Review: Mask of Shadows

MoS cover 2Title: Mask of Shadows

Author: Linsey Miller

Series: #1 in a duology

Genre: YA, fantasy, LGBTQIAP+

Format: eARC from Sourcebooks Fire via Netgalley

Release Date: August 29th, 2017

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟 + 1/2

Synopsis: Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, the first book in this new duology features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action.
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class―and the nobles who destroyed their home.
When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

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Mask of Shadows left me with two impressions: one of a bland, boring novel that I kept trying to push myself through; and the other of a really intriguing YA fantasy with a slightly off-beat story and a unique protagonist. I’m still having trouble reconciling both these feelings into a single rating and coherent review, but overall I really did enjoy this book. There were just a few flaws that stuck out pretty strongly for me.

To start off, this book has some rough pacing. There were times that I flew through the pages and couldn’t tear my eyes away, while others I couldn’t convince myself to pick the book back up. It was inconsistent, and I was left feeling bored for a significant portion of the time. The action scenes themselves are very intense and captivating though, and I really enjoyed seeing how Sal, the main character, managed to get themself out of tricky predicaments. I also feel like it’s important to mention that this book has fairly graphic violence and gore, so I only recommend it for older teenage audiences (15 and above, definitely not anyone below 13).

It took me a long time to get through the beginning portion of Mask of Shadows, mainly because the dialogue and world-building is so confusing. There are way too many euphemisms and metaphors, so it was very difficult to follow certain conversations. While things do clear up a bit as you read, there were still times I couldn’t tell who or what the characters were referring to, or what they even meant. The writing overall is clunky and didn’t impress me in the slightest.

But the thing that takes the cake in terms of my annoyance is by far the romance. It’s generally unnecessary, poorly developed, and WAY too lusty. Sal and Elise basically just want to touch each other the whole time, but not in a “Ahh this is so cute and steamy!!” sort of way, but in a “This is weird and there is too much PDA going on” way. With some more build-up, the romance could’ve been really good. But the characters jump into it super randomly and suddenly, so I just … wasn’t a fan. Elise’s character is also virtually irrelevant and wholly uninteresting; she does nothing for the plot and has a total of two personality traits throughout the entirety of the book.

The side-characters in general needed a LOT more development. Sal is introduced to the reader not really having any friends, and while they do gain one likable confidant that plays a real role in the book (Maud), the whole story felt very detached because our narrator is isolated from the other characters. I think this is probably the main reason I wasn’t totally hooked by this book. Two of the other contestants in the competition to be the Queen’s assassin are mildly intriguing, but overall they didn’t feel that important.

I really did love Sal as a protagonist though! They’re very daring and never afraid to try something risky, even if it gave me a heart attack a few times. I also appreciated how they didn’t shy away from actually killing. I know that sounds strange, but I personally get very tired of seeing heroes neglect to kill off a villain just because it’s the “honorable” thing to leave them alive. Maybe I’m evil or something, but it’s sooo much more satisfying to read about a main character that’s a little gutsy and shameless no wonder I like Kaz Brekker so much. I’m definitely not saying I condone murder or violence (I’m a decent human I swear) but sometimes a hero’s gotta do what they gotta do! I will say that Sal’s motivations throughout the novel are a little weak though. An explanation of wanting cold-blooded revenge for a war crime that feels very distant to the reader didn’t cut it for me. And things also seemed to go a little too perfectly for Sal; I would’ve liked to see them struggle through just a few more unexpected obstacles.

“They were dead, blood drained and bodies burned, but they were my deaths to carry and mine to remember, no matter how dark their pasts.”

Oh, and of course I loved seeing a gender fluid character as the protagonist! While I can’t and shouldn’t speak for the representation because I’m cisgender, I will provide links below to some ownvoices reviews of Mask of Shadows. If you know of any that I did not list, please send me a link and I will happily add them! We really need more books with positive representation of non-cis characters, especially in fantasy and sci-fi!

“Most everyone else wanted me to pick one, make addressing me easier on them by denying myself. I was already dressing so they could get it right. The least they could do was try. I didn’t see why I had to choose.”

In terms of the fantasy setting, it isn’t anything special, but there are a handful of unique aspects that I really liked. I was very interested by the banned system of magic and runes that the author works in, along with the ultra-creepy Shadows. I think it adds a necessary layer of depth to the plot, as the inter-kingdom politics are entertaining, but not mind-blowing. I also really liked the idea of the Left Hand and its quirky characters, I really hope we get to be more involved with them in the sequel! The overall premise of the competition was a pleasant surprise, I’d seen several reviews comparing it to The Hunger Games (which I can see why), but to me it had a different style to it with a different end goal. So I definitely wouldn’t go into this book expecting anything like Hunger Games!

The ending, to put it in one word, is AWESOME. I didn’t expect the twist that the author threw in at the last second, and the big climactic finale scene had my heart racing! It definitely put me on a course for reading book 2 in the series, which I’m now pretty excited for!

Wow, I didn’t intend for this review to be so long, but I had a lot of thoughts about this book! As it says in the synopsis, I would probably recommend this to fans of SJM or Leigh Bardugo (since many of the themes and core elements are the same), but don’t expect that caliber of work (I mean, we’re talking about Leigh Bardugo after all)!

OwnVoices Reviews:

Untitled designHave you read Mask of Shadows? Is it on your list of anticipated reads for the year? What are some of your favorite YA fantasies featuring LGBTQIAP+ characters?

Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Series I’ve Been Meaning To Start But Haven’t

TTT- Series I've Been Meaning to Start

As soon as I saw the prompt for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, I knew I had to participate. I am the QUEEN of unstarted series. Literally I have a small fortune sitting on my shelf just in series that I’ve bought and haven’t started. It’s sad, really. But it should definitely make for an interesting post!

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Clicking on a book’s title will take you to its Goodreads page. 

1. Throne of Glass

Yes, this is not a random joke or a “haha guys just kidding I got you!” Nope, I have literally not read the Throne of Glass series, despite the fact that I’ve had all the books IN HARDBACK sitting on my shelf for a solid year. I really really keep meaning to start this soon, although my expectations have been considerably lowered by all the criticism SJM has received lately. While I don’t think this series will be earth-shattering, I am very eager to recognize all the names and places that people are always throwing around, and to be a part of the conversation. I told myself that 2017 was gonna be the year I finally pick up these books, but so far that “prophecy” has not come to fruition.

2. A Court of Thorns and Roses

I bet I really have you gaping now, huh! Yup, I’m probably the last human on the planet to never have touched a book by SJM. Although with this series, I at least only bought the first book, rather than the whole set. Again, I’m more interested in picking up these books just to see what they’re about and understand what people love (or don’t love) about it. At this point, I don’t see how they could possibly live up to the astronomical hype.

3. Red Queen

I’m basically just hitting all the YA staples first. I own the first two books in this series, but for some reason have yet to read them. And while I know a lot of people have mixed feelings (especially about Glass Sword), I just have this weird feeling that I’ll actually really like them. Maybe I’m setting myself up for disappointment, but I’m hoping to get to this series soon!

4. Truthwitch

This is a lesser-hyped series than the previous three, but I own the first book and scored an ARC of the second at YALLFest 2016. Unfortunately, the fact that it’s on this list means I’ve yet to read them. My expectations for these books are fairly low, since I’ve mostly only read negative reviews, but I follow the author’s monthly newsletters (even though I’ve never read her books, I know, I’m weird like that) and she seems like a really cool person so I’m excited to read some of her work!

5. The Young Elites

I’ve had the first book on my shelf for EONS and for some stupid reason I keep forgetting about it! Literally! Whenever I’m trying to think of what to read next, this book just never crosses my mind. Maybe it’s time to move it down from my top shelf. But I read Marie Lu’s Legend series a while back, loved it, and I really want to read the rest of her books too! Plus, TYE features an anti-hero as the protagonist, and since we all know who my favorite character is – The Bastard of the Barrel, aka Kaz Brekker, aka the biggest anti-hero the world has ever seen – I think it’s safe to say that I’ll enjoy this series.

6. The Star-Touched Queen

Some would argue this isn’t exactly a series, since Crown of Wishes is technically a companion and not a sequel, but I think it counts. Brittany from @abibliophilesbkm on Instagram has been begging me to read these books for an eternity now, so I definitely thought this needed to be on the list. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this series, particularly Roshani’s gorgeous writing. I also follow Roshani around the web, and she is legitimately the most stunning human being on this planet and I wish I looked even a tenth as pretty as she does. Not that that has anything to do with her books necessarily, but they’re definitely on my mind a lot, LOL!

7. The Raven Boys

I got all these books in pretty matching hardbacks for Christmas this past year, and I really wanna read them. I think they might end up being too slow for my taste, but I did read The Scorpio Races by Maggie a long time ago and really enjoyed it! Her writing has a very unique flavor, and I hope to read more of it soon.

8. A Thousand Pieces of You

These books have the most gorgeous covers EVER and they sound really good. Jordyn @ Jordz the Bibliophile loves this sci-fi series, so they come highly recommended in my book. I’ve also had a paperback of the first book on my shelf literally since it came out, which is just pitiful.

9. Falling Kingdoms

I’ve had my eye on this series for probably a few years now, and I think I would really enjoy it. It seems like a solid high-fantasy that I could get behind, which I’m always on the lookout for. And I’ve mostly heard really good things about these books, so I’m eager to finally get around to reading them (whenever that turns out to be).

10. The Darkest Minds

With all the updates about the approaching movie release, The Darkest Minds has been on my mind quite a lot. I’m not a huge fan of dystopia, but the occasional one done right can be a lot of fun to read. And I enjoyed Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger duology, so I wanna see if I like these too. It also doesn’t hurt that I got my paperback of TDM signed last fall by Alex herself!

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And that’s my slightly absurd list of series that I’ve been meaning to start but haven’t yet. The really sad thing is, I could’ve listed probably 15 more. But I suppose that’s the life of an avid bookworm right?

Also I apologize if this post seems a little rushed, I didn’t have much time to write it, but I still really wanted to participate! So a list with no pictures and semi-crappy, repetitive explanations is what you get, lol.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones are worth starting right away? Did you gasp in shock that I’ve yet to read some of the more popular series? Thanks for reading my friends!

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Review: Frostblood

Frostblood coverTitle: Frostblood

Author: Elly Blake

Series: #1 in the Frostblood series

Genre: YA, fantasy

Format: hardback

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Synopsis: The frost king will burn. Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge. Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #2

DST

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme created by Aimal from Bookshelves and Paperbacks! Each week you feature a diverse book that you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and a diverse upcoming release.

Hi guys! Today I’m bringing you a second edition of Diversity Spotlight Thursday. I haven’t done one of these in a while, and I have been reading some pretty awesome diverse books lately that I want to feature!

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The Best Bookish Shops

The Best Bookish Shops

I’m sure if you have a blog, bookstagram, or belong to the book community in any sort of fashion, you know about all the hype surrounding bookish merch. Candles, bookmarks, art prints, Funkos, bath soap, jewelry, lip balm, nail polish, pillows – the list goes on forever. And I’m by no means immune to any of this myself. As I type up this post, I’m currently surrounded by two recently-burned bookish candles, a pile of preorder swag (bookmarks, book plates, etc.),  a magnetic string thingy that holds up my art prints, a book-themed flip calendar that I got from a bookish subscription box, and two actual books. All of this in just one corner of my fairly large room FILLED with bookish stuff. You could say I have an obsession, but I’m guessing you probably do too.

So, in celebration of my love for book swag, I decided to feature a few of my top favorite (online) bookish stores! I tried to pick some shops that are underrated, that you guys may not have heard of before. Of course, I could name 15000 other shops that I adore, but that would be an extremely long post! (And obviously the title of my post is a bit facetious; what shops you consider the best are probably totally different than mine!) I also highlighted my personal favorite item from each shop, in case you need a recommendation to get you started.

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