book reviews

Book Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

My people had a saying about home, as they did about so many of the important things in life: a Varenian can never be lost at sea, because he calls the entire ocean home.

In the ocean city of Varenia law dictates that whichever girl the council of elders decides is the most perfect, the most beautiful, will move to the city of Ilara and marry the prince. This has been the tradition of the Varenian people for as long as they can remember. It is considered an honor to be chosen, or at least that is how you are expected to feel. In exchange for the beautiful bride the Ilarans will continue to trade with Varenia, buy their pearls, and keep the drinking water available to the community. The Varenians survival hinges upon this arrangement. Never are the Verenians allowed to travel on land and so they are at the mercy of the Ilarans.

Zadie and Nor are beautiful twins and the most likely to be chosen to marry the prince. Until Nor sustains an injury that leaves a scar upon her cheek and leaves Zadie to be the chosen one. But then the unthinkable happens and Zadie is gravely injured and Nor must go to Ilara in her place. Nor has always dreamed of traveling to land and discovering the world so this seems like it could be a dream come true for her until she learns the price that must be paid to be chosen for royalty. Prince Ceren, her betrothed, ends up being a cruel man who lives in a castle carved into a mountain where there is no sunlight or warmth. As Nor becomes close to Prince Ceren’s brother, Prince Talin, she begins to learn unbearable truths about her people and the maidens that were chosen before her. She also realizes that her family and all the other Varenians could be in grave danger and she is the only one who can help them.

The premise of an ocean city is what originally drew my attention to this book. The city is not below the ocean, but above. Houses are built on stilts and traveling from place to place requires a boat or you must swim. This turned out to be the most interesting part of this story. The plot is heavily reliant on the beauty trope for the first half of the book. At least for girls who have a chance at being chosen to marry a prince. The family of that girl is in turn heavily rewarded and would not have to worry about starving or the fact that they are able to find less and less pearls to trade to Ilara or less fish to feed to their family. In this case Nor and Zadie’s mother is completely obsessed with keeping Zadie absolutely perfect. She must not sustain an injury or have a scar of any kind. She must be perfect. Which is why it made no sense to me that she was allowed to go diving in dangerous places and continuously put herself at risk.

Nor and Zadie are extremely close. Nor has accepted that she will never go to Ilara and instead dedicates her life to protecting her sister and diving for pearls to feed their family. Zadie is the more demure of the two as she has been constantly practicing to be a queen since she was old enough to talk. She seems very willing to do her duty and leave Varenia forever no matter how much she’ll miss her family. That’s why Nor is shocked when Zadie requests the impossible from her. But Nor cannot refuse her beloved sister anything and the events that follow leave Nor going to Ilara in Zadie’s place. I did enjoy the portrayal of sisterhood. The two sisters really loved and cared for one another and Nor grieved the loss of Zadie pretty hard. 

Unfortunately there are parts of this book I found lacking. Once in Ilara Nor uncovers many truths about both Ilara and Varenia. The conflicts during this second half of the book were simply not convincing. I felt the problems could have easily been fixed with much simpler solutions than putting an entire community of people at risk. There was one scene in particular where Nor could have made a very simple and easy decision that would have in turn saved both the Ilarans and Varenians in one fell swoop… and she just didn’t. It went against her morals. I found this to be extremely annoying. It just didn’t add up. 

As for the courtier life and relationships that Nor built once in Ilara, I found that part of the book to be very bland. Not much happens at all until the end of the book when a large plot twist is revealed. The plot twist was probably my favorite aspect of the book and the only part of the story that made me even slightly compelled to read the next book. The building romance left me feeling nothing at all. I didn’t care about it. I felt it had potential when we were first introduced to the character but then it just fell flat. I’d say that the book would do fine without it but so much of what happens next will be reliant on that relationship. I especially wish it had been a more interesting element since it’s so necessary to the story. 

The book was definitely written well and I liked the main character and her gumption but the other characters were not fleshed out well enough and in turn did not inspire me to care about them at all. The story didn’t have enough intrigue to make it shine among a million other books just like it in the YA fantasy genre, either. Even though some of the aspects were definitely unique and not something I had seen before, the bare bones of the story were just like so many others before it. I do think this book offers a sense of adventure for someone who’s looking for that in a book. It’s also pretty easy reading. Between these things and the strong main character I think this book could definitely appeal to some people, it’s just not the book for me.

book reviews

ARC Review: Gather the Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Gather the Fortunes (Crescent City, #2) by Bryan Camp

Adult, Fantasy, Sequel

★★★★

↝ARC received by Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review.↜

“The only thing death has never been is lonely.” 

Renaissance Raines, newly resurrected, is now a psychopomp, a guide that leads the souls of the dead through the Seven Gates of the Underworld. Until she shows up at the supposed death of a boy name Ramses St. Cyr to find that he has managed to escape his moment of death. As she starts to investigate where her soul has gone she ends up in the thick of a plot created by the Gods. When she discovers who is responsible for the escape of Ramses there will be hell to pay.

Gather the Fortunes is the second installment in the Crescent City series by Bryan Camp. In this book we return to the world of New Orleans and gods and tricksters. The storyline is focused on the underworld, psychopomps, and loa which was only touched upon in the first installment. The atmosphere in this book is still just as palpable as it was in the first book, very creepy and dark and it was really good to visit this world again. Many of the characters that you meet in the first book, The City of Lost Fortunes, make an appearance in this one. The main character being Renai, who ends up being somewhere between the living and the dead, helping souls travel through the underworld. The plot is not as twisty in this second installment but in turn it is also much easier to follow. 

Many of the chapters follow the same vein as the first book where they begin with different beliefs and mythologies throughout many different cultures; each usually focusing on one theme that is relevant to the chapter. Knowledge of the greek gods and mythology would make this book more enjoyable, I suspect, but it certainly isn’t required. I have very basic knowledge myself and still enjoy this series immensely. 

“What’s a life-bringing rain god doing in the underworld?” “Same thing a god does anywhere else,” Sal said. “Whatever the F**k he wants.” 

throughout this book Camp has touched on some extremely important subjects such as destruction, injustice, slavery, racism, and many other issues prominent today and in the past. He laces these important issues seamlessly throughout the book and uses his MC Renai as a voice of justice. I love her as a character. She is angry at the world for all the ways people can hate each other and she uses that anger as a powerful gift to take down her enemies. I think it’s really well done. Bryan Camp is a phenomenal writer with such intelligence I couldn’t help getting lost in the language of the book. If you read this series you will immediately understand my meaning. His books are filled to the brim with diversity of character and culture. I think there is something in these books to make almost anyone feel seen no matter where they hail from or what type of environment they grew up in. I love how the foundation of this story is built with Hurricane Katrina at its core and it speaks of a community torn apart but who refuse to stay down and are determined to rebuild again and again. In the Crescent City books New Orleans is a living, breathing character. Her Voice, Magic, and Luck being bestowed on some of my favorite characters in the books. Simply put, I doubt you’ll ever read a book like this one. If you enjoy learning about mythology, culture, gods, race, history, or the city of New Orleans specifically you will love this. I also recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy and magic in their books. This one is chock full of it. If you’re looking for a book with a young black woman as a main character, look no further. You’d be hard pressed to find another like Renaissance Raines. 

book reviews

ARC Review: The Grand Dark by Richard Kadney

The Grand Dark By Richard Kadney

Adult SFF/Dystopian

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


ARC provided by Netgalley and Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review.

Largo is a bike currier in Lower Proszawa, traveling all over the city dropping packages to the rich, the poor, and everyone in between. The Great War has just ended and the people of this ravaged city drown themselves in sex, drugs, and parties to forget the terror recently visited upon them. As they give themselves up to pleasures of all kinds they fail to notice that the reality around them is dire. Automata are running the streets, taking jobs from the humans when they most need them, more and more genetically engineered creatures being kept as pets or instruments of war, and the general morbidity of the The Grand Darkness, where very realisitic murders are played out on stage in all it’s gory glory. Despite being a drug addict, Largo makes it to work each morning and when the Chief Courier goes missing his job is offered to Largo. Things seem to be looking up for him, with a new promotion, his beautiful girlfriend, Remy, and all the drugs he could possibly need, Largo is living in a state of bliss. But all good things must come to an end.

This book was a beautiful chaos. It was like a mish-mash of gothic architecture, 1940’s noir, automatons, and a bit of a lovecraftian feel to polish it all off. Lower Proszawa is a place you can’t picture the sun shining or any life outside of its reality. I listened to the audiobook while reading along because the names and places were entirely impossible to pronounce; the names and places making me think it was inspired by the German language. Men and woman are referred to has “Frau”, “Herr”, and “Fräulein”. While listening a lot of the accents also sounded French. Yet there was nothing that implied that these places even existed in the world. Simply put, this world is entirely unique and palpable. While reading I felt completely immersed. I was THERE. Kadney truly is a gifted storyteller with a vivd imagination. 

Largo and his actress girlfriend, Remy, along with most of the population, are addicted to a drug called Morphia. When they aren’t using Morphia, they are sniffing cocaine or getting drunk, seeing morbid plays that use a type of remote control doll to enact bloody scenes of murder and death, or having sex. In the absence of war, the people of the city have given themselves entirely to pleasure. But just below the surface dark and terrible things are stirring and there’s word that the war will be coming again. The Bollocks, or police, are trying to sniff out the people in the resistance and in turn end up brutalizing and jailing innocent people. Walking down the street isn’t safe, especially from the law. On every street corner the Iron Dandies can be found. Men that have returned from the war so maimed and disfigured that they must wear iron masks to cover their faces. There’s word that people are being abducted from the streets by slavers and everyones jobs are constantly at risk of being taken over by the Mara’s, genetically enhanced creatures that some keep as pets. And to top it all off there is a plague, known as The Drops, inflicting random people and no one is sure how it is contracted. It’s a bleak world and all anyone wants is to hide from reality. 

I really loved the characters in this book. This story features a m/m relationship along with a few bi or pan (not entirely sure which) characters as well. There is also a lot of disability representation in general but two of the main characters specifically. One is blind and the other is disfigured and disabled. They were all well fleshed out and interesting and they all showed amazing character growth throughout. Some of them were utterly unrecognizable by the end of the story. I loved how most of them reacted when faced with hard decisions and the things they were willing to do to protect the ones they loved. Previously seen as frivolous and uncaring, they now showed outstanding grit and determination in the face of their adversaries. The plot was fast-paced and held my attention until the last page. Most of the places this story took us I never saw coming and it was brutal. Kadney held nothing back, there’s blood and gore and death aplenty. 

This is definitely a book that speaks more for itself than I can. It’s very hard to explain a world this detailed that is pulled from so many different things to create this one amazing place. Lower Proszawa is really a character all it’s own with it’s carnival, its slums and upper-classes and all it’s crisscrossing streets and alleys; it has it’s own personality and moods. Kadney really created something unlike anything I’ve ever read. I’m only sorry it ended like it did. As far as I know this is a standalone. It did resolve the most important plot points but there are a few burning questions that never got answered. That is really my only criticism. 

There are some triggers to be aware of: Addiction (alcohol and both real and invented drugs), PTSD (maimed & disfigured soldiers are very prominent), Homophobia, Police Brutality & abuse of power, minor animal cruelty (not that any is ok!), Violence (a lot of blood and gore), Sex (not really a trigger but there is a lot of sex or sexual behavior throughout the book), Spreading of Disease/plague, Brutal Death of a Parent (witnessed by child), Brutal Death of a close friend (witnessed by child).


book reviews

ARC Review: Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker

Adult Contemporary Romance

⭐️⭐️⭐️


ARC provided by Netgalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.

Say You Still Love Me by K.A. Tucker is a second chance romance between two people from very different worlds. In their teens, Kyle and Piper both attend summer camp as counselors and quickly fall into an intense romantic relationship. When Piper’s father finds out that his daughter is dating the child of a criminal from the wrong side of the tracks he demands that Piper end the relationship immediately. When she fails to follow his orders and finds herself getting into compromising situations that land her in a load of trouble, the summer comes to an abrupt end and Piper doesn’t hear from Kyle again. That is until he reappears thirteen years later as a security guard for the building her family owns and in which she is the VP of the company. Yet, when Piper approaches Kyle he seems to have forgotten her name… and their romance entirely. 

I really wanted to love this book. I had heard many good things about this author’s previous novel, The Simple Wild, and was expecting her most recent novel to be similarly good. And it was, but nothing more. The story alternates between the past when Kyle and Piper were teens at summer camp and current times when they are reconnecting after thirteen years. The current timeline was very dull. Chock full with the day to day luxurious life of Piper and her job as VP of a huge real estate company. At first I thought this was just a slow burn type of romance and I was totally down with that. Well, it was a slow burn all right. So slow the flame nearly snuffed itself right out. At the 40% mark of the book there was still nothing happening between Piper and Kyle. Instead we were learning about her job and family dynamics. The flashbacks were the only element carrying this story along and I found I enjoyed those chapters infinitely more even though it had turned this adult romance into more of a YA romance. The scenes between the two MC’s at camp were steamy and pretty graphic, while the adult portion was the polar opposite. Even after Piper and Kyle’s adult story finally starts moving along the steamier parts are pretty much grazed right over. This isn’t a huge deal to me but I was a bit surprised since the scenes involving them as teens were so detailed. 

There were definitely elements of this story that I liked quite a bit. Piper is snarky and smart and I really liked her character. I liked seeing how she handled being a woman in a position of power in a male dominated world. She’s down to earth without being unrealistically so and I really enjoyed that, too. I liked that Kyle was a bit different than your average teen love interest with his lip piercing, faux hawk, and tattoos. The chemistry between the two of them was palpable. I just wish there had been more of that chemistry in their adult relationship. Several times I found myself laughing out loud. The characters were definitely witty and interesting. Unfortunately, I felt like I was waiting for the entirety of the book for something to happen and when it did it kind of fell flat. I enjoyed my time with this novel but it was nothing to write home about. 

There was very little diversity, a gay couple was mentioned once or twice and the story features a disabled MC, but that’s really it. There are themes of divorce, absent parents, cheating, underage drinking, loss of virginity, and some derogatory comments towards women and the people who work for the wealthy. Nothing I would consider majorly triggering. 

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ARC Review: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

New Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQ+

5/5⭐️


ARC provided by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press. The following opinions are my own.

Summoned to a royal wedding, the first family heads to England. Alex, First Son of the United States, is dreading the idea of facing his nemesis, Prince Henry. Unsurprisingly Alex promptly begins drinking to save him the pain of such a meeting and a confrontation between the two men finds them in a shoving match in which a $75,000 dollar wedding cake is decimated, the whole thing witnessed by the guests and media. In order to save face the two families have decided that they would play off the whole interaction as a mishap between friends and several meet-ups and hang out sessions are planned in which Henry and Alex will look for all the world as if they are the greatest friends. What could go wrong?

As your mother I can appreciate that maybe this isn’t your fault, but as the president, all I want is to have the CIA fake your death and ride the dead-kid sympathy into a second term.

Ellen
Continue reading “ARC Review: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston”
book reviews

Review: Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu Illus. by Sana Takeda

Monstress by Marjorie Liu

Adult, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Steampunk, Horror

3/5⭐️


Monstress Vol. 1 introduces us to a complex world of magic, steampunk, horror, and many different races of beings. Our MC, Maiko Halfwolf, is a teenage survivor of war. The story opens with Maiko on a search for the truth about her past. In doing so, she finds herself in perilous situations while her enemies are always just one step behind. She doesn’t know who, if anyone, she can trust, not even herself.

To quote the poets…We’re fucked.

Continue reading “Review: Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu Illus. by Sana Takeda”
book reviews

A Review: The Lies We Told by Camilla Way

IMG_3356Thank you Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for an ARC of this book. The following opinions are my own.

  • My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Release Date: October 9, 2018
  • Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery

Clara has finally moved in with her dream guy; tall, handsome, charismatic Luke Lawson. Things are really coming together for her and her happiness is limitless. Until the night Luke doesn’t come home. At first, she thinks he went out with the guys and crashed at one of their places in a drunken stupor. It becomes clear quite quickly that this isn’t the case when he misses a huge job interview. When an entire day has passed Clara becomes convinced that something is very wrong. After reporting Luke missing at the police department, she starts her own investigation at home, looking through Luke’s files and computer and that’s when she finds the emails. Many, many emails from a woman who has been stalking Luke and, towards the end, threatening his life. Clara is certain that these emails are connected to his disappearance but the police department don’t seem to be making any headway. So, Clara enlists the help of Mac, the couple’s best friend, to help her uncover and investigate the things the police won’t. What they learn paints a much different picture of Luke and his past and Clara wonders if she ever really knew him at all.

Continue reading “A Review: The Lies We Told by Camilla Way”