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.

House of Furies ★★★★★

houseoffuriesMadeleine Roux uses language like Austen and plots like Brontë. House of Furies is simply amazing and if you think it isn’t up your alley-you’re wrong. Do not smile. Do not frown. Do not, under any circumstances, put this book down.

After escaping a harsh school where punishment was the lesson of the day, seventeen-year-old Louisa Ditton is thrilled to find employment as a maid at a boarding house. But soon after her arrival at Coldthistle House, Louisa begins to realize that the house’s mysterious owner, Mr. Morningside, is providing much more than lodging for his guests. Far from a place of rest, the house is a place of judgment, and Mr. Morningside and his unusual staff are meant to execute their own justice on those who are past being saved.

Louisa begins to fear for a young man named Lee who is not like the other guests. He is charismatic and kind, and Louisa knows that it may be up to her to save him from an untimely judgment. But in this house of distortions and lies, how can Louisa be sure whom to trust?

With a story that is very reminiscent of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Madeleine Roux delivers a perfectly gothic ghostly mystery. I’m sure you’ve seen my other reviews here-I don’t use that praise lightly.

When I first opened House of Furies, I thought for sure that I would need to get used to the language. But Roux isn’t just dabbling in an Austenian language, she has mastered it. The language is beautiful and so important to the story since any modern day language would easily have affected the character development and flow.

House of Furies is told through Louisa’s POV with small snippets from a book on faerie lore. I am very happy to tell you that the chapters are never an intrusion to the narration and the chapters are always relevant to the past and future of the story.

The conclusion is an emotional roller coaster. So much so that I actively have notes on my ARC that say “AUGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” And they happen often. So if you are ready to audibly scream in public as you eagerly turn to the next page, pre-order House of Furies. And if you aren’t ready, do it anyway.

House of Furies Publishes May 30, 2017
PRE-ORDER THROUGH AMAZON AND SUPPORT RRW

The Hate U Give ★★★★★

32075671.jpgAngie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl from Garden Heights, a predominant black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Angie Thomas’s Website

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Windwitch ★★★★☆

1I’ve got so many emotions about this one guys, I was a wreck reading it from start to finish. I loved Windwitch, and it definitely lived up to the high bar Truthwitch set up.

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

It was a little weird to start Windwitch off, I’ll be honest. I didn’t exactly read Truthwitch. And before y’all get mad, I first listened to the audiobook. This was back when I first started commuting back and forth to school, so on my daily three hour car ride, I’d get through a lot of books. And Truthwitch was one of the ones I picked up one day. And I loved it so much I rushed out and bought a hard copy when I was done listening to it.

And now Windwitch is here and I actually read it. Listening to a book and reading a book are two completely different experiences. For instance, I never knew Kullen’s name was spelled with a ‘K’ (I always thought it was a ‘C’) and every time I read Iseult’s chapters, I heard the narrator’s voice (which was cool).

But Windwitch is a story that works in whatever format you consume it. Mainly, because it consumes you with emotion. I have so many feels about this story, about Merrik and Safi and Isuelt and Aeduan. I just want to hug all of them and tell them it’s going to be okay. The writing was immediately grabbing, the action had me staying up all night just so I could find out what happened, and let me tell you how much I fell in love with all the POV characters.

Windwitch is the sequel you don’t want to miss. This entire series is something you 100% need on your shelves. Plus, the third book, Bloodwitch, will be coming out soon! Not soon enough, mind you, but eventually!

Susan Dennard’s Website

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

The Edge of the Abyss ★★★★★

26219455If there’s anything I love in my YA books, it’s feels and queer pirates. And The Edge of the Abyss threw my feelings through the mouth of a vicious Reckoner, chopped it up and spit it back out to have Emily Skrutskie stomp on it. The point I’m trying to make is that The Edge of the Abyss destroyed me for the rest of the weekend when I finished reading it.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

I can’t remember the last time I thought the sequel was better than the first book. But The Edge of the Abyss outshone it’s predecessor—which wasn’t easy, since I also gave The Abyss Surrounds Us five stars—and had me staring at a wall for at least fifteen minutes when I closed the last page.

Edge of the Abyss opens a few weeks after Cas promised herself to the Minnow as one of Santa Elena’s protege’s, and we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the plot when a rogue Reckoner attacks the ship. All the illegally sold Reckoner pups were set loose in the NeoPacific and are tearing the ecosystem apart.

So it’s up to Cas and the rest of the Minnow to fix the problem, or die trying.

Skrutskie’s mastery of language left me speechless at the narrative, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to tattoo some of the gems she dropped into the book somewhere on me as a badge of honor. (Which I totally want to do.) I immediately tore through half of the book while sitting at work one morning and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I was sucked in and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

And let me tell you how the last third of the book had me in tears; from the moment they set sail with the rest of the Salt until the very last page, it was Feels Central on my face. I was my own little waterfall with how deeply this book hurt—in all the best ways possible.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered The Edge of the Abyss, or for some silly reason haven’t read The Abyss Surrounds Us, go and buy those right now. I won’t even mind if you stop reading this review to head over to your preferred book shop and bought these books. Not only are they masterfully written and insanely good, the queer characters are my absolute favorites. And if there’s ever a time to read a story about two girls in love and kicking ass, it’s right now.

The Edge of the Abyss releases on April 18th, 2017.

Emily Skrutskie
Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Tricked ★★★★★

30095472Tricked is everything you want in a middle grade title–EVERYTHING!

Things are changing at Fairy Tale Reform School.

At least, that’s what Gilly’s heard through the Enchantasia rumor mill. Word is, notorious trickster Rumpelstiltskin has taken over management from Headmistress Flora, and he’s locked down the school tighter than the Pied Piper’s pants. Not that this news concerns Gilly. She’s been released from FTRS and is now suffering through attending Jack of All Trades School, where she gets to learn about different kinds of shoe leather and ways to measure feet. Truly riveting stuff.

But when Gilly’s little sister Anna gets whisked off to FTRS thanks to her troublemaking new friends, Hansel and Gretel, Gilly knows she’s got to get Anna out of there. There’s only one thing to do; make some serious trouble and get thrown back into FTRS.

It’s time to out-trick a trickster.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go, you know I’m passionate about middle grade books that imitate and re-tell other stories (Go pick up Heck if you haven’t already.) So it should be no surprise when I tell you that this series needs a place on your shelves.

25879858Because I requested and was approved for Book #3, I needed to run through books #1 and #2. Lucky for me, they were easy to listen to. Because the FTRS is fantasy, there is a lot of world building, but we are never just told about it all. We learn so much about the world just by being it. I felt like I’d already been in Enchantasia, and that everything in this world was plausible.

From gargoyles to evil fairies, everything in this world is plausible. And everything is a pun that children and adults are sure to enjoy.

21996359.jpgJen’s quirk keeps up in all three installments. And we watch Gilly toggle back and forth between a likable quirky little thief-and an obnoxious little brat.

Tricked brings us back to FTRS to once again watch Gilly, Jax, Maxine, Ollie, and Kayla save the day. Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked ex-stepmother, is no longer the headmistress at Fairy Tale Reform School. She has been replaced by Mr. Stiltskin, and he is cracking down on the rules so hard that more children are being sent to FTRS than ever!

I guarantee this is a series you, your kids, your younger siblings, your classmates, and basically anybody with a pulse will enjoy. I definitely recommend you run out to your nearest bookstore to pick up a copy. Right now.

Jen Calonita’s Website
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