‘Mask of Shadows’ Review

‘Mask of Shadows’ Review

I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of Linsey Miller’s debut novel, a YA fantasy adventure, “Mask of Shadows.” The book has been getting a lot of buzz, especially as we ramp up to its release in F I V E DAYS!

“Mask of Shadows” follows a fairly standard YA format — a sassy and surprisingly skilled young person competes for glory and revenge in a nation locked in political turmoil and class struggle — but, in an epic victory for representation, features a gender fluid protagonist. Sal is well-rounded and interesting; they are adamant about the proper pronoun usage, some days he/him and others she/her, and demand respect from those around them.

Though it was overall a win, there were times I felt like the author used Sal’s gender as a bit of a ploy, to make the story “different,” because it was somewhat heavy handed. I understand that it is not reflective of Miller’s own experiences, and I also have no personal experience and therefore cannot judge definitively, but I felt like Sal’s gender was addressed too often and too explicitly for first-person narration.

They establish their identity, and the fact that they won’t take anyone else’s pronoun errors lightly, but also that they are comfortable with who they are and don’t care what others think. Yet pronoun usage comes up again and again in Sal’s thoughts, as if to remind the reader about their gender, a point that is essential to the character, of course, but not necessarily the plot.

But, again, representation, representation, representation. I’m proud of Miller for choosing to take this path with her debut, and of my little YA community for supporting the book. We need more like it.

The lowest point of “Mask of Shadows” for me, was the romance. For most of the story, the development between Sal and their love interest just seemed like an unnecessary side plot, like Miller simply threw it in to fulfill the checklist of YA cliches. I understand the pull for that, and especially the need for representation, but the relationship didn’t develop either of the characters involved. And, as a reader, every step of the relationship was easily predictable from the moment the two characters met.

Not all of the story was cliche as I’m making it sound; I had my fair share of gasps and squeals. The action is fast paced and incredibly entertaining, and the politics are surprisingly well thought out, though slightly confusing. I really enjoyed the interactions between the characters, especially the various masks, they’re a wonderfully human take of the classic team of badasses. The plot is also well-paced, not too absorbed in one element over the other, and not wholly consisting of the competition that kicks off the plot.

“Mask of Shadows” is a debut with incredible potential, and I’m confident that it will firmly secure Linsey Miller along the many YA greats working right now. I highly recommend the book to fans of Victoria Aveyard, Marissa Meyer, Kiersten White, and the like.

Be sure to pre-order “Mask of Shadows” from Amazon, so your copy will be in your hands August 29th!

XX. Shelby Jo

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July Book Review

Things were pretty uneventful this month, but I’ve put a lot of effort into revving things up for the fall, so stay tuned for some pretty spicy reviews and campaigns (giveaways !!) coming up!

#1). The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Being a creative writing student feels pretty impossible sometimes, because I have hundreds of years of the literary tradition to catch up on, as well as staying up to date on new releases. I picked this book up on a recommendation from a professor, to start filling in the gaps of more recent fiction history that I’ve been missing out on. I really enjoyed McCarthy’s prose, but overall felt that the plot of The Road was lackluster, especially thanks to the weak ending.

#2). The Tower by Nicole Campbell – This was a self-published YA book that I received in exchange for an honest review. Check out my thoughts here!

#3). The Last Gambit by Om Swami – Another self-published YA, a coming of age story about an Indian boy determined to become a chess master, that I received in exchange for on honest review. You can find the full review at this link.

XX. Shelby Jo

‘The Last Gambit’ Review

‘The Last Gambit’ Review

“The Last Gambit” is a YA coming of age novel by Om Swami, centered around Vasu, a young Indian boy training to be a master chess player.

Vasu meets a mysterious man who becomes his chess master, on two conditions: the master will never accompany his pupil to tournaments and Vasu must never pry into his master’s past. As Vasu grows into an adult and a world-class chess player, he must decide how his relationship with his master will evolve and learn where chess really belongs in his life.

In the simplest terms, “The Last Gambit” is a treasure. It’s heartwarming, full of culture and cheesy life lessons loosely veiled as chess tips. And Vasu leads the whole story with his endearing enthusiasm, growing from a (fairly annoying, I’ll admit) teenager into a passionate young adult.

It’s a classic coming of age story, one that personally struck home with me, when it came to passion and prioritizing your dream. As his master tells him from the start, Vasu must choose over and over again to continue pursuing chess above all else, in order to be successful.

**I love reading manuscripts, ARCs, and self-published books! If you’re interested in feedback or a published review of your book, contact me for more information.**

the last gambit cover.jpg

And though the novel is centered around chess, and contains plenty of technical information about the game and its various gambits, it reads easily and an understanding of the game isn’t actually necessary.

From a technical standpoint, the book suffers from run-of-the-mill ESL issues; there are odd phrasings and formatting problems on every page, but it honestly adds to the authenticity and heart of the culture in the story. The Indian elements are immersive, both in the specifics of Vasu’s home life and in the characters and their relationships with each other.

The characters are all fairly cliche, but in a positive way. They work well together; family, lover, and mentor all representing virtues and institutions between which Vasu must prioritize. They grow and change with the protagonist, too, creating a well-rounded arc for the entire novel.

“The Last Gambit” is now available for purchase on Amazon!

**Tour hosted by Garima Om**

XX. Shelby Jo

‘The Tower’ Review

‘The Tower’ Review

“Rowyn, Reed, and Rosalyn have made it through just about every dramatic storm their sarcasm could weather during their seventeen year friendship, and it would be nice to have a quiet semester. Rowyn hopes that the only thing The Tower foretells is the frightening sight of the school parking lot come the first day- full of more jacked-up trucks and cut off shorts than a Luke Bryan video. True to its nature, however, the universe doesn’t care much for hopes and wishes, and when the promise of The Tower comes crashing down, they might fall right along with it.”

“The Tower” is the newest release by self-published author Nicole Campbell. It tells the story of three young witches and best friends as they deal with prejudice, love, and tragedy in their small town.

It’s a teenage drama masquerading as a rural fantasy. Whether they’re just for the clever taglines (there are many) or to find unique angles to address prejudice, the magic and witchcraft elements of the book honestly seem extraneous once the true plot begins to unfold, about a third of the way into the novel.

On the bright side, the characters would be little changed whether or not they remained witches; they’re completely consistent in that way, which is perhaps why the magic seems like such an after thought to “The Tower.” The characters really are the best part of the novel. They’re bright, funny, oh so sassy, and real. They change and grow with each other throughout the book, and their experiences hit home in many ways.

**I love reading manuscripts, ARCs, and self-published books! If you’re interested in feedback or a published review of your book, contact me for more information.**

The trio’s only weakness is in how similar their narrative voices sound. Campbell writes in alternating first-person perspective, but all of her characters think and speak with essentially the same voice. Sure, they all have their taglines and dominating character traits, but otherwise the multiple perspectives just feel repetitive.

Overall, “The Tower” is an engaging read, to which I bestow 4 / 5 stars. Campbell dives fearlessly into the inner workings and worries of teenage life and tells a worthy and important tale.

The book is now available in print and as an e-book from Amazon.

June Book Review

In the past, I have proven that I am very bad at reading over the summer (because I have less responsibilities to shirk? Who knows.), but things went surprisingly well in June. Well, surprisingly average, I guess.

#1). Black Blade by Alexander Charalambides – This is a self-published book that I read in exchange for an honest review. You can read the full review here and find the book on Amazon.

#2). This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab – It goes without saying that Victoria Schwab is a fantastic world builder. Like sickeningly fantastic. The dystopia that she created in this book was incredible, and kept me turning the pages above any other element of the story.

#3). Ahe’ey by Jamie Le Fay – I received a galley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It’s one of the best self-published books I’ve read so far! Check out all of my thoughts here, and find the book on Amazon.

**I love reading manuscripts, ARCs, and self-published books! If you’re interested in feedback or a published review of your book, contact me for more information.**

#4) Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – I’m so torn over this book. I adored the prose, but the characters were so frustrating and one-dimensional, that I can’t really say I liked it.

 

‘Black Blade’ Review

‘Black Blade’ Review

“Black Blade” is a YA fantasy adventure by Alexander Charalambides. It follows young hero Lance and his outgoing best friend Megan as they are thrown from the terrors of high school to a magical quest in Avalon.

Charalambides’ first book falls right in step in the tradition of Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson, with its witty, down-to-earth dialogue, free indirect style, and loose fourth wall. The similarities drew me to the story immediately, and brought out the strongest part of the narrative: the characters.

Lance is the shining element of “Black Blade,” as I’m sure Charalambides intended. When his quest and enchanted weapon is thrust upon him, Lance charges fearlessly into battle, telling Megan, “Look…to be honest, I can’t say I figured this would happen, but it always felt like it should.”

Lance echoes the thought of any young person who has spent their days immersed in stories like his. He is meant for more. There’s adventure waiting for him; he knows it and he craves it. This should be enough to drive the narrative forward and keep Lance on his quest, but other elements are thrown in to further raise the stakes. Most of those decisions were unnecessary to me; they cluttered the lore of the the story and required too much exposition.

The voice does read more like a middle grade story than a YA one, until the introduction of three guide-like figures from Avalon, including one who compulsively curses her way through the book.

The introduction of these three raises other narrative issues, as well. The pace of “Black Blade” requires pithy explanations of events and an almost constant stream of dialogue, but with five regular characters, back and forth dialogue without speech tags quickly becomes confusing.

Charalambides begins POV shifts at this point too, without clarifying time or setting changes, or signifying the switches in any other way. The timeline becomes muddled here, but could easily be fixed with a format that indicated POV jumps. Clarifying these would further shore up the characters, and in turn drive the narrative forward. Everything is connected here, showing that “Black Blade” truly has potential, with clearer movement and cleaner copy.

I give “Black Blade” by Alexander Charalambides 4 / 5 stars. It’s an easy and entertaining read, full of colorful and well-developed characters.

“Black Blade” is now available for purchase on Amazon.

XX. Shelby Jo

April Book Review

April Book Review

April showers bring book reviews! And what do book reviews bring? Dedicated online followers! (Please?)

1). Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – This book was incredible. The story was heartbreaking, the language was beautiful,  and the use of perspective was thorough and pointed and powerful.

2). A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – Even though I only recently started this series, it felt like I was waiting for its conclusion forever. And it was worth every second the metaphorical wait. The book wandered a bit, but it eventually lead to a character-consistent conclusion (alliteration!) for all of the wonderful characters.

3). The Black Lotus by Claire Warner – This was a self-published RC that I received in exchange for an honest review. Check out my thoughts here and find the book on Amazon!

4). Blood Orchid by Claire Warner – This was a self-published RC that I received in exchange for an honest review. Check out my thoughts here and find the book on Amazon!

Happy spring to everyone, and good luck on finals to all my fellow students. We will prevail.

XX. Shelby Jo