REVIEW: “Elemental Secrets” by Elle Middaugh

Elemental Secrets
by Elle Middaugh

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Length: 368 pages (e-book)

Release date: 27th February 2016

Amazon UK | Amazon US

With her mother long deceased and her father recently deployed, Valerie Moore is sent to live with her eccentric aunt in a tiny town nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Being a Navy brat has made her into a bit of a loner, and making friends isn’t high on her list.

Time with her aunt, however, soon convinces her that a life of loneliness really isn’t what she wants. So, she opens up and makes a few friends – friends with secrets.

Her love life quickly becomes a mess. Torn between the conflicted heartbreaker next door, the persistent jock at the top, and the rugged college bad boy, Valerie finds it almost impossible to choose just one guy.

Romance isn’t her only problem, though.

Secrets are revealed about her family, her friends and relationships, and her whole world…

But the biggest secret of all is unveiled when Valerie discovers she has Elemental powers, unleashing a rapid chain of irreversible events.

Despite what my rating might suggest, I had a pretty good time reading this book. It’s poorly written with irredeemable plot and characterisation, but it falls into the territory of “so bad it’s good.” You know which ones I mean–the books that aren’t even guilty pleasures because they don’t offer much pleasure, but just train wrecks so spectacular that you have to stick with them until the end.

a train wreck.

I am happy to report that Elemental Secrets has a) more of a plot than Fifty Shades and b) a heroine with greater self-awareness than Bella Swan. Hooray, we’ve passed the bare minimum test of what can acceptably be called a novel! Unfortunately, Elemental Secrets only just scrapes by that requirement. I would add that this book has zero literary merit, but to even mention “literary merit” in the same sentence as it feels like a disservice to actual literature everywhere.

So let me talk about a few highlights to be found in this trash–and why you, provided you’re willing to turn off large sections of your brain, might possibly enjoy reading it:

1 – Yup, she’s a ditz
I don’t like calling characters Mary Sues, because it reduces them (mostly women) to a stock trope. But Valerie is a Mary Sue. Weird girl who “doesn’t fit in”? Check. Has the super special powers that makes her the key to everything? Check. Every guy within a twenty-mile radius in love with her? Check! We’re not even talking a love triangle. Nope, two guys drawn to the magically beautiful-but-doesn’t-know-it girl isn’t enough. We’re gonna have three guys form a love square! There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of guys fall for your heroine. You know what, I’m convinced when said heroine is a Daenerys or even a Celaena, because they have traits that make them desirable. But when your heroine is Too Stupid to Live with the personality of a sponge? Yeah, suspension of belief only goes so far.
The silver lining: At some point Valerie’s inane ditzy style of narration became sort of hilarious to read. Sort of.

2 – Exclamation marks! Everywhere!
Remember in primary school when your teacher taught you to mix up punctuation and “show, not tell?” It’s like the author took that lesson to heart and never bothered taking another writing class. At times Elemental Secrets reads like a preteen girl’s fantasy. At the same time, there’s a serious disconnect between the way that the author thinks that teenaged girls behave and the way that teenaged girls actually behave, so I guess it’s more like a grown woman’s perception of what a preteen girl’s fantasy would be like. Complete with exclamation! Marks! Every! Other! Sentence! And the whole gamut of rhetorical clichés. It only took until the first page of the second chapter to encounter the infamous Evil Sentence: “A breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding escaped as I crossed the threshold”. Sorry, Valerie, you’re not the first heroine to have a curiously poor awareness of your respiratory functions.
The silver lining: For all aspiring authors, this book contains some very good examples of how not to write.

3 – Did someone say drama?
If you can’t stand gossip, oh man, you’re really not gonna like this.


Elemental Secrets is, to phrase it tactfully, an extremely unflattering portrayal of small-town lily-white America. The lily-white part is true, for sure. I don’t think a single non-Caucasian person appears over the course of the novel. For that matter, everyone is also supermodel-level attractive. Thank God that the author is at least aware of everyone’s statistically dubious attractiveness–it’s mentioned to death how Center Allegheny’s “won the genetic lottery,” “all the boys are so hot,” yada yada. Everyone is also shallow as hell, a fact of which the author sadly does not seem to be aware. It’s marketed as a fantasy novel, but it’s 50% the main character ogling hot boys and staying up to date with the latest high school gossip.
The silver lining: If you’re into this kind of tabloid-calibre drama, you’re in for a real treat.

4 – The author’s strange obsession with global warming
Okay, I can’t lie, this is a funny one. Global warming–yeah, global warming, “climate change” is never used–is mentioned so much that I begin to wonder if Elemental Secrets wasn’t written as a soapbox for climate change denial. The plot justification for shoving climate skepticism in our faces is flimsy at best, especially the revelation at the end that global warming is a hoax (wow, never heard that one before!), which is completely nonsensical. Look, I’ll excuse it if your protagonist is a climate change skeptic. Valerie declares her ideological stance in the first chapters and I didn’t DNF, despite a strong temptation to. Whatever. I can ignore it. But mentioning it again and again in a fictional fantasy novel whose premise is tangentially related at best is pretty distracting. This is far from the only plot hole–other reviews have mentioned, for example, the numbers that don’t add up: If there were only eight Elementals to begin with, and each Elemental can pass down their magic gene only once, and Elementals regularly kill each other off for petty reasons…how do so many Elementals exist??? There are hundreds of them walking around in this book. The only possible rationale I can think of is that more humans mutated into Elementals as the years went on, in addition to the original eight, but like most of the other inconsistencies, this is never addressed.
The silver lining: I tried, but there just isn’t one.


Pity that such a lovely cover couldn’t go with an equally good story. I have nothing against the author, who definitely knows her audience–I suspect there’s a niche group of readers out there who will eagerly read and love Elemental Secrets. I’m just not one of them.

*Thanks to Live Laugh & Love Books and the author for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

View all my reviews

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Elemental Secrets” by Elle Middaugh

  1. Haha, I’ve only been blogging for a month but I’ve noticed that if I didn’t rate it at least 3 stars (and that was an ARC that I felt obligated to share my review), I don’t post the review on my blog (but will still post on Goodreads). I saw you rated this 1 star but then reading your review I kind of want to read it now… Do you always share reviews for low rating books on your blog, or was this was special because it was so bad it’s good? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I mostly curate my reading list to just books I think I’ll enjoy so I don’t have that many low ratings, but yep I post the majority of my reviews on my blog regardless of star rating. I have to admit this one was pretty special though, just as you describe :p


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