Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

The only person I can think of at the moment who reminds me of Sal is Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, even though that isn’t accurate. But, it kind of fits in my mind, so I’m going with it.

I was Sallot Leon—one of the last children of Nacea, orphan and street fighter, highway thief and Twenty-Three.

This book isn’t released until September, so I don’t want to go too much into the plot. The premise is that Sal ends up participating in an elite “audition,” to become one of the Queen’s Left Hands.

Each “Hand” is a gemstone… there’s Amethyst, Emerald, Ruby, and Opal. The last Opal died, so they need a new one. The competition? It’s to the death.

I found this book to be fantastic! I read the entire thing in 24 hours and could barely put it down. I thought the pacing was good, and the action was tempered well with character and world-building and a little bit of romance. It’s pretty much everything I look for in a book.

I have seen a few reviews on Goodreads that accuse this of being a Hunger Games rip off and I would respectfully disagree. The only thing the two books have in common is that there is a “competition to the death.” No one is forced to compete, there is no tyrannical government or districts.

This book is more about swords and assassins. It’s fantasy-lite, meaning it’s more action-adventure rather than about magic or fantastical creatures or beings.

I have also seen a few reviews on Goodreads say they had a difficult time getting into the characters because they were all referred to by numbers and had masks on and I would also respectfully disagree on that point. The majority of the numbered competitors were more like window dressing and not really vital to the story, and the few “numbers” that were main plot points were definitely identifiable and memorable.  Two, Four, Five… you don’t forget them by the end of the book!

Since this is my review space, I have one more point to bring up. I like the way the author handled the “gender fluidity” theme. This was not a story about prejudice or bigotry and no one really even made a big deal of how Sal dressed. When he dressed as a male, he was called “he.” When she dressed like a female, she was called “she,” and Sal said this is how “they” wanted to be addressed. But it was in the background and not a main focus of the book, which I liked, because usually it becomes this huge issue. Sal just was who Sal was.

I guess that is all I’ll say for now since I’m reviewing an ARC. I highly recommend this for readers who like young adult fantasy action-adventure. I’ll probably pick up my own copy of this for my personal library since I would definitely read again, and I can’t wait to read the next one! Fantastic debut novel!

Thank you so much Netgalley and publisher for providing a digital copy to read and review!

Review also found at Goodreads.

“The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy, #1)” by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review also found at: Goodreads

I have no idea how to classify this. It’s YA, but not fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, steampunk, paranormal, or any of that. If anything, it’s like an alternate history. The people ride horses and carriages and have to send “letters” by hand to relay messages. They have ships and cannons and archers and knives. So it takes place in some generic past, I think? The females wear dresses sort of like the Regency period, I guess? They have balls and fancy picnics and stuff.

The main character in this is a 17 year old girl born in privilege, the daughter of a famous general and warrior. The main male lead belongs to the “slave class.” One imperialistic people had invaded a more peaceful and artistic country and taken its citizens as slaves.

A lot of the book is about high society, politics, intrigue, and a rigid government based on war and the expansion of an empire. Kestral, the female, spends a lot of her time stressing out because she doesn’t want to join the military or fight. She’s not physically strong or able to learn to be. She’d rather be playing the piano.

She buys a slave on a whim, it seems, and he ends up becoming much more than a “slave.” She’s got a couple of rich friends, one to serve as the role of the superficial, yet loyal BFF, and one to serve as part of a love triangle. I actually liked Ronan a lot and he seemed to really like Kestral.

This was a “star-crossed” lovers kind of romance. The “society will never accept us” thing, which, I actually love. The romance (and even the love triangle) wasn’t annoying. What made this a 3-star book instead of a 4-star one is Kestral. I found her kind of annoying.

She was always fainting, it seemed like. I don’t require that every female heroine has to be a bad-ass, but she seemed overly weak to me. And not just weak, but devious and vindictive too. In one part, she was rude to a slave for no reason, just because she was frustrated. It also seemed like she had no backbone. She just goes along with a lot of things and acts brainwashed about her country. I guess I get it because her father has drilled the military into her since birth.

She freed a slave (her nurse who was like a second mom to her) and I guess that is supposed to make her sympathetic, but when the shit hit the fan, she didn’t follow through and did what a good citizen would do.

She also had two males of worth in love with her and acts like she likes them both at certain times, but rejects them both.

The ending was irritating too. Of course, it sets up the next book (including another love interest, sigh). I think fans of Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy would like this. It kind of reminds me of that. That was a trilogy that annoyed me. I was the one with the unpopular opinion on that one.

Overall, this was a very quick read, uncomplicated…there’s nothing really original about it, yet it was engaging enough. I think I liked all the other characters more than Kestral. Maybe she has growth as the books continue. I might read the next one, but I’m not in any hurry to at the moment.

Original post:

Wow, so many of my friends have read this. Eh, may as well add it to the pile.

Buddy read with the Saucy Wenches in January 2016.

View all my reviews

“Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined” by Stephenie Meyer

No no no no no.

Okay, I admit I had my doubts at first, but then because I love Twilight so much, I decided I had no choice but to read this and ended up looking forward to this “reimagined” version. Only, aside from the alternate ending and a couple other scenes, there wasn’t much reimagining going on. The alternate ending, I admit, was kind of cool, but then most of it ended up being a recapping of the rest of the series and a huge unnecessary info dump.

I guess I can’t help it. I can’t picture any of the characters except as they were. I LIKED Edward and Bella. I missed Alice and Jasper and Carlisle and the other characters. They didn’t need changing.

It is apparent that Meyer “cleaned up” the writing and that part of it was better, but who cares??? That was for her, not the readers/fans. It seems like this whole endeavor was for her… to settle a curiosity, to fix errors, and other items she had OCD about.

It just didn’t work for me AT ALL. If anything, she should have released a short story with just the alternate ending. This was just a way for them to ramp the price up and to satisfy some ego thing with Meyer. The characters weren’t different enough to make this seem like a true “reimagining” – or worth making an entire new book about. If she had “reimagined” their personalities, it would have been much better. I didn’t like Beau or Edythe that much. Switching the names completely changed the dynamic and atmosphere of the story. I know that if this had been the original story, I would not have liked the series as much. I suppose it satisfies a curiosity for those so inclined.

I would wait until it gets to your library or you can get it for free, though. I would have much preferred a short story about another character. Whatever, I’m moving on. Still love me some original Twilight, though. #guiltypleasure

Buddy read with Anne and Kat.

“Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray

3 Happy Stars

I’m going to make a pitcher book to start this review. This book is a little bit of this:

And this:

This:

This:

With a bit of this:

And this:

thrown in.

It’s basically about a group of teens on their way to a beauty pageant who get stuck on an island after their plane crashes and have to figure out a way to survive and get along with each other. There’s a lot of humor in this book and a lot of messages about feminism and capitalism. It’s a huge satire about beauty pageant culture, the way society looks at females, and how ridiculous Big Business is about profits and covering up product flaws because of profit.

When I started it, I really thought this would be a 4-star read, but after awhile, I felt like the story could have been told in about 200-250 pages rather than almost 400. The funny parts started to get stale and the in-between corporate spoofs got old as well. It almost seemed like the boy band pirate reality-TV section was unnecessary and bloated the book. It kind of took a little away from the feminist themes and provided a convenient HEA for a couple of characters and was used as a plot device that could have been resolved another way. Maybe it’s just me?

Anyhow, this was amusing and funny and I liked the political messages, but it just went on and on for too long and sapped my initial enthusiasm. Still a good read if you are looking for something humorous and kind of fluffy.

Oh, and let me just add that this book did a great job of demonstrating a wide range of diverse characters in a positive light, while also blatantly making jokes of racial and sexual stereotypes.

Oh, I also really appreciated just how bizarre and quirky this was. If only it hadn’t been stretched out so much. I feel I have to dock a star for that because I started skimming at about 80%. I just felt like the book should have ended by that point. ?

Read my friend Kelly’s review because it’s awesome and is what made me want to read this to begin with! It’s not my usual fare, but was worth it, even if I didn’t totally love it. 🙂

“Mechanica” by Betsy Cornwell

5 stars!

I really don’t get all the low ratings for this. I devoured Mechanica in 24 hours! I’ve read that people thought it was boring or that the pacing was slow. I just didn’t have that experience (and I am someone who can’t stand boring, slow-paced books). I guess it’s just one of those things.

So, this is NOTHING like Cinder whatsoever, for those wondering. Cinder has a more sci-fi vibe to it. I adored Cinder and gave it 5 stars also (see my review here if you want). This book is more steampunk fantasy with fae/fey magic.

Nicolette’s story starts in a pretty typical Cinderella manner. The adored mother dies and the father re-marries to a monster of a step-mother with two equally horrendous daughters. The father also dies and the “Steps” take over Nicolette’s home and make her the servant.

What I ADORED about this re-telling is that the mother was a genius mechanic who used fey magic to infuse animal creations, so that rather than just have gears and clocks and belts and glass bodies that run on coal, they actually have a spark of life in them. (Jules is one of the best animal supporting characters ever).

Nicolette ends up discovering her mother’s work and becoming a brilliant mechanic herself. Instead of a ball being the most important event in this re-telling, it’s an exposition, where citizens can showcase their talents and innovative ideas. There’s a bit of romance, but it’s a minor element. Nicolette is a very strong female character. This does not have your typical romantic HEA and in fact does not have one at all. The HEA is Nick becoming her own person, able to stand on her own.

Friendship is also a main theme. I enjoyed the friendship between Fin and Caro and Nick. I was put off by Caro’s attitude in regards to finding out someone was in love with her. But I appreciated the unconventional ending, so am not going to deduct a star even though it was a pretty big deal to me. It made her seem flippant and not as sympathetic.

Part of what made me feel such a resonance with this, I think, is that it has an air of wistfulness and melancholy that gave me lots of feels. So even though it might not have been action-packed, I was very much into what Nick was doing and going through and how her friendships grew.

I LOVED the way the fey were described and their magic. We never actually meet any full-blooded fey, but their magic is a main backdrop throughout.

I had no expectations with this and ended up loving it.

Thank you Netgalley and publisher for providing a digital copy of this to read and review. This was a joy to read.

First reaction:

BAM. 5 stars. Loved it. RTC.

Original post:

Netgalley approved me!

I’m all about steampunk Cinderellas. “Tiny magical metal horse?” Sold.

“Paladin” by Sally Slater

4 stars

Lady Samantha was born into aristocracy and has grown up loving swords and wanting to be a warrior. Well, her father is just concerned about finding her a proper husband, so she can start having babies and fulfill her duties as a lady. A major tragedy occurs, which spurs Samantha to take control of her life and begin a controversial and secretive career.

She assumes a new identity as a male and signs up to train with an elite group of warrior protectors called the Paladins. Her trainer and mentor, Tristan, is the man who was present during the major tragedy I mentioned before (he had saved her life) and her co-trainee is a sort of half-demon shifter named Braeden.

Apparently, this is the debut novel of Sally Slater and she is a Wattpad phenomenon (I don’t really know anything about Wattpad, but I’m guessing that means that she is a huge indie sensation).

For a first book, I think this was pretty damn good. It took awhile to get going, but I found myself quite engaged in the story and by the end, I couldn’t put it down and fought to stop skimming because I wanted to find out what was going to happen.

There were some twists I didn’t expect and this had some interesting politics and intrigue that I like in fantasy. I like that the usual tropes were not present, Sam was not a special snowflake, and there was no love triangle. There was romance, but it wasn’t heavy-handed (well, at the end it got a little sappy, but it worked). The romance was based on friendship and was a slow-burn.

I might add to this later, as I’m just writing this up right after I finished. I would be interested in reading another one, if this continues (I believe there will be another book). This is more “fantasy lite” in that it isn’t complicated and reads easy, not like your typical “high fantasy” books. It also reads more as Young Adult, but I didn’t find it annoying or stereotypical, which I always appreciate!

I received a copy of this from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a honest review. Thanks so much!

Review also found at Goodreads

“Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy #2)” by Chuck Wendig

2 stars

I originally DNF’d this at 53% and then decided to try and finish it because I got it from Netgalley and wanted to be able to provide feedback. I am going to keep my original rating. I just didn’t think was as good as the first one. I feel like the same story could have been told in less pages. This felt bloated and I didn’t care about any of the new characters. I did like Balastair. The female characters were annoying and I didn’t really like Cael either. I have the third one so will finish the trilogy. I hope the last one is better than this one.

Original review:

DNF 53%. I really enjoyed the first book, but this one is seriously annoying me. The two main characters, Cael and Gwennie are the most annoying, irritating characters and I wish they were killed off. I like every other character so much more. Why can’t Cael be killed off and Lane be the main male character from here on out?

I hate Gwennie. I love Merelda McAvoy. I totally understand why she left the Heartland. She made a better life for herself and mega-bitch Gwennie had to ruin it for her. She’s so selfish and will take anyone out to find her family. I get that her family is important, but you don’t destroy other innocent people to accomplish your goals, you dumb bitch. I can’t stand her. Kill Cael and Gwennie off and I will continue reading this. If anyone has finished this trilogy and can tell me that things change with these idiotic characters, I will pick this back up and try again.

But I don’t have time for BS like this. I do not want a HEA for Cael and Gwennie. I am not rooting or cheering for them whatsoever. They should go back to the Heartland and eat rats and continue their existence that they thought was peachy keen. Only they wanted to bitch when they were in it, but not when they had opportunities to get out of it. Instead, they attack everyone and anything that offers them a chance because they are suspicious and selfish pigs. God, I hate them both. Ruined it for me. 😦

I’m sorry. But this pisses me off. I can’t even. Also, WAY too much switching between chapters and POVs. Just when a little bit of action happened, it switched, then a few pages later, just when some momentum was building, ANOTHER switch. Seriously. That is frustrating.

Original post:

Yay, I was approved by Netgalley for book 2 in this trilogy! Here is my review for the first book. I really liked it and can’t wait to keep going with this story.

🙂

Also posted at Goodreads

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1) by Chuck Wendig

4 stars

So here we have a trilogy with evil, mutant corn!

corn

But really the story is about Cael and his family and friends, who are basically no more than slaves and animals to the Empyreans. The Empyreans are the elite controllers who live on flotillas in the sky. The dirty mangy humans live on the ground, where they are expected to farm the mutant corn, which gives them tumors and birth defects.

The corn isn’t even edible. It’s used to make fuel for the flotillas and as additives. The Empyreans control seeds and do not allow anyone to grow fruit trees or vegetables or even have animals that don’t eat the corn. If they see a farm animal without tumors on it, they kill it. Yes, they’ve evil. McDonald’s would be the equivalent of an organic nutritious feast to these people.

corn2

Once a year, there is an Obligation ceremony, where the 17 year olds are promised to one another for marriage, randomly of course. You don’t get to pick your mate in this world. Pffft.

There are similarities to other dystopians. You’ve got the male lead character who is repressed and seeks a way out to better himself and his people. His romantic interest is taken from him. I mean, if you read YA dystopian novels, you will draw comparisons. However, I think this was an enjoyable read and I want to see what happens next. The supporting characters were really good – Proctor Simone Agrasanto is the type of villain you just want to die a horrible death, same for the Mayor and his son.

corn3

Cael’s family and friends are likeable and I found myself rooting for them. Cale himself was a little meh, but we’ll see what happens.

I think it’s fairly safe to say this is sort of a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of GMOs (Monsanto) and a worst case scenario involving that subject. I personally find that a compelling argument, so that was another positive factor for me. I definitely want to find out what happens next. This ended up being a page-turner for me.

I received a copy of this from Netgalley and Skyscape for an honest review. Thanks!


Review also found at Goodreads.