Review | Secrets Series by Orca Book Publishers (Multiple Authors)

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Seven books, seven authors, seven secrets to uncover. The premise behind the Secrets series by Orca Books intrigued me, and the authors involved read like a who’s who of contemporary YA fiction. The series follows seven teenage orphans from Hope, Ontario. When their orphanage burns down in June 1964, each of them sets off to discover the truth about their past. All they have is some pocket money from the kind orphanage director and a memento from their past — a medical certificate, a Star of David, a tailored man’s coat with the initials E.B., and so on.

The stories are as follows:

  • The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong — Tess travels to a Quebec town and unearths the disturbing history of a mental health facility. A mysterious boy has his own reasons for helping her find the truth.
  • Innocent by Eric Walters — Betty/Lizzy takes a job as a maid in Kingston, Ontario and investigates her mother’s murder. Her father was convicted of the crime, but protests his innocence, and a cute policeman helps her investigate.
  • Small Bones by Vicki Grant — A man’s coat leads Dot to a lakeside resort in rural Ontario, where she and a charming reporter investigate the local legend of a baby who disappeared seventeen years ago. PTSD and the war emerge as themes in the investigation.
  • Stones on a Grave by Kathy Kacer — Sara’s newly discovered Jewish heritage leads her to Germany where she learns the truth behind her mother’s life and her father’s identity.
  • A Big Dose of Lucky by Marthe Jocelyn — Malou investigates her mixed race heritage in Parry Sound, Ontario, and discovers a much larger family than she expected. This book delves into the history behind a particular medical procedure and branch of scientific research, which I found fascinating.
  • My Life Before Me by Norah McClintock — Aspiring reporter Cady travels to Orrenstown, Indiana where she becomes embroiled in a web of politics, corruption and racial tensions.
  • Shattered Glass by Teresa Toten — Toni moves to Toronto, becomes involved in the local club and music scene, and discovers the truth behind the nightmares of fire and burn marks she’s had all her life.

I really enjoyed reading this series. The girls’ family histories are the core of the story, but many of the authors took the opportunity to also explore some pretty meaty subjects — the effects of war, the Holocaust, medical experimentation, race relations and the like. I also really like the love stories in these books. Jackson from Unquiet Past, David from Innocent and Eddie from Small Bones are all particularly charming, and while there was a lot more going on in these stories, the romances were definitely a highlight for me. I love Jackson and Toni’s snappy repartee (totally reminiscent of the romances in Kelley Armstrong’s other books) as much as David and Lizzy’s more old-fashioned, tender slow burning attraction, and Eddie’s teasing of Dot is adorable.

The books are all really short, written for a YA/MG audience, and unfortunately, the length means that many if not all of them end a bit abruptly. Or, possibly, that’s just a sign that I want to read much more of their lives, and to see more of how the romances turn out. (I like to think that David and Lizzy end up getting married, in a totally sweet and classical small town wedding.)

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All the books had their strengths, and certainly the search for family is a compelling thread throughout. Armstrong’s Unquiet Past and Walters’ Innocent were by far my favourites of the series, possibly because both had a more traditional approach to mystery-solving and also possibly because both had the love stories that were most compelling to me. I’ve long been a fan of Kelley Armstrong’s books, and all her best trademarks are here — intelligent and independent female protagonist, spark-tastic romance, and supernatural creepiness grounded in real life. Hers was the book I most looked forward to, and while I think the ending felt rushed, overall it lived up to my expectations. Eric Walters is an author I’ve heard of but never read, but I loved the Nancy Drew feel of his Innocent. A mysterious powerful family, a man who may be in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and a young girl who doggedly follows the clues to find the truth.

Teresa Toten’s Shattered Glass for me held real potential (central Q: did Toni’s mother try to burn her to death?), but it was probably my least favourite of the series. All the girls were naive to some extent or other, having been sheltered for so long in the orphanage, and all of them to some extent built a fantasy about their past, but Toni’s naivete felt the most pronounced and her fantasies the most unrestrained. It just became annoying after a while, such as when she becomes a complete jerk to the love interest because of one of her theories about her past, which was annoying mostly because, being one of many wild theories contemplated and discarded throughout the story, it felt more like yet another overreaction than an actual problem. That being said, Shattered Glass also had some of most richly drawn adult characters in the series, and I particularly liked the romance that developed between a couple of them.

Overall, a fantastic series and enjoyable read. Recommended for middle school age and younger teens.

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I won the boxed set of this series from Lavender Lines and Orca Books in a blog contest a few weeks ago, and reviewed it just because it’s such an awesome series and one that I think many readers will enjoy. For more information, see the website at readthesecrets.com.