Mask of Shadows – ★★★★☆

29960675Pre-order it here!

Mysterious and tense, Mask of Shadows delivered on almost every promise it had given. I was pulled in by the characters and Linsey Miller’s writing was thrilling and poetic. Plus the representation of genderfluid and other queer identities was everything that fantasy books have been missing. And yet…

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

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.

The moment I heard that Mask of Shadows had a genderfluid main character, I knew I needed to get my hands on it, whether for reviewing purposes or just pre-ordering it to have and to hold. Then when I learned Mask of Shadows was a fantasy assassin fight to the death story, I was already in love.

Fantasy is a genre close to my heart, one I’ve always loved, but the lack of representation and diverse characters is glaring. In a world where magic and dragons are real, why shouldn’t there be queer characters? Why is a queer main character so unbelievable? Well, that’s a discussion for another blog topic.

I had some hesitations about Mask of Shadows, in that Sal would have been the only queer character and that the book would have used their identity as a marketing ploy; it wouldn’t be the first time books or movies have tried to garner queer readers, simply because we were starved for representation. But in reading, all my hesitations were thrown out the window at how well the representation was handled.

Sal was never only identified by their genderfluidity; they were a thief and an assassin first, a fierce competitor, clever and flirtatious and had terrible aim. The subject of pronouns was brought up, showing how natural asking or presenting pronouns should be, something we in our modern day world can’t seem to handle. Characters asked, “How should I address you?” and when characters that didn’t respect Sal’s pronouns tried to misgender them, that character was corrected (or punched in the mouth, depending on which character was doing the correcting).

Miller’s writing was lyrical and bright in many places, but sometimes I found certain passages confusing and ended up having to read over those several times. It was never enough to throw me out of the story, but it did slow me down. The only reason I can’t give Mask of Shadows five stars is because of the worldbuilding. The little worldbuilding we got left me wanting more, a little confused and sometimes frustrated.

We get a timeline of the history of the world towards the end of the book, but what I would have loved the most is having a map. A fantasy world is hardly complete without a map for readers to peruse and explore, or to reference when it’s brought up in the story. Especially since Mask of Shadows was rife with politics, a map would have been crucial to have. Barring a map, then there could have been better descriptions regarding the nations and the state of the world around the characters. Miller does a fantastic job of painting an intriguing character, but the setting often felt like a vignette: detailed the closer we were to the character, but fuzzy and empty the further away we got.

Mask of Shadows was still an entertaining read and one I think I’ll come back to again and again. If more fantasy books had the representation this one did, I think we queers would be alright.

Zero Repeat Forever – ★★★★☆

Pre-order Zero Repeat Forever here!

28945665When the apocalypse comes and the invading Nahx destroy civilization, Raven struggles to survive with her friends in a world that’s slowly burning. A dark and lonely sci-fi story, Zero Repeat Forever was enthralling—but also a little disappointing.

He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…

I will 100% admit that I was drawn to Zero Repeat Forever by its shiny cover. It’s just so pretty. Take a minute to really cherish it.

Now back to this story.

On my list of favorite genres, Sci-fi trails somewhere in the middle of the list; it’s not my favorite, but I don’t dislike it. I find it hard to get into, most of the time. Zero Repeat Forever was half sci-fi, half apocalypse story. I couldn’t even call it a dystopia, since that would mean there was some sort of societal order to the setting, but there was just death and invasion.

I was intrigued by the dual POVs of the story, one of Raven, a human girl lost in the wilderness with some camping friends, trying to survive after the aliens invade, and the other was Eighth, a Nahx boy who’s “defective” and rebels against his people.

The survival plot was intense and definitely the reason I kept reading, but for most of the books, as the characters are traveling to and from certain points, not much happens. As my good friend J.M. Tuckerman likes to put it, “a whole heck of a lot of nothing happens. Twice.”

My biggest gripe with the story was that we didn’t even really get a sense of what the Nahx were doing, even though half of the book is written in one of their perspectives. We don’t know where they really came from, what they were doing on Earth and what their goals were. And I understand not knowing what the characters don’t know, but little hints dropped from Eighth’s perspective, just little bits and pieces we could try to put together would have made the story that much better.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but the ending was ultimately unsatisfying. Had we known more about what the Nahx were up to and how their process worked, the ending might have had a bit more weight to it. I won’t spoil anything, but I felt like the ending was too abrupt and it’s obvious it’s supposed to be setting up a sequel—but I would have liked at least some loose ends wrapped up, or certain things revealed.

G.S. Prendergast’s Website . Twitter

Zero Repeat Forever releases on August 29th, 2017.

Witchtown ★★★☆☆

30971734A mother-daughter witch duo that pulls heists as they travel across the continent seems like it would have been exciting, magical and engrossing. Instead, Witchtown was slow, vague and a bit of a let down.

When sixteen-year-old Macie O’Sullivan and her masterfully manipulative mother Aubra arrive at the gates of Witchtown—the most famous and mysterious witch-only haven in the world—they have one goal in mind: to rob it for all it’s worth.

But that plan derails when Macie and Aubra start to dig deeper into Witchtown’s history and uncover that there is more to the quirky haven than meets the eye.

Exploring the haven by herself, Macie finds that secrets are worth more than money in Witchtown.

Secrets have their own power.

That blurb alone made Witchtown, the haven Macie and her mother arrive in, sound like it was going to be creepy or deadly or something more than the dusty, plain small town it ended up being. Witchtown promised a lot but my expectations sort of fell immediately when the opening to the book started with a history lesson that toed a lot of lines, particularly when it referenced a massive systematic oppression that hearkened to a lot of what we’re seeing both today, regarding queer people and people of color, and what we’ve seen in the past, like in the times of Nazi Germany or the colonization of America and the subsequent, and still going, oppression of Indigenous peoples.

There’s a lot to unpack that wasn’t even mentioned in the first few pages of the book, and we haven’t even met our main character yet.

It took me a long, long time to get into the book. Call it what you will: a slow and boring start, a main character I wasn’t interested in, lackluster worldbuilding; but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Macie or the story until I was halfway through the book.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like WitchtownIt was a decent book, but it felt all over the place, tied through several unfinished and unexplored subplots, rather than one main thread.

I had expected a heist story, but that fell through almost immediately. Then I expected a mystery, where Macie tried to find out what was causing all the accidents and attacks. Then I expected Macie to start coming into her own power, but that never happened until the literal last few pages.

So little is actually explained and we’re only given poor vague reflections to try and orient ourselves. Not to mention that the town is so lackluster, I only imagine the town square and then a void surrounding it all. This is a town that’s supposed to be full of nothing but witches, it’s supposed to be quirky and different and full of people who come together as refugees from the outside world of non-witches, but it’s so boring.

Throw in a creepy, lying Prince Charming looking love interest and you have Witchtown.

If the story was really about Macie breaking from her mother’s heists to be with her new found friends, I might have liked it more. But it felt like a mishmash of different ideas hastily tied up that just sort of falls apart if you look at it too long.

I wanted to love Witchtown. I love magic and witches and twists and fun quirky towns. But it had so little of that, that I’m not quite sure what to call it. My favorite, though, definitely not.

Witchtown publishes July 18th, 2017. Pre-order it here!

The Best Kind of Magic ★★★½☆☆

25436641.jpgA cute premise with great potential that was squandered by a forgettable character voice and boring writing.

Amber Sand is not a witch. The Sand family Wicca gene somehow leapfrogged over her. But she did get one highly specific magical talent: she can see true love. As a matchmaker, Amber’s pretty far down the sorcery food chain (even birthday party magicians rank higher), but after five seconds of eye contact, she can envision anyone’s soul mate.

Amber works at her mother’s magic shop–Windy City Magic–in downtown Chicago, and she’s confident she’s seen every kind of happy ending there is: except for one–her own. (The Fates are tricky jerks that way.) So when Charlie Blitzman, the mayor’s son and most-desired boy in school, comes to her for help finding his father’s missing girlfriend, she’s distressed to find herself falling for him. Because while she can’t see her own match, she can see his–and it’s not Amber. How can she, an honest peddler of true love, pursue a boy she knows full well isn’t her match?

The Best Kind of Magic is set in urban Chicago and will appeal to readers who long for magic in the real world. With a sharp-witted and sassy heroine, a quirky cast of mystical beings, and a heady dose of adventure, this novel will have you laughing out loud and questioning your belief in happy endings.

A lot about this world is never clear from the start, including many key points about our protagonist. Her voice fluctuates from sounding like a 13 year old to a 16 year old, I never get a clear picture of her—and in fact only find out she had funky colored hair about a third of the way through the book—and her slang is outdated. In fact, it goes from Amber saying “amazeballs” to saying “gag me”.

There’s a lot of overcorrection and inconsistencies in the narrative, which not only means it’s annoying to the reader but also confusing. It feels like a waste of my time if the character spends a paragraph going “Well, actually…”. On multiple occasions, Amber mentions that not a lot of people know about magic or the magical underworld of Chicago, and yet a majority of her high school population is some brand of fey or troll or magical being.

I wasn’t invested in the story or even interested in really finding out what happens to the characters until nearly half way through the book. As a matter of fact, I was bored through most of it.

And even worse, the climax felt cheap as the threat never threatening at all. The one redeeming quality of the finale was Kim, as that would have been the only reason I would continue to read the story.

All in all, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, and I was more intrigued by the concept than the actual story. Amber’s voice irritated me and I didn’t quite root for her during the story. I would read book 2, but I wouldn’t buy it.

Buy it here!

Blood Rose Rebellion ★★☆☆☆

31020402.jpgIt’s no lie that I’m a lover of all things fantasy; give me a book about magic and I’ll instantly add it to my TBR pile. But sometimes, among the diamonds, I’ll just find shiny bits of broken glass. And Blood Rose Rebellion certainly falls into the “glass” territory.

The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

Magic that stems from your blood, a revolution sparking across Europe and a setting in an eastern European country? That’s ticking off so many boxes for me. I always love seeing fantasy books set in eastern Europe, which is what drew me to books like Blood Rose Rebellion and the Shadow and Bone series.

But Blood Rose Rebellion was agonizingly slow and I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. Y’all know I hate DNF’ing a book. I like to give the story the benefit of the doubt and at least try to finish it, just to see if it got better in the end. I just couldn’t keep going with this.

Anna has the power to break spells, but it takes her way too long to realize this power even though it’s immediately obvious. There’s supposed to be a rebellion brewing, but we don’t see that at all, except in strange little snippets of one character coming back to say, “Hey, remember that rebellion? We could use you!” and then disappearing for five chapters.

All we get is Anna obsessing over boys. And while that’s not inherently a problem, it becomes one when it hinders the progression and pace of the story. Not to mention that her cousin kisses her (and is a major creep about it) and Anna never addresses it again!

I couldn’t finish Blood Rose Rebellion no matter how hard I tried, and I just have other books I need to read that hopefully are much better than this one.

Follow Me Back ★★★☆☆½

I love the cover. I love the format. And I love the alternating viewpoints. But I don’t love the third viewpoint or where it gets added.

Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…

Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.

When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Follow Me Back was everything I wanted with experimental formats. Conversations are formatted to look like tweets, the accounts actually exist online (see @TessaHeartsEric and @EricThornSucks), the platform itself is used correctly and not altered for the sake of what is needed for the story, and the police transcripts add just the right amount of tension.

I loved all of that.

Follow Me Back accurately depicts the real struggles of those with anxiety disorders. Geiger did a wonderful job with Tessa’s character, always showing her high levels of anxiety and letting us know her feelings on it. There was a never a moment when Tessa didn’t acknowledge that her anxiety was irrational.

These characters are their own, which is so important given the viewpoints are short and we switch from Eric to Tessa after as few as two paragraphs.

When Tessa and Eric’s relationship starts to get serious, we finally get the third viewpoint. And – I think it could have been left out. When I got there-I had no interest in this new character, and only a few sentences in I had strong suspicions as to who it was, and I was correct. I don’t like being correct when I read thrillers – it takes all the fun out of it.

I very strongly recommend that this book finds its way to your shelves, even with its extra character. You won’t regret it.

Breaking ★★☆☆☆

31450940.jpgBreaking is a companion novel to Burning. So it was a little daunting to read having not read the other but was still an enjoyable read.

Prep school gets a twist of supernatural suspense in this commercial YA thriller.

Charlotte has always been content in the shadow of her two best friends at the prestigious Underhill Preparatory Institute. Ariel is daring and mysterious. Devon is beautiful and brilliant. Although Charlotte never lived up to the standards of the school—or her demanding mother—her two best friends became the family she never had. When Ariel and Devon suddenly commit suicide within a month of each other, Charlotte refuses to accept it as a coincidence. But as the clues point to a dangerous secret about Underhill Prep, Charlotte is suddenly in over her head. There’s a reason the students of Underhill are so exceptional, and the people responsible are willing to kill to protect the truth…

Suspenseful and scintillating, with hints of the supernatural, this fast-paced thriller will keep readers hooked.

Definitely slow to start and I was definitely missing something by not having read Burning first.

Breaking is a dark twisted little tale for fans of Alice in Wonderland even if it is a bit on the nose, complete with bottles that say “Drink Me.”

Charlotte’s story is intriguing enough for her story to work as a standalone, her two best friends kill themselves within a month of each other, but the world needs further building and I suspect the world is built up in Burning. 

I hope when this book goes to publish that the publishers are much clearer on the fact that this is a companion novel.