Book Review – The Shadows (Dark Sentinels, Book One)

You know what I haven’t done in a while? A book review.

Tim, you did one in April.

Huh. So I did. Well I haven’t done many of them.

This will be your sixth.

Uh…well it’s not like I’ve done any other revi…

What about this one?

Goddammit. Am I becoming a reviewer?

Not yet, but you’re on your way.

 

…also, if you’re looking for an update on the book charity drive, that’ll come later this week or early next week. Anyway, on with the review.


Full disclosure on this review — I received an advanced reader copy of The Shadows. While I’m not receiving any sort of compensation for writing this review, I am quite shamelessly helping the author promote this book as I can on Twitter. This is partly because she’s been a writer/creator I’ve held a lot of respect for for quite some time now1Yes, I know there’s a double for there. It’s also grammatically correct.. It’s also partly because The Shadows is a damn good book.

Oh…uh…review spoilers in that previous paragraph2Since people get all bent out of shape for spoilers. Which…stop that..

As a reader, I have a decently wide range of books I like to read. With that said, one of the original book genres that I really got into when I started caring about reading was the Young Adult genre. In particular, I tended to prefer Young Adult dystopian novels3Think “Feed” by M.T. Anderson., however I wasn’t opposed to reading pretty much anything in the genre, aside from heavy romance4Still can’t stand heavy romance novels now, regardless of if they’re young adult books or not. For whatever reason, many romance writers struggle to write good plot..

That said, it’s been quite some time since I’ve really sat down and read a YA novel. The only one I’ve read in the past three years was Mila 2.0 which, while a good book, wasn’t one that I actively went out of my way to recommend to others to read. On top of that, when the book’s concept was original ran by me, it was stated to be a young adult paranormal sci-fi book. The closest I’ve come to caring about paranormal things is my love for Chandelure and Froslass in the Pokemon games. Needless to say the book had a chance of being outside of my wheelhouse.

Here’s the thing though…I loved the book.

The main character of this book, Roz, is a very relatable character in my mind. Anyone who has gone through the challenges of living as a child in a single parent household will have some level of empathy for Roz’s situation, particularly the frustrations of her mother not being around. The other major characters of the story also seem to jump off of the page — in particular Derek, who is more of a secondary character in the book, but has a very distinct way of speaking, to the point where I feel like I know exactly what his voice sounds like in my head.

The characters themselves form a diverse, multicultural cast, which is always a pleasure to see in a book. It’s something I know from personal experience can be a struggle for writers, so seeing someone handle it successfully is always a positive. The paranormal entities in the book also stick around in your mind for a while, particularly Diego and the book’s main antagonist5It’s hard to explain exactly what this specter is without spoiling, so that’s all you’re getting..

The Shadows is definitely a setup book. You can tell the book is doing its best to introduce you to the main characters of the story, the intricacies of the world around them, the gravity of the challenges they’re facing, and the relationships between the characters themselves. You can also tell that there’s going to be more books in this series coming down the line. And yet, even though you can, as a reader, surmise that as the book is winding down, the only feeling you’re left with is sadness that the book is ending and you don’t get to know what happens next. Having a preview of the second book at the end was particular cruel — not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I wanted to know more.

I was able to get through The Shadows in a single evening, though I was a bit distracted, so quick readers might be able to finish it in just a few hours. It’s not that The Shadows is a particularly short read — the ebook version I had was around 290 pages — it’s that it’s a captivating read that you won’t want to put down. I cannot recommend The Shadows highly enough. Not only would I encourage those of you reading this interview to buy the book, I would also say that many of you, like me, will find it to be one of your favorite books you’ll read this year.

Book Review – Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) by Jen Glantz

Before I start reviewing this book, I have a pair of disclaimers to give. First and foremost, hearing Jen’s story about getting her previous book, All My Friends are Engaged, from idea to self-published work helped inspire me to take my short stories and turn them into a book. It was a significant enough of an inspiration that I felt like a complete asshole when I forgot to put her in my thank yous section of the book, even though I’ve never met her in person. She wrote a guest post for my blog, I wrote one for hers, and we would occasionally chat on Twitter/20SB. But I still felt terrible. The second disclaimer is that I don’t like weddings. Or stories about weddings. Or pretty much anything wedding related. Weddings are (generally) long, boring affairs with similarly long and boring receptions. They’re expensive and frequently cause the newly married couple financial problems because you want to throw a good party for your friends and family1Or something. I personally don’t see the need for weddings to be opulent affairs, but I get why people might feel it’s necessary..

Now to begin…

Even when taking into consideration my dislike for wedding-related subject matter, there’s not a ton I have to complain about in Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire). If anything, the first quarter of the book reads a bit slower than the rest of the book, though I think that’s natural as Jen is setting up the context for the rest of the book to make sense. Considering how much she talked about her family early on, I expected her to mention them more as the book went on. Other than her mom, most other family members are only mentioned occasionally after the first 60 or so pages. Which is totally fine, as you get into more of Jen’s personal experiences — just a bit unexpected.

My wife actually stole this book from me right after I got it, meaning she got the chance to read it before I had even opened it up. She mentioned that she expected it to be more about wedding and bridesmaid stories, particularly from the title of the book and the summary blurb on the back. If you’re reading Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) for an abundance of wedding stories, you’re likely going to be let down a bit. I remember reading a review of the book saying that Jen should have waited until later in life to write this so she’d have more wedding stories, however I think that such a point of view misses the entire point of the book.

Yes, Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) is a book that talks about weddings and talks about the experience of being a bridesmaid. That much is definitely true. But this book is not a wedding book. It’s a business book masquerading in a wedding book’s body2Much in the same way every member of a wedding party is a complex human masquerading as part of the theatre that is a wedding.. In this book, you’re going to get great advice about risk-taking and failure, about determination and effort, about openness and learning from your mistakes. The concept of learning how to fail like a hero stuck with me far more than the stories of chasing down a lost bridesmaid’s dress.

There was one line in the book that stuck out to me far more than any other, not just because of its profound nature, but also because of the truth it’s held in my life.

Maybe that’s the strange thing about strangers: they have just as much control over how your story ends.

-Jen Glantz, Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire)

Recently I found myself contemplating how people can change our lives for better and worse just be being in our lives. It’s kind of interesting to think how one day you could meet someone who has never been part of your life before, only for them to become the person who changes your life — either positively or negatively — for good. Or that stranger could just be a person you pass on the street who you’ll never see or interact with ever again. But you don’t know. And you don’t know the impact each person will make until well after that impact has been made.

I’d recommend Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire), particular as a book that tells the story of a young woman looking to make her own impact on the world, while also trying to find who and what in the world will make an impact on her. It’s not a business or philosophy book in a traditional sense, however if you’re looking for thoughts on either, I think you’ll find this book surprisingly helpful.

Book Review – How to Be Yourself on the Internet by Samantha Clarke

I’d like to lead off by stating this is not a sponsored post or anything of the sort. I actually went and bought this book with my own money, so take that all for what it’s worth.

Most of you who read this blog are already familiar with Samantha from The Jill of all Trades. If you’re not aware of her work, click on the link in the previous sentence and take a look at her blog. I’ll wait. It’ll help give this review some context.

Back? Awesome.

When I read that Samantha had published a book, I was quite excited. She’s one of my favorite bloggers to read, as well as one of the more prolific commentors on this blog((As of 2/5/2014, she accounts for approximately 15% of the comments on this site. No exaggeration.)). Some of my favorite posts of hers delve into the more humorous side of her mind, be they discussing religion, introspection, sex, or feminism. Without looking much into the book, I was hoping for a humor-filled book, similar to what Allie Brosh did after her time at Hyperbole and a Half.

How to Be Yourself on the Internet is not a humorous read. Sure, Samantha’s natural humor does come out in bits, but that’s not the point to the book. The premise behind How to Be Yourself on the Internet is to act as a quick reference guide((And I do mean quick…it’s only 24 pages long.)) to creating the foundations for your personal brand on the internet. Samantha discusses topics such as the importance of deciding your internet ethics, the difference between criticism and trolling, and why it’s important to have a life outside of the internet (among other things) within the pages.

I see How to Be Yourself on the Internet being particularly useful for two groups of people. The first group is bloggers, particularly those who are blogging for the first time or who are looking to re-launch themselves into the larger internet landscape. The advice within the pages of How to Be Yourself on the Internet is a great reference guide for building your brand and helping you to choose how to interact with readers. The second group that this book could be of significant benefit to are younger teens — ideally those who are just being introduced to social media and internet communities — as a way to help them learn very basic etiquette rules. Sure, the book features a curse word or two, but if you’re worried about your little snowflake reading a naughty word in a book, you really don’t want them on the internet.

How to Be Yourself on the Internet is available directly on Samantha’s blog at this page. It’s a pay-what-you-want ebook, which means you could pick it up for free if you so desire, or pay whatever price you deem as fair. It’s a short, but valuable read on a topic that goes a bit overlooked online. The book’s definitely worth picking up, even with a modest donation.