‘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

Summer Update

So things this summer will be a lot different than last summer, it turns out. I’m not interning or officially working in anything publishing related, but if you’re interested in my other dabblings about, here’s what’s up.

  • As you’ve seen the past couple of weeks, I’m still reading and reviewing as many galleys and self-published books as possible. Mostly, I’m working through YA Bound Book Tours and NetGalley, but I’m certainly interested in working independently, too. If you have galley copies, manuscripts, or recently published books and you are interested in feedback or a published review, contact me.
  • I’m taking classes, as always. I’m finally in the last year of my undergrad, which is exciting, but also means that I have to go through the job/college application processes all over again. Yay.
  • I’ve started a sister blog, The Kipling Project. It’s still about books, obviously, that’s pretty much the only thing I know. I recently stumbled upon a host of vintage books, and I’m documenting my research and restoration of them. It’s pretty cool ~if I do say so myself~
  • I’ve done a bit of a redesign on the site, and I’m looking at updating it again at the end of the summer, so if you have any thoughts or suggestions for that, sling them at me!

All in all, I want to really increase my online presence while I have the chance this summer. It’s already been going well the few weeks I’ve been working on it, so thanks for helping me out and sticking around!

XX. Shelby Jo

P.S. I only read one book in May and, yes, I’m ashamed. It was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It was fantastic and I loved it, but, man, it aged me.

‘Ahe’ey’ Review

‘Ahe’ey’ Review

“Ahe’ey” is a new novel by debut author Jamie Le Fay. It follows Morgan, proud feminist and progressive, and her infatuation and eventual entanglement with the mysterious Gabriel. It’s a fantasy novel with a strong political slant, that miraculously manages to do both things well.

The novel succeeds by placing the tumultuous, patriarchal U.S. that we all know alongside the fantastical realm of Ahe’ey, a violent and war-torn matriarchy rampant with misandry and class-ism. By showing both sides of the coin, and leaving Morgan to navigate both worlds, Le Fay effectively eliminates the need to explain her stance: equality is clearly the goal.

This set-up is all that is necessary to accomplish Le Fay’s agenda, but the dialogue is still ridden with political commentary that often became distracting and somewhat preachy.

For example comparisons between the novel’s presidential candidate and infamous bigot Walter Zanus and the campaign and platform of the current U.S. president are beaten into the ground. It’s clear who and what Zanus represents from the moment his character is introduced in a viral video, so the reiteration of these comparisons — and, let’s be frank, the name Walter Zanus — are crude and off-putting in a novel that otherwise retains the moral and intellectual high ground.

It is my opinion that if the politics took a subtler, backseat role to the story, the message of “Ahe’ey” would reach larger audiences.

The story speaks for itself; Morgan is every feminist bookworm’s dream come true. She practically echoed my thoughts on her romance, and by extension that of every fantasy femme fatale, as she struggled to maintain her ideals and self-respect and yet still give grace to the man with whom she is falling in love.

“Ahe’ey” is engaging and well-paced, with interesting characters and rich, colorful fantasy. The dialogue occasionally sounds canned or rehearsed, but if the characters were allowed to shine through the political agenda, they could easily develop more natural relationships and conversations. They’re so close as it is.

I give “Ahe’ey” 4.5/5 stars for its powerful message and high ideals, and hope that the story guides many young men and women to the same philosophies.

“Ahe’ey” was officially released to the world today, and can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

XX. Shelby Jo

February Book Review

#1). Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Outlander turned out to be unexpectedly well-plotted and thoughtful; I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Though I won’t continue with the saga (there’s just so much to read!), it’s definitely a notch in my belt.

#2). The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein – I picked this book up because I love Elizabeth Wein’s historical fiction, and I was intrigued by the idea of a retelling of the Mordred myth – one of my favorite elements of the Camelot legend. However, the detached, lyrical voice detracted from the story, in my opinion, and is my main reason for deciding not to continue with the series.

#3). All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – This was a beautifully told story, with rich and full characters. In some ways it felt inconclusive, but perhaps that’s the best solution, given the subject matter.

#4) The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon – This book was a lot. I was definitely impressed with the sheer amount of lore and world building, but it seemed to impede the plot in a lot of respects. Also, the blend of sci-fi and fantasy didn’t particularly appeal to me.

XX. Shelby Jo

Review: The Sword of Summer

I waited for a while to read Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer, but I finally did it!

Context: The first Rick Riordan book I read was The Red Pyramid. Percy Jackson had been recommended to me by multiple people, but I was avoiding it because it was being made into a movie at the time. I, naturally, loved The Red Pyramid (because it’s great), and immediately started reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians (because I couldn’t get enough or Riordan’s voice). And, honestly, my life has not been the same since the first line. Those five books finally convinced me to become a writer. I still adore them, and every time I re-read them feels like the first time.

That being said, I am not a huge fan of Riordan’s spin-off series The Heroes of Olympus. It feels contrived and unoriginal to me, after the brilliance of Percy Jackson and his story. Because of my dislike for that series, I was not excited to read the Magnus Chase books, especially after I found out that they were just about another demi-god.


Magnus Chase 1

Positives: Riordan’s voice and indirect character development remains true; the characters were unique and the prose entertaining. But that was really all the book had to offer me.

Negatives: I felt like I was reading a Percy Jackson parody. The plot arc was roughly the same, except with even more pointless misadventures designed to distract readers from that very fact. Absent godly parents gave their demi-god children weapons and smiled sweetly as they sent them off on quests to their dooms. Swords turned into not-swords, then back to swords, as heroes learned about new powers and crazy backstories they had hardly imagined before. Loki takes the place of Ares in The Lightning Theif, stirring the plot pot just to watch our heroes drown (Spoiler alert: they don’t). And don’t get me started on the references to the other books. WHYYYYY????

I understand that the mythology and the pantheons are very similar, and maybe there are only so many ways underage Americans can become embroiled in life and death battles for the sake of all humanity, but if that is the case, I would love Riordan to invest his voice and his talents in a new story. Because he is talented and his voice is brilliantand I feel it’s wasted on Magnus Chase.

Disclaimer: I feel like it’s necessary to mention that I am excited for The Trials of Apollo,  because I have already posted about it, but that I don’t feel like my above statement applies to that. Returning to Percy, Camp Half-Blood, and the Greek mythological re-tellings is okay with me, as long as there is an original plot to go with them.

Bonus: Favorite Quotes (because Riordan): “He likes taking hills. It’s a Civil War Thing.”

“High King Roasty Toasty”

“It’s perfect if you need a small metal duck. Or a larger metal duck.”

“Painted on the prow was HARALD’S DEEP-SEA EXCURSIONS AND DEATH WISHES, which seemed like a lot of verbiage for a twenty-foot-long dinghy.”

“He had a point. (Oh, sorry. That was bad.)”

“Thor without his flying chariot would be like a dwarf without an emergency parachute!”

“Oh…So That’s Who Fenris Smelled in Chapter Sixty-Three”

XX. Shelby Jo

Audiobook Sync

With this post, I wanted to spread the word about Audiobook Sync! This is a great organization designed to provide free audiobooks throughout the summer, catering to youth and adults alike. They pair a contemporary YA title alongside a classic title following similar themes or ideas and make them available to download only for a week, but to keep forever. Each week they provide a new pair for download, completely free. Check out the schedule here – the 2014 selection looks fantastic!

The dowloads start today and continue through August 20th. The files are available in MP3 format only, and require a download of Overdrive Media Console first, which is available on practically all desktop or mobile platforms.

This is a fantastic resource that its guarunteed to spice up any summer. I found it late last year, and I’m definitely downloading every title this year. Trust me, if you haven’t discovered your love for audiobooks yet, now is the time!

Reading Goals 2014

I am ridiculously competitive and quite a sucker for a good challenge (…as in…any challenge). So, last year, when many of the bloggers I liked (mainly Hero and Kelli – check out their sites!), took up reading challenges, I had to join in. I set my goal to 40-75 books, and barely scraped in 40.

That was pretty disappointing, since I love books and consider myself an avid reader. I looked back and realized I fell off the reading bandwagon sometime around when I started high school, presumably when I began attending co-op. Since I was focusing on school, I felt like I couldn’t be too hard on myself for not reading.

So, my only goal for this year is to read more books than I did last year. I’m also journaling a brief response to each of them, since I have found that helps me as a writer by creating a sort-of information bank.

Thus far in 2014 I have read 13 books, compared to the 9 I had at this point last year. I’d say things are looking good.