Twisted Reflections is the second book in a trilogy about a time-travelling American girl named Alexis Davenport.
Normally when I do a book review, I place the story in a general context (if you like That Book, you'll like this book). I also think about who would be a good audience for the book, and then write the review to show how much said book would appeal to said audience.
Usually by the time I'm a few chapters in, it's clear what sort of reader would be interested. With Twisted Reflections, that didn't happen. So instead, I'm going to walk through what I did find.
It was smaller than her aunt's home, but still enormous compared to their old house in Longmont, with a huge immaculately trimmed front yard bordered by beautiful trees and flowers. The house was adobe, like most of the other houses in the area, with a beautiful bay window.
Mrs. Forsythe opened the door as they walked up the driveway. "I'm so glad to meet you, Alex. I'm Vera. I've met your mom a few times at the store."
Alex mumbled, unable to peel her eyes from the gorgeous flowers and bushes. Mrs. Forsythe's roses put Karen's to shame.
This passage is a typical sample of the description in the book — the vocabulary seems to be deliberately trimmed down. Things (and people) are beautiful, perfect, large, small, evil, young, old. Things might get a colour adjective as well. The adjectives can be a bit opaque: what does "beautiful" look like, anyhow? And how huge is "huge"?
Early on in the book, I thought this might be because although the protagonist was a teenager, the books were written to be suitable to younger readers. Passages like the one quoted above made me think of the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books I read when I was between the ages of eight and twelve — the characters were a few years older than I was, but that was mostly to give them the independence necessary to go off on their adventures.
Then again, while there's never any explicit sex, there's a certain amount of talking about it, both in the eras Alex time travels to and in the timestream she lives in.
Alex travels through time by seeing the reflection of another person in a mirror or other reflective surface. If that happens (and although she has some control over it, she is compelled to time travel sooner or later), she reaches into the mirror and finds herself living inside of the body of the person she saw as a reflection. She stays in their era, living out their life, until she's completed whatever task has been set for her. Usually, of course, this involves defeating an opposing time traveller referred to in the text as Drifter, "the evil man", or Traveller.
I'm used to time travel stories only using the main character's present day and life as bookends to the heart of the story, with most of the plot happening in the era travelled to. This doesn't happen in Twisted Reflections. Alex spends a few days, maybe a few weeks, living in the borrowed body, leading the borrowed life, then returns back to her own here and now. When she returns, she's missed only moments. The action taking place in the past is told in a few chapters.
The structure made me think the Reflections series might work well as a video game: solve the larger puzzle by travelling to the past, each time with a specific challenge to overcome, and each time with a different set of skills and strategies to employ. Large portions of the story are dedicated to Alex learning how time travel works and to what purpose she should put her abilities — it did feel like rules of engagement were being set out. It would be interesting to see them applied to interactive media.
Before she could even finish the small bowl of soup, the servants were bringing out the second course, which appeared to be some sort of salad, with greens she didn't recognize, topped with nuts and goat cheese.
Just as she was about to take her first bite, she froze. Her skin prickled and her hair stood on end. Her mouth was open, the fork stuffed with salad bare centimetres from her open mouth.
Get a grip, Alex! She hurriedly stuff the fork into her mouth and chewed, attempting to swallow, even though her mouth was dry as the Sahara Desert. Don't give anything away! Alex managed to get the bite down without choking. She smiled and turned her attention to the newcomer who had just walked into the dining hall.
As established in this trilogy, one can only time travel to the past, not the future. Alex travels to ancient Egypt, Sparta, and Thatcher-era Britain. For the most part the eras are depicted well, but it seemed like every trip to the past had at least one anachronism or other error in it. Alex eats salad with a not-yet-invented table fork in ancient Egypt, where forks were only used for cooking food. The Spartan princess whose body she takes over gets referred to as Roman at least once. In 1980s Scotland, Alex wishes for an iPod so she can have music to help her think, and that detail made it seem strange that the girl whose body she was possessing didn't own a Walkman, or at least a clock radio with a headphone jack.
On the other hand, the details about dress, housing, transportation, and general technology seemed well-researched and provided verisimilitude.
Would a tween or teen spot these? It depends on how much they're into history, and how much they've learned about the recent past from family and teachers. Alex herself is depicted as a keen student of history, so it's not unreasonable to expect readers to be at her level of knowledge.
Most of the story actually takes place in the here-and-now, and most of the suspense and conflict happens in Alex's own life, rather than the lives of the people she time travels to. That led me to think about the intended audience some more, because I'm not sure there's enough time travel here to please someone who regularly enjoys science fiction and fantasy. I'd be more inclined to recommend it to someone who prefers teen-focused fiction, but who doesn't mind some fantastical elements now and again (say, who enjoys when a mainstream soap opera has a space aliens subplot, but wouldn't necessarily watch Supernatural or The X-Files).
About the Author
Shay West was born in Longmont, CO and earned a doctorate degree in Human Medical Genetics from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical. Dr. West currently lives in Grand Junction, CO with her two cats. When not writing novels, she plays with plushie microbes and teaches biology classes at Colorado Mesa University. She is the author of the Portals of Destiny series and the Adventures of Alexis Davenport series. She has also been published in several anthologies: Battlespace (military scifi), Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior (fundraiser), and Ancient New (steampunk/fantasy).
You can find more info on the author, Dr. Shay West here: