarely are they so dramatic.

So, yes, overall I had a good time with this but I’m very glad we got this stage of the story out of the way and now things can get even better. Can’t wait to see what adventures await this ensemble in the coming books.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

DISPEL ILLUSION by Mark Lawrence

Sometimes being wrong is the right answer.

Nick Hayes’s genius is in wringing out the universe’s secrets. It’s a talent that’s allowed him to carve paths through time. But the worst part is that he knows how his story will end. He’s seen it with his own eyes. And every year that passes, every breakthrough he makes, brings him a step closer. Mia’s accident is waiting for them both in 2011. If it happens then he’s out of choices.

Then a chance 1992 discovery reveals that this seeker of truth has been lying to himself. But why? It’s a question that haunts him for years. A straw he clings to as his long-awaited fate draws near.

Time travel turns out not to be the biggest problem Nick has to work on. He needs to find out how he can stay on his path but change the destination. Failure has never been an option, and neither has survival. But Nick’s hoping to roll the dice one more time. And this new truth begins with a lie. 

Title : Dispel Illusion
Author : Mark Lawrence
Series : Impossible Times (book three)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 234
Genre : sci-fi/fantasy
Publisher : 47North
Release Date : November 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★

Hollis’ 4 star review

Well well welllllll.

This series has been a wild ride of weirdness, geekiness, violence, and wtf’ery. That last mostly in the sense of “I have no idea what’s happening, I’m so dumb, this book is hella smart, why am I reading this.” But this final installment?

W o w.

Not only is this my favourite of the set, it also wraps everything so.. perfectly. The cleverness of the author, of bringing all these convoluted strands of time, events, people, and more, together, is just unreal. Again, I stumbled my way through the first two, but this one — even though, again, my brain couldn’t keep up sometimes — actually made sense. It worked. And it worked because of everything that came before.

This is definitely a series I recommend that you binge but, if not, Lawrence was kind enough to include a “previously, on..” at the beginning of this third novella. I won’t say it helped to make things any clearer than it felt to actually read said previous books but it got me upto speed on some of the finer details I’ve forgotten since finishing book two. Which, again, meant I was still the tortoise in this hare race. But this time it was way more enjoyable overall.

But, yeah, this isn’t a series I would necessarily recommend because, again, complicated, and weird, and nerdy, but if you like time travel, if you like characters that play D&D, if you enjoy twisty turny, timey wimey, and aren’t afraid of being confused (or maybe you’re smarter than the average duck), you should give these a try. For all that your brain needs to invest a bit in the details, you aren’t really investing your time (hahahah I didn’t do that on purpose) because these novellas aren’t long. But a lot does happen. So, figure that one out.

Once again, this has cemented my need to read more from this author — something I haven’t done since finishing the last installment of this book, whoops — and I can’t wait to explore his epic fantasy series’.

** I received a finished copy from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **