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).


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Short Books for the Intimidated Reader

temp.PNG 2I don’t know what it is about a big fat book that grabs my attention. Maybe it’s knowing that there must be a grand story within its many, many pages, or maybe it’s just the feeling of that substantial weight in my hands. Whatever it is, I love big books (and I cannot lie!). But, for some people, an enormous tome can cause anxiety and intimidation. It can seem like a much bigger task than they had originally set out for; just looking for a fun book to read on the beach, or at a doctors office while waiting for their appointment (ugh, I HATE the doctor). So, with that sort of person in mind, and anyone else who may be interested, I’ve put together a short list of books that are 260 pages or less. I have attempted to vary the genres in the hopes of pleasing everyone, but we all know that is not always possible!


Continue reading “Short Books for the Intimidated Reader”