‘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.

Upcoming YA Release: ‘I Stop Somewhere’

Upcoming YA Release: ‘I Stop Somewhere’

“He wasn’t exactly attractive. There was something wrong about the way he moved, the way he smiled. Everything about Caleb was off somehow. He was tall, but he walked like he’d woken that morning into his tallness and now he couldn’t figure out how to get his body to work the same way.

There was also the way he smiled. It was cute, but it had this way about it. Like he’d learned about smiling from a textbook. The idea of smiling came through, but it seemed like he just followed the directions rather than actually smiled.

“I… um, nothing really. I have to read.”

We had a test Monday on summer reading, which I’d put off all summer to work on reinvention.

“What’re you reading?” He took my bag from me and rummaged through it. “Great Expectations? They’re still teaching this crap, huh?”

“Aren’t you, like, a junior?”

“Yeah. How’d you guess?”

I hadn’t had to guess. It had been three days, but everyone knew Caleb and his older brother, Noah; you didn’t need friends to know who they were. They walked through the school like the only people who’d ever mattered. It was probably true.”

I Stop Somewhere blitz banner

THE LOVELY BONES meets ALL THE RAGE in a searing, heartbreaking contemporary debut by T.E. Carter.

From Goodreads:

Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished.

Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn’t need to be popular; she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper.

But then the unthinkable happens and Ellie is trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn’t the first victim and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her.

The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place.

TE Carter’s stirring and visceral novel not only discusses and dismantles rape culture but also makes you slow down and think about what it is to be human.

•••••

“I Stop Somewhere” will be released by Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan) on February 27th, 2018. The hype for this book is already incredible; the cover is gorgeous and every preview I have read suggests that the story is just as beautiful and heart wrenching, so I suggest you join me and pre-order a copy now!

XX. Shelby Jo

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.

 

‘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