ARC Reviews

ARC Review: The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

SUMMARY

thehollowgirl1Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Received From: Print ARC from the author

Five boys attacked her.
Now they must repay her with their blood and flesh.

Bethan is the apprentice to a green healer named Drina in a clan of Welsh Romanies. Her life is happy and ordered and modest, as required by Roma custom, except for one thing: Silas, the son of the chieftain, has been secretly harassing her.

One night, Silas and his friends brutally assault Bethan and a half-Roma friend, Martyn. As empty and hopeless as she feels from the attack, she asks Drina to bring Martyn back from death’s door. “There is always a price for this kind of magic,” Drina warns. The way to save him is gruesome. Bethan must collect grisly pieces to fuel the spell: an ear, some hair, an eye, a nose, and fingers.

She gives the boys who assaulted her a chance to come forward and apologize. And when they don’t, she knows exactly where to collect her ingredients to save Martyn.

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: cisgender
SEXUALITY: presumed heterosexual but never established
PAIRING: none

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: magical abilities, healer’s apprentice
TAGS: horror, paranormal, fantasy, young adult, rape culture, feminism, disabled characters, POC characters, biracial characters, PTSD, OwnVoices
WARNINGS: rape, sexual assault, assault, non-consensual touching, rape culture, toxic masculinity, violence, explicit violence, murder, self-harm, blood, gore, ableism, racism, slurs

REVIEW

“Strength comes in many guises, Bethan. Knowing yourself, your limitations–knowing what you will and will not do, following your heart–that is strength. Enduring what you endured and still being merciful and hopeful? That is strength.”

This book very rapidly became one of my favorites I’ve read this year, and probably a forever favorite too.

Even without the author’s foreword in which Monahan clearly warns that this novel includes a rape (thankfully “off page”), it is immediately apparent that THE HOLLOW GIRL is an indictment of rape culture and toxic masculinity. You are meant to hate Silas, the rapist, from the very first time he’s on page, and sympathize with Bethan’s fear of the harassment she receives from him and his friends. The rape does not occur until several chapters deep into the book, with the previous pages setting the horrifying scene as Bethan travels from the caravan to town by herself, as she endures harassment and spurns Silas, as she befriends a diddicoy (biracial, part Romani) boy at the market. Even knowing what’s going to happen, it was enough to make me hope that it wouldn’t. Of course it did–Bethan is brutally attacked by Silas’ friends and raped by Silas himself–and I needed to take a break after that scene. After Bethan is forced to go through such a soul-crushing, traumatizing ordeal.

The rest of the novel beautifully, viciously follows Bethan as she enacts vengeance for herself and Martyn, the diddicoy boy who tried to come to her rescue and was beaten nearly to death. She, literally, takes her pound of flesh for a spell to bring Martyn back from the brink of death and is the one who dictates the punishment for the five boys who assaulted her. While I would never ever wish this experience on anyone, it was incredibly vindicating to watch Bethan receive some kind of concrete revenge. Though exacting pain on her torturers isn’t a magic cure for her own trauma, the resulting PTSD, and the aversion to touch, it gives Bethan power over her own survival and recovery. That is an invaluable narrative for survivors, and I’m so glad Monahan wrote and was able to publish this story for the people who need it the most.

The exploration of Romani culture within this novel was rich and beautiful. This was one aspect I was really excited about when I first heard about this book and when I received the ARC. As a culture that is ridiculed and degraded more often than not, with racist stereotypes the leading depictions, I was thrilled to finally be able to read a book by a multiracial, Romani author, and Monahan does a fantastic job of thrusting you into the culture Bethan lives in, explaining and showing the intricacies of multiple aspects without becoming huge information dumps and unnecessarily long exposition.

I also really enjoyed the friendship and budding romance between Bethan and Martyn, and I like to imagine that, if/when she’s ready, the two of them explore that even further.

The one small issue I had was that at one point Silas was called a madman for daring to harm Bethan and incur Gran’s wrath. Knowing Monahan, I don’t believe she meant to equate his actions with mental illness, but this moment still gave me slight pause.

RATING

5 STARS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

thehollowgirl2Hillary Monahan’s YA debut MARY: The Summoning, a YA Horror retelling of the Bloody Mary myth, sold at auction to Hyperion and hit number two on the New York Times e-book bestseller list. MARY: Unleashed is out as of fall 2015. She’s also published THE AWESOME with Ravenstone under the name Eva Darrows, which received starred reviews in both Kirkus and PW.

Her next three publications are an adult horror novel in the GODS & MONSTERS series for Solaris, due out in December of 2016. Spring of 2017 will see the YA contemporary DEAD LITTLE MEAN GIRL under the name Eva Darrows published through Harlequin Teen. Fall of 2017 sees the YA horror THE HOLLOW GIRL under Hillary Monahan through Delacorte/Random House.

BUY LINKS

Delacorte Press
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Kobo
IndieBound

REVIEW BY LEAH

ARC Reviews

ARC Review: Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

SUMMARY

34346381Publisher: InterMix (Berkley Romance, Penguin Random House)
Release Date: August 15, 2017
Received From: NetGalley

The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel.

New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.

Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin’s timeout is over…

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: cisgender
SEXUALITY: bisexual, homosexual
PAIRING: M/M

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, employer x employee, athlete x nerd, lust at first sight, found family
TAGS: contemporary, sports romance, queer romance, adult, romance, sexual content, coming out
WARNINGS: biphobia, homophobia, mention of pedophilia, ableism, violence

REVIEW

He melted against me, and I immediately curled around him with our limbs locked together and my face buried in the crook of his neck. With warm air blowing on us from the vent above my bed and his fingers idly sliding through my hair, it was the most peace I’d had in weeks.

In preparation of writing this review, I was going through the notes I made within the eARC on my kindle app and my livetweet updates on Twitter. To be honest, most of them are just highlights in at least 75% of the book and a combination of “JLDJWLFJ” and “WHY ARE THEY SO CUTE??????????????”, so please bear with me as I try to write a coherent review. I can’t guarantee I won’t melt into a puddle of fangirling.

Those of you who know me are probably very aware of the fact that I love everything Santino Hassell puts out, no matter the (sub)genre, and this book is no exception. In fact, I can say with confidence that ILLEGAL CONTACT is my favorite Hassell book. The only expectation I brought with when starting this book was that it would be epic, and it was even more than I could have anticipated.

Gavin Brawley at first seems like the asshole football player with anger issues that the media portrays him as, and while he is to an extent, there is a hidden mushy side that only seems to come out with Noah Monroe, the love interest, and his closest friends, Simeon and Marcus. This man is the Ultimate closet romantic. (I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules, this is Facts.) He has such a huge crush on Noah that it’s painfully cute. More than just wanting to dick him down, Gavin wants to hold hands and cuddle and make out for hours on end. So soft. So pure. So precious. And his smile? Literally do not even get me started. #DatBrawleySmile gives me life, okay? Gavin is quite possibly the cutest character I’ve read about, and I could go on and on about all the ways I love him, but probably no one wants to read a 50 page dissertation.

Noah is my precious lil nerd who’s unafraid to speak his mind, and I got an excited shiver every time he stood up to Gavin. Especially when he couldn’t tell how that just made Gav like him more. He broke my heart and then put it back together with every instance in which he defended and protected Gavin.

Together, the two of them were cute enough to make my brain go haywire until I could barely form complete sentences to talk about how much I adored them.

The supporting cast was also pretty damn incredible. There’s Simeon who doesn’t seem to know how not to flirt, and I am dying to get my hands on book two since it’s about him. Marcus who is loyal as hell to his boys but also doesn’t let them get away with shit. (I also loved his tendency to reference romantic comedies.) Jasmine who is unflinchingly honest and a badass who could step on me. And Mel, Gavin and Simeon’s agent, who is seemingly unphased by nearly anything. (There’s Joe too but he can suck an entire ass.)

I loved the culture Hassell built up with the Barons–one of unfailing loyalty to one another–and the ways in which Gavin was still clearly connected with them, even while on house arrest. (The scrimmage scene is just. So much.) They’re such a good form of support for Gavin, who’s never had a family but found one in his team.

Also, I really liked that the Separation wasn’t due to any kind of betrayal or misunderstanding between Gavin and Noah. It was a mutual, albeit painful, decision to separate, brought on Joe being an utter dickbag. And thankfully it was resolved quickly because it was physically painful to have them separated from each other.

This book is absolutely gorgeous, and I could not stop smiling and clutching my phone to my chest because it was so cute. 11000/10 would recommend to everyone.

RATING

5 STARS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

4942228Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

To learn more about Santino you can follow him on:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/santino…
Twitter: @santinohassell
Facebook: theonlysonnyhassell | santinohassellbooks
Instagram: santinohassell
Newsletter:http://santinohassell.com/newsletter/
And at his official website: http://bit.ly/16sgcSu

BUY LINKS

Penguin Random House
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo

REVIEW BY LEAH

ARC Reviews

ARC Review: Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

SUMMARY

cover112609-medium

Publisher: Second Story Press
Release Date: 12 Sep 2017
Received From: netgalley

Two boys look to the water for escape, but for very different reasons.

Ryan finds his freedom in the water, where he is not bound by gravity and his wheelchair. When he rescues his schoolmate, Jack, from the water their lives become connected, whether they like it or not. Ryan keeps Jack’s secret about that day in the water, but he knows that Jack needs help. The school is full of rumors about Jack’s sexuality, and he has few friends. Almost against his better judgement, Ryan decides to invite Jack on a trip to Comic Con he’s planned with his best friend Cody, the captain of the school’s swim team. The three boys make an unlikely combination, but they will each have the chance to show whether they are brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define them by.

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER:  cisgender
SEXUALITY: heterosexual, queer
PAIRING:  none

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: accidental hero
TAGS: young adult, high school, queer
WARNINGS:  Slurs, bullying, attempted suicide, homophobia

REVIEW

I liked how Shaw created her characters- the main three developing in both different ways and different times. Especially Cody, I liked him the most out of the three. He went from the typical “jock” character to a somewhat of a cool guy. He’s got no filter sure, but his straight forward nature actually helped the other characters. and eventually he was the one saved Jack in the end.

Jeremy as a character was interesting. I loved Shaw’s take on cerebral palsy- it was factual and she obviously knew what she was talking about, granted she was a teacher and a special-needs helper for this reason. Also that he didn’t want peoples pity for him being in a wheelchair- he was him no matter what.

I feel like Shaw could have done much better for Jack as a character. He was nicely rounded and his emotions felt real for someone going through what he is experiencing, but I don’t think he got enough time on page to fully grow. He got the development he needed but there are still questions left unanswered.

I was excited by the plot of this book, but upon finishing it I have realized that it did not meet my expectations. It was good, but it could have been so much better. Jack’s coming out scene was too rushed and a lot more bonding could have happened at the Comic Con.

RATING

3 STARS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens, including thinandbeautiful.com, Fostergirls, The Color of Silence, and Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years. Now retired from teaching, Liane lives with her family in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario.

BUY LINKS

Secondstorypress

REVIEW BY KALLIN

 

ARC Reviews

ARC Review: Love and Other Hot Beverages by Laurie Loft

SUMMARY

34807144Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: July 3, 2017
Received From: NetGalley

After a rough breakup, Todd Addison wants time alone to grieve. While still dreaming of winning back his ex’s love, he moves across the country and finds work with a construction company. The last thing he needs is the cute office boy developing a crush on him, especially since he’s back in the closet.

Sebastián Nye can’t help feeling sorry for the obviously brokenhearted Todd. Though rebuffed repeatedly, Sebby chisels away at Todd’s resistance, determined to help him forget—a task potentially beyond anyone’s capabilities. He never meant to fall for the poor guy, but he does. Hard.

Desperate to hold on to Todd, Sebby hatches a sneaky plot guaranteed to end Todd’s heartbreak—if Todd doesn’t bail and ruin everything. Just when things can’t get more complicated, Todd’s ex wants him back. And Sebby’s abusive ex is just waiting to catch Sebby alone. Todd and Sebby must decide what’s worth fighting for, what’s worth sacrifice, and what’s worth compromise, or their relationship will begin and end with a broken heart.

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: cisgender
SEXUALITY: homosexual
PAIRING: M/M

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: rebound romance, workplace romance, coworkers to lovers
TAGS: contemporary, romance, queer romance, adult, sexual content, coming out, interracial romance
WARNINGS: homophobia, questionable Latinx rep, violence, alcoholism, slutshaming, ableism, fatphobia, mention of pedophilia, enbyphobia/transphobia, aphobia/acephobia, body shaming, non-consensual touching, queerphobia (re: polyamorous relationships)
Please see the publisher’s website for further tags and warnings for the rest of the novel.

REVIEW

DNF @ 33%

This book was a mess from start to where I finished. It started out as amusingly terribad but then there was one part that was so offensive that I immediately stopped reading, which I will touch on later.

From the beginning, the writing is average and the dialogue is absolutely cringeworthy. The “banter” between the two main characters, and with other characters, does nothing but inspire secondhand embarrassment. Todd, the narrator, tries way too hard to sound smart every time and ends up sounding like a pretentious asshole. He talks and acts like every self-proclaimed Nice Guy and I was just waiting for him to tilt a trilby at someone and call a woman “m’lady.” (He did call women “females” at one point. Yikes on a bike.) Todd and Sebby use nicknames for each other in nearly every line of dialogue, and while it might’ve been cute the first few times, it became damn annoying very quickly.

Sebby is a biracial man, whose mother was Mexican, but that biracial and Mexican rep are so very questionable. It has all the signs of a white person writing it, and even more specifically, a white person who knows nothing about Latinx people and didn’t bother to do any research other than what they see in other forms of media.

There were plenty of textual inconsistencies that were apparently missed by everyone involved in this book. The most “what the fuck” moment came when Todd was talking to his brother and sister-in-law, who were forbidding him and Sebby to take their sons out together as a couple anymore after one of the kids was witness to homophobes harassing Todd and Sebby. Todd is outraged and doesn’t see why this should be allowed just because he’s gay and the kids could be witness to hate crimes, and he asks if things would be different if he was straight and in an interracial relationship. And I’m just? YOU ARE IN AN INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIP CURRENTLY. It just made no sense. I understand what the author was going for here, but the example that is used here just doesn’t fit since it’s already a canonical thing.

Also, I was very uncomfortable with the fact that Sebby pressures Todd into having sex with two of Sebby’s friends. I am a great proponent of polyamory, but Todd is so clearly uncomfortable with the situation, so I’m at a loss as to why Sebby pushed it. I stopped reading not long after this incident, so I don’t know if this threesome, without the love interest, happens.

Finally, to discuss the scene that was so offensive I stopped reading. Sebby and Todd are talking, and Todd’s ex comes up, and Sebby asks Todd to tell him one thing that he likes about Sebby more than his ex. And, I shit you not, Todd actually says that he likes Sebby’s skin more than Vivian’s because Sebby’s is all smooth and soft where Vivian’s was scarred all over. I feel sick even thinking about this moment, and days, weeks later, I am still outraged that this exists.

I will never recommend this book to anyone.

RATING

DID NOT FINISH

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

laurie loftLaurie Loft lives in Iowa, endeavoring to write stories to give you that rush. Her husband, cat, and dogs kindly tolerate this odd activity. Her first M/M novel came about because of a minor character in a straight romance who just took over and demanded his own book. Laurie enjoys NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and other forms of writerly torture. She finds inspiration in her NaNo friends and her fellow Riptide authors. When not writing or working at her mysterious day job, she can often be found screaming at tangled cross stitch threads.

Connect with Laurie:

  • Twitter: @Laurie_Loft

REVIEW BY LEAH

ARC Reviews

ARC Review: Action by Quinn Anderson

SUMMARY

33983704Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: June 5, 2017
Received From: NetGalley

Pete Griflow is the last person anyone would suspect of being a porn star. He’s quiet, gawky, and can’t even talk to guys without turning red. But on camera, he’s a different person. In the porn world, he’s Jaden Prime, a coquettish power bottom who’s been tantalizing fans for over a year now.

Pete is in a rut, though, and he knows it. And what’s worse, his boss knows it. If he can’t reignite his passion for the biz, he’s going to have trouble paying his none-too-cheap college tuition.

When Pete is given the opportunity to star in a huge summer production, sparks fly between him and his costar, Kyle Darko. Kyle is Pete’s opposite: he’s daring, achingly sexy, and in love with the sex industry. Their chemistry is palpable on and off screen, but dating on a porn set is tricky. Even pros struggle to separate fantasy from reality, especially with a script dictating their seduction. But what’s building between them can’t be ignored, and it’s so much more than getting some “action.”

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: cisgender
SEXUALITY: homosexual
PAIRING: M/M

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: workplace romance, coworkers to lovers, insta love
TAGS: contemporary, new adult, romance, queer romance, sex workers, erotica
WARNINGS: ableism, queer fetishization, sexual content, public play

REVIEW

Action is a fun, cute contemporary that does a really great job of creating a positive portrayal of sex workers. Both main characters are porn stars, and one is unabashedly out and up front about it, while the other does it primarily to help with bills and college, but finds that it’s something he enjoys and is good at but isn’t comfortable being publicly out quite yet. I loved that there were different reasons and experiences explored with Pete and Evan, and that when Pete’s secret came out, his friends were really cool about it. And, I really liked that the novel doesn’t end up with one or both of them giving up their jobs, like the first book in the series does.

There were a few things throughout that felt unfinished or like loose threads. Pete’s dad is only mentioned a couple times and then is pretty much brushed to the side and never brought up again. His ex is brought up often enough that it seems expected that he’d make some kind of appearance, but he never shows. Also I kept hoping to meet some of Evan’s family, especially one of the numerous sisters mentioned, but his family never comes into play at all. These didn’t necessarily detract from the overall enjoyment of the story, but it does leave you wondering why they were mentioned in the first place, and brought up more than once.

Really the only thing that bothered me, outside of the occasional use of ableist terminology (deranged, crazy, etc), was one instance where a female character says something along the lines of “gay porn is for women too.” This is such a harmful thought process to exacerbate in media because it furthers the fetishization of queer people. Also, given the fact that Evan started out in “straight” porn, I was disappointed that the author didn’t take the opportunity to make him bisexual.

All in all, this story was your basic contemporary romance with little to no twists and insta love, but the main characters were really cute together, so it was overall enjoyable.

RATING

3.5 stars rounded up to 4

4 STARS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

grace stack webQuinn Anderson is an alumna of the University of Dublin in Ireland and has a master’s degree in psychology. She wrote her dissertation on sexuality in popular literature and continues to explore evolving themes in erotica in her professional life.

A nerd extraordinaire, she was raised on an unhealthy diet of video games, anime, pop culture, and comics from infancy. She stays true to her nerd roots in writing and in life and frequently draws inspiration from her many fandoms, which include Sherlock, Harry Potter, Supernatural, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Buffy, Marvel, and more. You will often find her interacting with fellow fans online and offline via conventions and tumblr, and she is happy to talk about anything from nerd life to writing tips. She has attended conventions on three separate continents and now considers herself a career geek. She advises anyone who attends pop culture events in the UK to watch out for Weeping Angels, as they are everywhere.

Her favorite television show is Avatar: the Last Airbender, her favorite film is Tangled, and her favorite book is Ella Enchanted. She can often be spotted at conventions, comic shops, and midnight book releases. If you’re at an event, and you see a 6’2” redhead wandering around with a vague look on her face, that’s probably her. Her favorite authors include J.K. Rowling, Gail Carson Levine, Libba Bray, and Tamora Pierce. When she’s not writing, she enjoys traveling, cooking, spending too much time on the internet, screwing the rules, finding the Master Sword, guided falling, consulting for the NYPD, guarding the galaxy, boldly going, and catching ’em all.

Connect with Quinn:


BUY LINKS

Riptide Publishing
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Kobo
IndieBound

REVIEW BY LEAH

ARC Reviews

ARC Review: Secrets of Skin and Stone by Wendy Laine

SUMMARY

sosas1Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Release Date: June 5, 2017
Received From: NetGalley

Something is wrong in Hidden Creek. The sleepy Alabama town is more haunted than any place fiend hunter Grisham Caso has ever seen. Unearthed graves, curse bags, and spilled blood all point to an evil that could destroy his gargoyle birthright. The town isn’t safe for anyone, and everyone says fiery Piper Devon knows why.

Piper wants to leave Hidden Creek behind. She’s had enough of secrets—they hide in the shadows of her room and tell her terrible things are coming. Too-charming city boy Grisham might be her only chance to save herself.

To survive, Piper and Grisham have to shed their secrets and depend only on each other. But what lurks in Hidden Creek still might take everything away from them, including each other.

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: cisgender
SEXUALITY: heterosexual
PAIRING: M/F

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: magical abilities, enemies to lovers, manic pixie dream girl
TAGS: fantasy, paranormal, young adult, mystery, suspense, ownvoices
WARNINGS: violence, animal death, animal cruelty, self-harm (cutting), mental health (OCD), ableism, grave robbing

REVIEW

Piper stared straight into my soul, without flinching. I stared back–and her darkness saw mine.

The first thing I loved about this novel is that, before it starts, there is a trigger warning for self-harm. It was incredibly helpful to know ahead of time what I could expect so I could prepare myself for it. Trigger warnings should be implemented in all media, so I really appreciated that Entangled did that, and I hope this is something they’ll do more consistently.

The Watchers of this novel were a really interesting twist on gargoyle mythology. It’s not something that is explored very often, so I was immediately intrigued by the premise. Gris is both boy and Watcher, determined to prove himself to his father, and it was so interesting to watch him work to merge the two and accept that he can’t separate them and that there are people who will want and love him despite his secrets. He was confident and intelligent, loyal and protective, and willing to do anything to save Piper from the person who would harm her, while solving the mystery of the town. Gris could’ve easily been the Alpha Male Hero in the hands of another writer and editor, but Wendy Laine and Kate Brauning did an amazing job making him a strong but sweet, affectionate boy.

Speaking of Piper, oh man, she’s everything. Piper Devon is a tough, wildly intelligent girl who takes no shit from anyone. Every instance in which she stood up for herself felt like a huge victory for heroines everywhere. She refused to let Gris take control of her life and investigation, didn’t want to be protected, and was fearless, and at times rash, in the face of danger. Piper is the kind of headstrong, brilliant, and still vulnerable, heroine that I love to see.

The self-harm and OCD representation are OwnVoices and it was really good to see a story where self-harm isn’t glorified and OCD isn’t demonized.

There were a few spots throughout the novel where the pacing felt a bit slow, but overall, the novel was a steadily building suspense novel.

RATING

4 STARS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

sosas2At home in the Pacific Northwest, Wendy Sparrow writes for both an adult and young adult crowd in many genres but always with a happily ever after. She has two wonderfully quirky kids, a supportive husband, and a perpetually messy house because she hates cleaning. She’s an advocate both online and in her community for autistic children in addition to actively trying to raise awareness about obsessive compulsive disorder. Most days she spends on Twitter procrastinating doing the dishes.

BUY LINKS

Entangled Publishing
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Kobo

REVIEW BY LEAH

ARC Reviews

ARC Review: Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

SUMMARY

29960675Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Received From: NetGalley

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.

GENDER SEXUALITY PAIRINGS

GENDER: genderfluid, cisgender
SEXUALITY: bisexual/pansexual
PAIRING: F/GQ

TAGS TROPES WARNINGS

TROPES: deadly competition, there can only be one, class disparity
TAGS: fantasy, suspense, thriller, young adult, queer characters, disabled characters, POC characters
WARNINGS: classism, murder, violence, explicit violence, drugs/poisons, misgendering, self-harm

REVIEW

“There’s not enough innocence left in this world after all we’ve done to it.”

***The main character Sal is genderfluid and uses she/her, he/him, and they/them, depending on how they are presenting that day. For the purposes of this review, I will be using they/them so as to avoid any unintentional misgendering.***

Mask of Shadows is a thrilling, labyrinthine story of murder, revenge, and political intrigue. Miller flawlessly weaves together a world in which one person’s lifelong desire for vengeance correlates with the secrets wishes of the crown, making the impossible possible and giving the main character opportunities they may not have achieved otherwise.

This story is stunning and evocative, exploring the moral ambiguity that comes with being part of The Left Hand, an assassin for the queen. Throughout the novel, Sal is always very aware of what they are doing and the repercussions, both in the physical world and the spiritual world. They carry with them the weight of their decimated people and the lingering traces of their religion, and this influences most, if not all, of their actions. They offer their blood to the Lady for every kill they make, seeking repentance though they know they will never be truly free of their transgressions. They accept this and recognize that it is an aspect of their life they will have to deal with, if they truly want to achieve their goals.

However, by far the most incredible element was the casual inclusion of multiple facets of diversity. There are multiple disable characters, most notably Sal’s childhood friend and one of the current members of The Left Hand. Several POC characters are actively involved in the plot, including fellow auditioners who Sal must compete with and the regal, powerful Queen of Igna.

And then of course there are the queer characters, who were so effortlessly woven into the story, without undue fanfare. Sal, the main character is genderfluid and bisexual/pansexual; Elise, the love interest, is bisexual/pansexual; another character is made canonically queer when Sal notices him in the embrace of another man; and a fourth character is aromantic–she reveals this to Sal in conversation and there isn’t so much as a moment of hesitation before it’s simply accepted. Also, nearly everyone is very chill about Sal’s alternating pronouns and use the appropriate ones for how they’re presenting that day as they wish. The other characters don’t hesitate to clarify Sal’s pronouns, in order to avoid misgendering, and if anyone uses the incorrect ones, another character steps in to correct them, without fail.

There are some moments where the plot seems to drag a little bit, but that is mostly when you are receiving necessary explanations or pieces of information in between action packed scenes. It’s not a detriment to the overall plot, just general pacing that takes a moment to get used to.

This book is beautifully written and is blessedly unpredictable. I recommend everyone pick up a copy and read it.

RATING

5 STARS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

15194090A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology coming in September 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

Twitter: @LinseyMiller

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REVIEW BY LEAH