‘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

Remember that Time?

Today I decided to share a brief personal essay – “Remember that Time?” It isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, just an (hopefully) entertaining story about unexpected happiness.



In the grand scheme of things, an hour and a half is not a long time. A mantra that probably, strung end on end, over and over, actually made the bi-weekly trip to my co-op longer, rather than its intended effect. In the grandest scheme of things, I would tell myself, my existence is a dust speck in a limitless galaxy. An hour and a half is not a long time.

But the time drug on, nevertheless. Every Tuesday and Thursday my feet thudded onto the floor at five-thirty, and thudded onto the accelerator precisely an hour later. The trip into the city, with the sun at my back and the day ahead, was manageable. It was the return trip that seemed to chip years off my life, no matter how grand a scheme I considered. By the end of the day, all I wanted was to get home, and all that stood in my way was that pesky hour and a half.

I mentally ticked off an extensive list of landmarks as home grew closer. There is a particular intersection that marked the end of my mind numbing highway driving, and the start of the country roads I knew so well. The start of anticipation, and the gradual flooding back of those precious years.

No matter how tired I am, that intersection means I am halfway home and safely back on familiar ground. Once I pass through its glorious threshold – McDonald’s on one side and Wendy’s on the other – I can finally relax. On good days, I stretch my muscles and turn the radio up. On harder days, I rest my forehead on the wheel while the light lapses red. On the strangest day of them all, I combined the two. Arching my neck forward and pursing my lips like a malcontent tortoise, I rested my chin on the steering wheel. I slowly stretched my neck, looking first at my sleeping passenger and then at the chipper face of Wendy. I turned to the other side and saw a kindred reptile.

I overlooked her at first, the girl stretching her neck up from the driver’s seat to smell the air freshener dangling from her rear view mirror. But in the next second, I dropped the tortoise and became the hare, my head snapping back to her as our eyes met. She froze. I froze. Her sniffing face furrowed. My tight lips quivered. Another second passed. We burst out laughing.

My brother jumped awake at my sudden laughter and asked me what was so funny, but my response was drowned out as I continued to laugh. I put one hand on my stomach, already in stitches, and slapped the other frantically against my window. On the other side, the girl’s passenger looked back and forth between the two of us. The girl flailed about with gestures like mine, unable to explain why this stranger had her giggling in fits.

We laughed until tears streamed down my cheeks and the girl’s passenger finally understood. She gave me a thumbs up and shook her head with a smile. The light turned green, and I waved goodbye to this strange new friend, still laughing.

Miles down the road, I finally got my giggles under control and explained the meeting to my brother. Naturally, I started laughing again, but this time he was laughed with me, and the intersection went from a meager mile marker to a glorious do-you-remember-that-time monument. All of a sudden, thanks to a moment of shared weirdness through eye contact, I realized that my trip was not so bad. How could it be, if it allowed to me experience moments like that one? Sure, an hour and a half is not a very long time, but moments can last forever.

XX. Shelby Jo

January Reading Summary

I read four books in January, which is a little fewer than I would have liked, but is also a good start to the year. If I read four books every month, I’ll meet my goal for the year. Again, I am only counting books I have never read before, so no re-reads or school assignments (though there may be exceptions at some point).

#1 – X by Ilyasah Shabazz – This novel is a fictionalized account of Malcom X’s childhood. I don’t know a lot of the history behind the book, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but it was very well written, and the narrative was compelling.

#2 – Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch – This is the second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series, which follows a group of con artists in a gritty fantasy world. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and love Lynch’s characterization, but I have to say it was no where near as enjoyable as the first, The Lies of Locke Lamora. I originally thought that Lies was a standalone book, which heightened the intensity of the plot so much. On the other hand, Red Seas was all about the adventure, and the conclusion of the plot felt very abrupt and forced. It is also fair to say that it’s nearly impossible to compare anything to The Lies of Locke Lamora. Also, a few too many fart jokes? Was that just me?

Sequels 2

#3 – The Demon King – Cinda Williams Chima – This book was entertaining, and had plenty of the fantasy tropes that are near and dear to my heart, but it was practically all set up for the rest of the series, as it had no central conflict of its own. There are also sooo many possibilities for love triangles; the majority of my suspense surrounding the series is fear for all the love triangles that could come to be. But, I specifically wanted to give Ms. Chima credit for being adamant about and pursuing the idea of a queendom. I really like the way she is handling it.

#4 – The Runaway Queen – Cinda Williams Chima – Okay, so I must have liked it enough to read the sequel, right? Well, it was pretty much the same as The Demon King, but the plot is thickening. Again, however, there was little centralized plot to the book, just a lot of events that contribute to the series as a whole. ALSO THE LOVE TRIANGLES HAPPENED. I want to punch Raisa in the face because she makes out with l i t e r a l l y everyone. I don’t know if it’s good because she’s well developed enough for me to hate her or bad because I hate her. (I’m going to finish the series, so I guess it can’t be that bad? I’m so torn.)

I am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and the rest of my February tbr includes the remainder of the Seven Realms Series by Cinda Williams Chima and hopefully starting the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo!

XX. Shelby Jo

Weekly Goal: 5,000

Weekly Count: 206

Total Count: 12,854

On Art School

“Wait, so…you’re going to a design school…to study writing?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variation of that question. And no response I give is sufficient. When people hear Creative Writing, especially coupled with art school, they automatically put me into a “future-unemployment-going-back-to-college-to-get-a-reasonable-career-to-pay-off-your-masses-of-student-loans-well-why-didn’t-you-do-that-in-the-first-place-you-twit” box in their minds.

Well, let me tell you…

(Or, more accurately, them)

  1. Writing is an art, okay? Whether creative or technical, writing requires a specific skill set that needs to be honed and trained just like any other talent.
  2. By attending a creative college, I am making connections with the future of my industry. I am meeting and forming relationships with the next generation of writers, publishers, film makers, animators, actors, advertisers, illustrators, and so, so many more.
  3. By attending a creative college (especially one as well known as SCAD) I’m also making connections with current industry leaders and E M P L O Y E R S. I’m working with them to learn industry and company standards so that I can, in fact, get a job out of college (because I will actually have masses of student loans).
  4. While it is important I get a job, I also want to have a unique and personal artistic voice. I want this creative basis for my career, and my life. In art school, I’m learning just what my voice is, as well as how to make it commercial and marketable for my future.
  5. There is no “going-back-to-college-to-get-a-reasonable-career” for me. I want to be a writer. No other career will suffice; I am a writer. This is the path I have chosen to my future and it is the path upon which I will succeed.

XX. Shelby Jo

Weekly Goal: 5,000

Weekly Count: 228

Total Count: 4,754

*Yah, I know my word count is pathetic, I’m working on it. As long as I wrote something, it’s still an accomplishment.

Meet the Cast!

…of this still unnamed project. SORRY.

  • Taryn
  1. Taryn is our leading lady. There are some other female characters floating around in my mind, but she’s the only female POV the story will follow.
  2. Taryn has short, dirty blond hair that she tries to keep back, but usually ends up in her face anyway. She has a long, oval face and sharp features and green eyes to fit it.
  3. When the story begins she is 21 years old and a member of the mysterious Corps.
  • Cather
  1. Cather is Taryn’s partner and long-time best friend. They grew up together, joined the Corps as a team, and managed to stay that way.
  2. Cather is tall and slender, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair that’s usually perfect. He comes across as arrogant and attractive in the way that moneyed people usually do.
  3. Cather is a year older than Taryn, and comes from a wealthy noble family.
  • Jackson
  1. Jackson is the baby of the tale. He is a day dreaming teen-aged barkeep from the Outer Provinces. He’s whisked into the world of the Corps and the government and the wealthy inner provinces by a chance meeting with Taryn.
  2. He has black hair, blue eyes, and full lips, giving him a puppy-ish look he doesn’t know how to use to his advantage. He’s excitable and out spoken, and has strong ideals.
  3. Most of the action of the novel is centered around Jackson and his decisions. He is the primary mover of the plot and probably the main protagonist.

Stay tuned for world building next week! (UGH that’s going to be the hardest part of this plotting thing and I’m really not looking forward to it).

xx. Shelby Jo

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

Because even though I don’t participate, I’m pretty sure there’s a code that writing blogs can’t talk about anything else during the month of November.

Yup. I don’t participate. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo (not to mention the community kicks ass), and I tried over and over again to get into it throughout high school, but always to no avail. First of all, November is quite possibly the worst possible month for me. I mean, I am always busy, but  living on a Christmas tree farm doesn’t work well with writing a novel in November. Secondly, I’ve truthfully never finished a novel, and an online community doesn’t really add any pressure or incentive to that task. I need to figure out my own system, and do it fast.

But how do I do that? Everyone always says practice, practice, practice; try, try, try. So I try to practice. And, I would say I’m getting there. But, my stupid brain is so active, that I come up with new characters and story ideas the instant the last ones are leaving my pen. That’s my real issue; not motivation, not time management, but that I don’t know how to avoid those kinds of creative distractions.

So, this November, rather than draft an entire novel, I am going to outline and plot my current novel idea. My Monday posts for the rest of the month will probably be progress summaries of that process, so brace yourself for my un-bridled frustration 😉

xx. Shelby Jo


All I want is summer.
But, I guess that’s a lie,
Because I want your hand in mine
and an endless blue sky.

I want freckles like sandy shores,
With the wind in my hair and hair in my face.
I want loud music and louder joy,
Packed car rides and silent moments.

I want nothing in my way
And I want you by my side.
I want to see the world and call it all home;
Learn its secrets and never stop to boast.

I want to run like the wind and catch fireflies.
I want beautiful stars and prettier dawns.
I want love in an instant and forever friends,
Souls and lives seeking the same ends.

I want peace in my heart and poetry on my mind.
I want another chance at it all,
But I want to move on.

All I want is summer, but more than the sun:
I want to feel infinite and awed in the same second,
I want hope and loss and understanding beyond it all.

I want to seek where I will find and never lose my wonder,
Revel in my youth and never be younger,
Laugh in the face of all dismay and cry on the shoulders of lovers.

I want to use all I’m given.
I want to reach the end, too weak to stand.
I want to fall with a smile on my face and a book in my hand.

I want everything.
And I want it for you, too.

*When you write something and miraculously don’t hate it a week later* This piece is probably the only thing in my portfolio that may stay a while 🙂

Have a great week, love.