Mask of Shadows (Untitled #1) by Linsey Miller

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a hard one to review. Linsey Miller’s debut novel truly did have a lot of potential, and I do believe that the following installments will be much better than this first book that was laying the groundwork for this world. Unfortunately, this book read very slow and it makes the story in general feel very underwhelming.

Trigger Warnings for: misgendering, violence, and gore.

In this world, Queen Ignasi ended the civil war between Erlend and Alona and combined them into Igna. The Queen also banished the land of magic, and the shadows that very painfully and cruelly kill people. And the Queen has four personal guards at all times, that match the gemmed rings she wears on her fingers: Ruby, Emerald, Opal, and Amethyst. But one of the positions just opened up.

This book starts with a very unconventional robbery, where the thief’s life is changed forever. After the robbery, the thief finds a letter that gives all the information about the Queen’s position that just opened up.

The three other personal guards are holding an audition to join their ranks, and you have to be personally invited to audition or to bring something worthy enough to grant you an invitation. And our main character, Sal, brings something worthy enough.

Sal is then thrown into this tournament like audition, which is very reminiscent of Hunger Games and Red Rising, where it is basically a fight to the death and everyone is trying to kill and backstab everyone else. All the participants wear mask to hide their identity and they all go by the number on their masks. Our dear Sal becomes Twenty-Three, where I had to force myself to stop picturing Michael Jordan constantly.

And even though Sal states at the start of the book how difficult they find killing, they get over it extremely unrealistically fast, yet the tournament narrows down extremely long-windedly. Basically, I really enjoyed the start and the end of this book, but the middle section that stars the auditions themselves was too slow.

Sal also has a very tragic backstory, that explains why they was never able to learn how to read and write, but the information does come across as info-dumping. It’s hard to sympathize and grow attachments to them, when we learn about Sal being forced to grow up an orphan just randomly distributed throughout the book once every 100 pages.

We also have a few good side characters. One becomes a romance interest, and teaches Sal how to read and write. You guys know I love when books have a relationship that blossoms over one of the love interests teaching the other how to read. So, I actually really shipped and enjoyed their romance, and their study sessions just enhanced their relationship in my eyes.

My favorite character in the whole book was probably Sal’s personal servant, Maud. During the auditions, all of the contestants are given a personal servant, and Sal lucked out getting Maud. I loved her back story, I loved how she helped Sal constantly, and I love that she never lost sight of her selfless end goal. She was a really great character.

The reason I requested this ARC was because of the gender fluid main character. Now, it is very important to note that I am a cis-woman and this review is not coming at you from an own voices perspective, so I feel uncomfortable and not educated enough to discuss the representation in this novel. But here is my favorite voice on Booktube, who also happens to be non-cis, and is one of the voices that should be heard while talking about the representation of this gender fluid main character: Adriana, from perpetualpages

(If you guys are, or know anyone who is, an own voices reviewer of this book, please do not hesitate to link your reviews down below. I would love to add them to my review.)

For me, Mask of Shadows just read like generic YA fantasy. I didn’t hate this, I just didn’t really enjoy it either. I for sure did enjoy some parts, and a few of the side characters, but I felt the story was too tedious for me to ever fully immerse myself and to simply let myself just enjoy it. Again, I do think the next installment in this series will be much better, and I do want to cut the author some slack for this being their debut novel. Plus, as Adriana states in her book talk, we need more stories that focus on queer characters’ storylines, instead of just focusing on queer characters being queer.

Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buddy Read with Elise

“This is the Aurelia Theater. It feels like coming home.”

Echo after Echo is an own voices novel, that has such a beautiful f/f romance, surrounding a Broadway theater crew getting ready for opening night, while also trying to solve a murder mystery that may or may not be a curse set on the theater they all love and adore. I devoured this with a smile on my face. I was completely enthralled and immersed by this. I love this story with my entire being.

This theater crew has from November 5th to December 29th (opening night) to perfect the play, Echo and Ariston, which is a very reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. During this time, two murders happen, but everyone knows these things come in threes, so our main character is slowly trying to piece the puzzle together, while also trying to protect herself at all costs.

Our main character, Zara, is an eighteen-year-old girl, who has lived and breathed this play from a very young age. After she gets the leading role of Echo, she gives up her senior year of high school to move to New York and take a chance on making her dreams a reality. The other leading role of Ariston is played by Adrian Ward, an already very famous and good-looking male, where this is the first thing Zara has ever been in. So, she is constantly trying to better her acting and the play’s director, Leopold, easily directs her to do whatever he or his visions want from the play.

We are also met with a full cast of characters, where you will constantly be guessing who is committing these crimes, and who might be the next victim. Yet, the writing is so beautiful and haunting, you won’t be surprised in the slightest if the Aurelia Theater is just truly cursed.

Zara soon meets the assistant lighting designer, Eli, who makes Zara feels things she only thought were possible in the play she has grown up obsessed with. Yet, Leopold made Zara promise to only focus on the play and her opening night, while he also wants the media to believe in a budding romance between her and her costar, Adrian.

“But here’s the real truth: time doesn’t work in neat, predictable ways. It doubles over on itself. Finds new ways to hurt you.”

And this writing is so atmospheric and is truly a tier above most out there. I mean, I could have probably highlighted this whole entire book. The prose is nothing short of whimsical, even though this is a contemporary thriller. From the actual play being practiced, to the play that is constantly referenced, I am currently dying to see any and all productions of this play.

“But the feelings Zara has been chasing since the day she found that ragged paperback of Echo and Ariston are right here, in a girl who made herself out of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light.”

And the romance, oh boy, the romance. I was living for every scene with Zara and Eli, even though they are both too pure for this world and need to be protected at all costs. I think the reason I read this book so quickly was because I simply could not get enough of them and their perfect growing love. Zara coming to terms with her sexuality is a big part of this book and it really resonated within me, while also really hitting very close to home and how I felt when I was eighteen and realizing I wasn’t straight. I think the bi representation was amazingly done and made me feel all the feels.

“But girls touch each other all the time. Girls have intense friendships that have nothing to do with wanting to tear each other’s clothes off.”

And the diversity is also outstanding. Zara is on the page bisexual (be still, my heart) and Jewish. There are wonderful discussions about how she feels living in a world that predominately celebrates Christmas in December, and it was really insightful and heartwarming. Eli is a lesbian, Puerto Rican, and grew up Catholic. Adrian is that typical, everybody loves me, straight, white guy, but he also talks about how he is Dyslexic and suffers from ADHD. Seriously, this is a well written diverse cast that I really loved and appreciated.

Trigger Warnings for mention(s) of: eating disorders, rape, and suicide.

I loved this. This would be such a perfect fall or winter read. I mean, I could read Broadway murder mysteries about girls loving girls all year round, but I do think this is going to feel ever more perfect for its October 10th release. This story is absolutely beautiful and such a shining light among 2017 publications! I recommend this with my whole heart and hope you pick it up come this fall.

“There is always an imperfection in beauty, some flaw or surprise to remind you that it’s real.”

🌈📚✨: Email proof of preorder purchase from any bookseller to and receive this breathtaking promo poster by Cori McCarthy (US addresses only):

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Raven’s Mark: (The Raven Queen’s Harem #1) by Angel Lawson

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Okay, let me preface this review by saying that I only picked this book up for three reasons:
1.) I needed something for a mythology quest for a readalong I’m taking part in, #TheReadingQuest.
2.) This was only 115 pages.
3.) This was only 99 cents on Amazon.

The mythology behind this book is based on The Morrígan from Irish mythology. Morrígan is said to be a phantom-like banshee queen that is associated with anything war. And she is often represented by a black bird, some say crow and others say raven. There are so many different interpretations of this war goddess, and Raven’s Mark is a loose representation that does keep some major elements of the folklore.

“The Queen of the Ravens was the Celtic goddess of war. A terrifying, wrathful woman who reveled in evil. She was known as the Triad. Woman with three parts. The woman named Morgan. The Raven Shifter. The Goddess of War.”

In this story our main protagonist, Morgan, can’t really remember her past, only that her parents died when she was sixteen. She has now graduated college and her main passion is writing a story that she can’t get out of her head about five ravens. In fact, this story is what gets her accepted into New York University’s Graduate Program for the Arts, where she also has won a grant that gives her a full scholarship plus free housing for the two years.

She is ready to start her new life, and to finally finish the story that is haunting her, but once she reaches the house, or mansion I should say, she realizes that she will be also be sharing it with five super-hot guys who are all masters at different things, obviously:

Dylan – The Historian
Sam – The Photographer
Bunny – The Artist
Clinton – The Musician
Damien – The Artificer

“The five of us have known one another for eons. We’re not quite brothers, but close enough; soldiers, warriors, even a criminal or two. Assigned as guards between the worlds. For Morgan.”

I think you guys can obviously make the connection between these five hot guys and the five ravens she writes about. The story switches between Morgan and the guys’ point of view, and thus ensures a reverse harem set up, since Morgan just being inside the house has them all hot and bothered. Oh, and for the worst part of the story: Morgan is a virgin and will have to eventually choose one of these men to give that magical gift to. *throws up forever*

Also, there is no sex in this book. There is a lot of making out, and rubbing, and even a blow job, but no sex. This book is basically setting up the ground work for further installments in the series, which I won’t be reading.

I hate writing negative reviews, especially for independently published authors, but this just felt juvenile and really didn’t work for me. I love reading reverse harem books, but this one felt too forced and Morgan felt too stupid for me to enjoy. If this story sounds interesting to you, for sure give it a try, but it just fell really flat for me.

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3) by N.K. Jemisin

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ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

1.) The Fifth Season ★★★★★
2.) The Obelisk Gate ★★★★

Buddy Read with Mary & Petrik

“Some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.”

You guys, I’m speechless. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read as perfect of a conclusion as The Stone Sky. The Stone Sky easily makes my best of 2017 list, and is also without a doubt one of the most powerful masterpieces I’ve ever read in my entire life. I will cherish this book series until the end of my days, while also trying to convince every single living soul to give this series a shot. Please give The Fifth Season a shot. It is worth more than every ounce of hype and praise it has received. I recommend this series to any and everyone I know. Not just SFF lovers, hell, not even just book lovers; I recommend this to every human being. And I dare you to finish this series, turn that last page, and not feel the urge to change this ugly world we live in today.

This series is a SFF dystopian, where earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other terrible things impacting the earth are constantly happening, but orogenes are able to manipulate the earth to ease them. Even though orogenes are continually saving the world they are constantly oppressed slaves. This world has convinced everyone that orogenes are dangerous and need to be controlled at all costs. Everyone in the Stillness is trying to survive the world’s unforgiving environment. This planet is beyond unstable, because of Fifth Seasons. Two years have passed since The Fifth Season and in this concluding book our main characters are looking for a way to stop the Seasons once and for all.

“They’re afraid because we exist, she says, There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing—so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.”

The greatest thing about this series is that it seamlessly mirrors the world we live in today. This book will make you think about your internalized racism and the prejudices that you hold without even realizing it. I mean, look at what is going on in the United States right now. Look at how we are allowing actual Nazis free hate speech. Look who we elected, because people’s hearts were filled with so much hate. Look how we are trying to protect confederate statues, while allowing our government to bulldoze native sites for pipelines. Hate is a powerful force, and white supremacy is real. Charlottesville is happening all over our world, and we don’t need orogeny to stop it, either.

“But for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.”

I wrote in my review for The Obelisk Gate that the heart of this novel is oppression, but the soul of this novel is motherhood, and I stand by this assessment even more so. Again, I’m not a mother, but the underlying theme of parenthood and the indescribable love between a mother and child is something so pure and beautiful. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings and emotions this book was able to evoke from me.

The constant messages and reminders of the importance of found families is also something that I appreciate with every bone in my body. I don’t want to keep using the word beautiful, but these messages that N.K. Jemisin has created are nothing short of the word beautiful. Blood is just that, blood, but choosing to spend your days with people who unconditionally love and support you is the true meaning of family.

Just thinking of the people who have followed Essun throughout her journey makes me weep from equal parts of joy and sadness. I loved seeing people love the broken parts of Essun, seeing her friends love the strong woman she always was all along, seeing her family choose to follow her to the end of the Earth.

“…if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.”

And seeing the choices that Nassun made all by herself from both places of hurt and love just broke my heart. The choices we all make from being hurt or being loved is a discussion I could write pages and pages on. The feelings and emotions in this book are so very complex and the narrative only makes you feel everything intensified. Right now, as I’m writing this review, I’m equal parts heartbreak and hope.

“It’s just that love and hate aren’t mutually exclusive”

And the representation in this book is the best I’ve ever read in all my years. First off, this book is unapologetically and beautifully black. Next, N.K. Jemisin writes about systematic oppression expertly. Then, she also seamlessly writes in LGBT+ representation effortlessly. This book has the best written trans side character I’ve ever read about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll scream it from the rooftops again: Every author should strive to write representation like N.K. Jemisin.

The writing is also exquisite. The prose is a tier above the rest. The narrative in unique and heartfelt. The world building is nothing short of perfection. The themes are relevant, important, and inspiring. The acknowledgments broke my heart. This series is truly a masterpiece.

This is one of the best stories I’ve ever read in my entire life. No amount of words I can write here is going to do it justice, so I can only ask, or beg, you to pick it up and see for yourself. Thank you, N.K. Jemisin, for this masterpiece. I will never stop moving forward, and I will never stop fighting for a better world.

“We could’ve all been safe and comfortable together, surviving together, but they didn’t want that. Now nobody gets to be safe. Maybe that’s what it will take for them to finally realize things have to change.”

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Bully (Fall Away #1) by Penelope Douglas

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“You were my tempest, my thunder cloud, my tree in the downpour. I loved all those things, and I loved you.”

Hi, my name’s Melanie and all I want to read this summer is New Adult Romances. This is my third Penelope Douglas book and, again, I’m so impressed. I loved Bully and it might be my favorite book of hers I’ve read so far.

Before I go any further, I just want to point out again for people who follow my reviews mostly for the Fantasy I read: I rate smutty books differently than other books! I know many of the relationships are toxic and problematic and I completely understand that they wouldn’t be the healthiest and/or most ideal of starts for people in real life, but I love steamy reads and I rate them purely off my enjoyment.

This all being said, trigger warnings for underage drinking and drug use, violence, descriptions of severe child abuse, and attempted rape. Also, I mean, this book is called Bully, and it is a book about a girl falling in love with her bully. There isn’t any major hazing or anything like that, but they both do some pretty mean things to one another. This is also a hate to love romance, but it’s kind of more like a love to hate to love romance, if that makes any sense, but no one writes hate to love as good as Penelope Douglas.

Our main protagonist, Tatum (one of my favorite female names of all time), leaves for France for a year to study abroad. She hasn’t had the easiest life since her mom passed away from cancer. She once had a best friend who helped heal the wounds from the loss of her mother, but one day that greatest ally became her greatest enemy.

Jared, Tatum’s now sworn enemy, lives next door to Tatum, and can’t stand the sight of any boy giving her any attention. When he’s not street racing, he’s making her life a living hell. This story surrounds them finishing their last year of high school, while they both try desperately to hide the feelings they have for one another and replace those feelings with hate.

The only reason I’m not giving this five stars is because I really disliked Tatum’s best friend’s actions. K.C. not only does something she knows will upset her best friend, but she lies about. Then, once she gets caught, she continues to do it. Like, what a terrible representation of friendship (or maybe an accurate representation of high school friendships, let’s be real). And then, to make matters worse, it is all just swept under the rug, forgotten, and everyone is over it. Like, no, you don’t do that to your friend. No matter how bad you’re hurting, you don’t make it better by hurting others.

The other thing is that there is a lot of slut shaming in this book. This is one of Penelope Douglas’ earlier books, and I haven’t noticed this in other things I’ve read by her, but there is a lot of judgement going on in this book when it comes to female promiscuity. Like, it doesn’t matter that these boys are all doing it, but they call out girls for sleeping with different guys a lot and it feels bad. Also, Tatum kind of borders on that “I’m not like other girls” line that is kind of gross, too.

But both of these things are minor enough that it didn’t ruin this book for me. I actually really, really enjoyed it and I find myself wanting to read everything by Penelope Douglas. Her writing is seriously addicting and every one of her stories have been able to completely immerse me and evoke so much emotion from me.

Also, it is important to note that obviously there is a lot of sexual content in this book, but all of the characters participating are 18+. Also, that first sex scene was 10/10. Like, sign me up for that now please.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

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ARC provided by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.

Buddy Read with Destiny

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a debut novel that is also a very reminiscent loose fairytale mashup retelling of Snow White and Frozen, but with unique twists. It’s a dual narrative that switches between the points of view between two women. One is Lynet, a fifteen-year-old who will one day rule her father’s kingdom, while residing in the northern lands of Whitespring. The other is Mina, Lynet’s stepmother, who is from the southern lands and wants to be viewed for more than her beauty.

This book does have feministic undertones, and I loved every aspect pertaining to those undertones with my whole heart. There really are some great messages in here. Like, that girls are worth so much more than their beauty. That young girls can be whatever they want to be, they do not have to be the mistakes of their parents. That every single living soul is worthy of love. The feminist themes were, hands down, my favorite parts of this novel, and I think these are really important themes that young girls need to be reading about.

“Being delicate had killed her mother, and yet he was so eager to bestow that quality on her.”

I also loved the wintery scenery and atmosphere. I truly felt like I was at Whitespring multiple times in this story, and I give Melissa Bashardoust all the credit in the world for such a magical transportation.

And I really enjoyed the found family elements in this book, too. This book is like a love letter to found families. I wish more books talked about how it’s so much more important to find people who love you unconditionally and will support you no matter what, rather than people who only happen to share the same blood as you.

My biggest problem with this book is that it reads like a middle grade novel. You guys know that I very rarely will pick up a middle grade book, and if I do I have to be in the right mindset for it. The writing in this just took me by surprise, and not in a good way. It was just too slow, too simple, and honestly just too boring. And major catastrophic events got somewhat skimmed over in a very middle grade like fashion.

My next problem with this book was simply that this book just wasn’t as gay as I wanted it to be. I wanted the romance between Lynet and Nadia to be the biggest part of this book, but it wasn’t even a major plot point in this book. And that alone wouldn’t even bother me that much, but Mina’s hetero relationship was for sure at the forefront of this story, and that just feels really bad.

I still recommend this for anyone who enjoys a good fairytale retelling, but just go into it knowing that it’s on the slower side. I also loved the important feminist messages, and I would love to put this in the hands of every preteen girl I know. I also think this would be a good book to curl up with this winter with a big cup of tea, because the snowy, wintery, whimsical magic in this is amazing and perfect for the winter season.

The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by N.K. Jemisin

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1.) The Fifth Season ★★★★★

Buddy Read with Petrik

I finished this book just after it won its Hugo award for the best novel of 2017. This and The Fifth Season are so deserving of the awards and praise they receive. These books leave me wordless, because there is no explaining how much of a meaningful impact these books have on the world, let alone the SFF community. All I can truly say is thank you to N.K. Jemisin for this world, these characters, and these important messages that continue to render me speechless.

I also finished this book the same night that white supremacists rallied at Charlottesville and spread their hate in my country. The country that says we are past racism. The country that is constantly telling us that we are the greatest and most forward-thinking country of all time. The country that’s passing this hatred and violence off as “free speech”.

“But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.”

Literature does represent our real life. The Broken Earth trilogy makes us feel the things it does because it mimics our world today. It shows us the oppression unapologetically, and this oppression doesn’t just live in this SFF book, it’s in our world right now, even if you’re choosing to keep your eyes closed to it. This series is a masterpiece and I hope you read it, but I also hope you learn from it.

The Obelisk Gate picks up where The Fifth Season left off, where earth’s civilization is beginning to prepare for a new Season. What doesn’t kill them quickly, will starve them to death slowly. This book mostly follows Essun, one of the most powerful Orogene in existence, where she is trying to live in a new community in a rather strange location. She meets up with old friends who are now also a part of this community, but her thoughts never stray from her daughter that has been missing since the start of The Fifth Season. Essun is also met with new problems and dilemmas that are so much bigger than the community she is residing in.

This is one of the most immersive books I’ve ever read. The narrative of this book just forcefully will pull the reader into this broken world, regardless of if they want to or not. You can’t help all the connections you will feel and form subconsciously. You end up with this experience that just feels so real and so emotionally overwhelming. Plus, I read this with so many tears in my eyes constantly, because even though this earth is trying to kill everyone that inhabits it, it is still the humans that are the terrifying villains.

Also, this is the most beautifully crafted diverse cast I’ve ever read in any piece of literature. The representation is just on an entirely differently level. And I believe with my whole heart that every other author out there should aspire to seamlessly create their cast of characters like N.K. Jemisin.

On top of the amazing diversity and representation, as a woman, I really sympathize with the underlying theme of motherhood throughout this series. I do not currently have any children, but I’d one day like to, and this book just emphasizes that there is no word to describe the love a mother feels for her child/children. Like, this book is heartbreakingly beautiful, and this constant reminder of how it feels to lose a child is something I can’t put into words. I think that is every parents’ greatest fear and this book doesn’t shy away from that topic ever. The heart of this novel is oppression, but the soul of this novel is that there is nothing a parent wouldn’t do to protect their child.

“You serve a higher purpose, little one. Not any single man’s desire—not even mine. You were not made for such petty things.”

But this all being said, this book does feel like the second book in a series, and it feels like it’s leading up to what I’m sure will be a perfect ending in The Stone Sky. There wasn’t any filler so to speak, but the events very slowly unraveling to put the pieces in place so that everything makes sense. But please, don’t let that stop you from giving this once in a lifetime series a try. It truly is a masterpiece that deserves all the praise and hype that is bestowed upon it.

And speaking of The Stone Sky, I don’t think my body, heart, or soul is ready for this eventual reunion. Yet, I don’t think anything is going to stop me from devouring this book while I’m 35,000 feet in the air come this Tuesday!