Provided for Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

For generations, the princes of Ilara have married the most beautiful maidens from the ocean village of Varenia. But though every girl longs to be chosen as the next princess, the cost of becoming royalty is higher than any of them could ever imagine…

Nor once dreamed of seeing the wondrous wealth and beauty of Ilara, the kingdom that’s ruled her village for as long as anyone can remember. But when a childhood accident left her with a permanent scar, it became clear that her identical twin sister, Zadie, would likely be chosen to marry the Crown Prince—while Nor remained behind, unable to ever set foot on land.

Then Zadie is gravely injured, and Nor is sent to Ilara in her place. To Nor’s dismay, her future husband, Prince Ceren, is as forbidding and cold as his home—a castle carved into a mountain and devoid of sunlight. And as she grows closer to Ceren’s brother, the charming Prince Talin, Nor uncovers startling truths about a failing royal bloodline, a murdered queen… and a plot to destroy the home she was once so eager to leave.

In order to save her people, Nor must learn to negotiate the treacherous protocols of a court where lies reign and obsession rules. But discovering her own formidable strength may be the one move that costs her everything: the crown, Varenia and Zadie.

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

Reading Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford it is hard to believe that this is her debut novel. Her talent for creating and describing a new and unique world with equally new and unique characters would make even the most seasoned author proud.

While I enjoyed the lush descriptions of the world the characters live in, it is the interaction between the characters themselves that really drew me in. The relationship of the two twins, Nor and Zadie, is especially well done. They may be identical in looks but they are two completely different people, something that Rutherford does an excellent job in pointing out without being overtly obvious. Reading the way these two sisters get along is very true to life and something any one with a sibling who is close in age can relate to.

The second half of the book – when Nor leaves for Ilara – did not quite grab me in the same way that the first half did. The settings were just as lushly described but there wasn’t the same connection felt. I did like the introduction of characters that roused both sympathy and distaste as well as the beginnings of what secrets the royal family might hold. The instant connection/love between Nor and Talin was a bit off-putting as was the love triangle that seemed to develop between Ceren, Talin, and Nor. There were also a few scenes that made me roll my eyes in their ridiculousness. I will not go in to them for fear of spoilers but I believe many readers will recognize the scenes when they come across them.

Overall, I quite liked reading Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford. Readers who enjoy fantasy and/or romance, whether YA or not, will do well to give this one a try. I personally am looking forward to the sequel – Kingdom of Sea and Stone.

Provided for Review: The Nobody People by Bob Proehl

Avi Hirsch has always known his daughter was different. But when others with incredible, otherworldly gifts reveal themselves to the world, Avi realizes that her oddness is something more—that she is something more. With this, he has a terrifying revelation: Emmeline is now entering a society where her unique abilities unfairly mark her as a potential threat. And even though he is her father, Avi cannot keep her safe forever.

Emmeline soon meets others just like her: Carrie Norris, a teenage girl who can turn invisible . . . but just wants to be seen. Fahima Deeb, a woman with an uncanny knack for machinery . . . but it’s her Muslim faith that makes the U.S. government suspicious of her.

They are the nobody people—ordinary individuals with extraordinary gifts who want one only thing: to live as equals in an America that is gripped by fear and hatred. But the government is passing discriminatory laws. Violent mobs are taking to the streets. And one of their own—an angry young man seething with self-loathing—has used his power in an act of mass violence that has put a new target on the community. The nobody people must now stand together and fight for their future, or risk falling apart.

The first book of a timely two-part series, The Nobody People is a powerful novel of love and hope in the face of bigotry that uses a world touched by the fantastic to explore our current reality. It is a story of family and community. It is a story of continuing to fight for one another, no matter the odds. It is the story of us.

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

Trigger Warnings: Animal death. Violence of varying kinds.

If you are familiar with the X-Men series – whether comic book, animated, or live action – then you already have a decent grasp of the kind of world that The Nobody People is set in. And if you saw the first X-Men movie in the late 90’s, the overall plot of the book is almost exactly like that. Right down to the Resonant/Mutant powered device that causes a great deal of the general population to change.

The Nobody People is told from a variety of viewpoints, which means there is a LOT going on throughout the book. Even then though there are times where the narrative drags and more than once I considered not finishing the book. Also, when the book ends it does so very abruptly leaving quite a few plot threads dangling. Thankfully the conclusion is set to be published soon and one can only hope that the author will bring them to a decent conclusion.

For me, The Nobody People was one of those books that while the premise was interesting, the execution was lacking. It wasn’t a great book but it wasn’t an awful one either – it was simply okay. Generally when I start a series, I see it through to the end. I don’t think I will with this one.

The Atlantis Gene (The Origin Mystery #1) by A.G. Riddle

70,000 years ago, the human race almost went extinct.
We survived, but no one knows how.
Until now.
The countdown to the next stage of human evolution is about to begin, and humanity may not survive this time.

————————————

The Immari are good at keeping secrets. For 2,000 years, they have hidden the truth about human evolution. And they’ve searched for an ancient enemy — a threat that could wipe out the human race. Now the search is over.

Off the coast of Antarctica, a research vessel has discovered a mysterious structure buried deep in an iceberg. It’s been there for thousands of years, and it isn’t man made. The Immari think they know what it is, but they aren’t taking any chances. The time has come to execute their master plan: humanity must evolve or perish. In a lab in Indonesia, a brilliant geneticist may have just discovered the key to their plan.

Four years ago, Dr. Kate Warner left California for Jakarta, Indonesia to escape her past. She hasn’t recovered from what happened to her, but she has made an incredible discovery: a cure for autism. Or so she thinks. What she’s found is actually far more dangerous. Her research could rewrite human history and unleash the next stage of human evolution. In the hands of the Immari, it would mean the end of humanity as we know it.

One man has seen pieces of the Immari conspiracy: Agent David Vale. But he’s out of time to stop it. His informant is dead. His organization has been infiltrated. His enemy is hunting him. But when he receives a cryptic code from an anonymous source, he risks everything to save the only person that can solve it: Dr. Kate Warner.

Now Kate and David must race to unravel a global conspiracy and learn the truth about the Atlantis Gene… and human origins. Their journey takes them to the far corners of the globe and into the secrets of their pasts. The Immari are close on their heels and will stop at nothing to find the Atlantis Gene and force the next stage of human evolution — even if it means killing 99.9% of the world’s population. David and Kate can stop them… if they can trust each other. And stay alive.

I admit I was a little hesitant when I originally added this book to my TBR list before downloading it from Amazon. Autism is a touchy subject and talk of trying to find some sort of “cure” even more so. It is a topic I try to steer clear of simply because I do not want to cause strife to my readers.

Thankfully, the autism angle is only one small plot point among dozens that make up The Atlantis Gene. From aliens to Nazis, from time travel to 9/11 conspiracy theories – I’m fairly sure this book has them all.

For the first part of the book, Riddle has a pretty good story. The pacing is decent and the action scenes are plenty. The characters are interesting enough and while the incredibly short and copious chapters can be irritating, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered such writing and can be easily forgiven.

It is only with the last quarter of the book does the story go completely off the rails. I will freely admit that one of the only reasons I finished this book was to see what kind of a train wreck would result. And dear reader, I was not disappointed. By the end, the story line goes sideways so quickly it’s a wonder I don’t have whiplash.

I’m not going to say that The Atlantis Gene is a bad book. Based on entertainment value alone I found it enjoyable. However, readers going in expecting something serious should take care. Though the book bills itself as an action thriller, it is more along the lines of a B-movie or perhaps something SyFy might come out with.

There are two more books in the series and I will likely add them to my TBR list. If nothing else, it will be entertaining.

Provided for Review: The Pursuits of Lord Kit Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

A Gentleman of Means

One of the most eligible bachelors in London, Lord Christopher “Kit” Cavanaugh has discovered his true path and it doesn’t include the expected society marriage. Kit is all business and has chosen the bustling port of Bristol to launch his passion—Cavanaugh Yachts.

A Woman of Character

Miss Sylvia Buckleberry’s passion is her school for impoverished children. When a new business venture forces the school out of its building, she must act quickly. But confronting Kit Cavanaugh is a daunting task made even more difficult by their first and only previous meeting, when, believing she’d never see him again, she’d treated him dismissively. Still, Sylvia is determined to be persuasive.

An Unstoppable Duo

But it quickly becomes clear there are others who want the school—and Cavanaugh Yachts—closed. Working side by side, Kit and Sylvia fight to secure her school and to expose the blackguard trying to sabotage his business. Yet an even more dastardly villain lurks, one who threatens the future both discover they now hold dear.

Trigger warnings: Kidnapping, mentions of stalking, some violence

I do not often read nor review romance novels mainly because, at least for me, they tend to blur together after a while. There are only so many ways for characters to meet and interact and fall in love and the romance genre has been around for a very long time.

Now this is only my personal opinion because when the chance to read Stephanie Laurens’ newest romance came up on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance. Of the romance authors I have read, she is one I consistently come back to. Her characters are engaging and somehow she brings a breath of fresh air to a sometimes stale genre.

Like with most of Ms. Laurens’ series novels, we are first introduced to Lord Christopher ‘Kit’ Cavanaugh and Miss Sylvia Buckleberry (love that name!) in the first novel – The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh. It is something I have come to associate with her books as it gives the reader a sneak peek of who she will be writing about next. This holds true with this book as well because at the end we were introduced to Lady Eustacia Cavanaugh, sister to Randolph and Christopher and subject of the third novel of the series.

As with many of her other historical romance novels, Ms. Laurens has a way of staying somewhat true to the time period while bending the rules a bit. She doesn’t break the rules of propriety outright but she does give them a hearty bend at times. I personally find it adds to the enjoyment of the story though I know there are more rigid historical purists out there who would disagree.

The only part of the novel that I didn’t like and thought felt forced was Sylvia’s kidnapping and Kit’s subsequent rescue. Before this, she had mentioned the feeling of being watched only in passing and then suddenly a person with a beef against her father (who again was mentioned only briefly) shows up. I will not go too much further in to what happens next only to say that the whole sequence of events felt completely out of place in regards to the novel. It felt more like something out of a bad B-movie.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Pursuits of Lord Kit Cavanaugh. The overall story flowed quite well despite a few minor bumps. While it isn’t necessary to read the first book in the series, readers might want to just to get a better feel for the family dynamic that is common to Ms. Laurens’ books and to receive a proper introduction to the characters. This author has long been a personal favorite and I will continue to look forward to her new writings.

The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.

But outside forces are pressing in. Richard Strickland, the obsessed soldier who tracked the asset through the Amazon, wants nothing more than to dissect it before the Russians get a chance to steal it. Elisa has no choice but to risk everything to save her beloved. With the help of Zelda and Giles, Elisa hatches a plan to break out the creature. But Strickland is on to them. And the Russians are, indeed, coming

Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia, Violence

Also please note, I have NOT seen the movie.

The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a strange book albeit with a well known premise. American government hears rumors of a strange creature in some far off land and sends someone off to capture it. The creature is brought back alive where it is poked and prodded by government scientists. Through a series of events the creature escapes and is often times killed by the time the credits roll.

The majority of this happens in del Toro’s book, but instead of making the creature some kind of monster and making us sympathize with the scientists and soldiers, he flips the script so to speak. Richard Strickland, the soldier who brought back the creature from the Amazon, is a hateful man. It is incredibly likely he has PTSD because as the story progresses he descends further and further in to a delusional madness.

Instead, we sympathize with the creature. Taken from his home and placed in a sterile tank. Kept prisoner and subjected to torture in the name of science. The only kindness he receives is from one of the overnight janitors, Eliza, who eventually risks everything for him.

The first hundred or so pages of The Shape of Water is a bit difficult to get through. The writing is dry and bland and the story doesn’t move very much. It is only once Eliza and the creature meet does the story start to pick up pace. A pace that gains speed culminating in the climax of the last twenty pages of the book.

I am curious more than ever to see the movie now having read the book so I can compare and contrast the two.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, I recommend reading the book. If nothing else, it will give more insight in to the characters and more background on them than can be given in a 2 hour movie.

Rising Tide (Sirens #1) by T.L. Zalecki

Forget whatever you think you know. History has been rewritten.

In a future world where rising ocean levels swallow coastal cities and people scramble for resources on an overpopulated earth, the survival of the human race depends on biogenetic research to develop aquatic capabilities. The year is 2098, and it has never been more dangerous for the elusive Sirens to be discovered.

Until now, the Sirens have remained eclipsed from the eyes of the human world, inhabiting an obscure, undiscovered island in the Indian Ocean. In a burgeoning discontent among the restless youth, the Sirens, led by a headstrong Mello Seaford, decide to test the waters of open society by striking a deal with the U.S. megacorporation, DiviniGen Inc. And they risk everything to do it.

Has Mello led his people astray, jeopardizing their cherished island by guiding them into the hands of human greed? Will the risk prove worth it, or will the Sirens be forced to face the darkness of eternal isolation?

One person may hold the key to success. From across the ocean, budding scientist Lorelei Phoenix embarks on a dangerous journey into a hidden world, one in which she finds herself connected by more than just the ancestry of her people. Is she alone capable of bridging a centuries long gap between species?

When two worlds collide, the rising tide of love and acceptance will lift all boats… or sink a ship of titanic proportion. 

Trigger Warning: Scenes of violence and mentions of torture.

Rising Tide is a book with a very interesting premise. In a future that feels a little too real, mankind has caused destruction on a pandemic scale. Polar ice has melted, seas have risen, and the human race is somehow surviving. The megacorporation DiviniGen Inc. provides everything now, from food to clothing to drugs, and no one questions just how some of those items have come to be.

Dearest reader, in the course of reading a book have you ever felt the urge to reach through the pages and slap a character upside the head?

That feeling is something I experienced several times while reading T.L. Zalecki’s first book Rising Tide. On more than one occasion I had to suppress the urge to throw the book across the room because of something one of the main characters did, or rather did NOT do.

Every character in the book is motive driven; most times this is a good thing as a person generally needs a reason to drive their actions. It is when the motives become selfish that issues arise. And this occurs for almost every character. They throw caution to the wind and damn the circumstances.

Also, going from the blurb one would think that the Sirens are the main characters of the story. This is sadly not true, they are secondary characters at best. The only main character that happens to be a Siren is Mello, the rest of his kind are mostly mentioned in flashbacks. The real main characters are the humans like Lorelei.

It is difficult to write a review for a book when you were expecting one thing and were given another but I have tried. The idea behind Rising Tide is a good one and I think if the characters were more likable then I would be able to give it a more favorable review. As it is, I cannot and I advise my readers to skip this one.

Provided for Review: Shadows (Sapphire Smyth and The Shadow Five #1) by R.J. Furness

This book was provided for review by the author and The Write Reads. Thank you!

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared?

Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding.

There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination.
Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t…

Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people?

Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Trigger Warning: Violence. The main characters parents die in a mysterious way. Also, the main character is beaten up.

Even though I am an avid and voracious reader, there are times when I do not feel like diving in to a large book. For me, that is where short stories and novellas come in. They allow me to enjoy a story in a short amount of time.

Such as it is with Shadows, the first book in the Sapphire Smyth and The Shadow Five series. Written with the half hour/hour TV series in mind, in comes in at 104 pages. Even a very slow reader can easily tackle it in an afternoon.

This first book is very much like the first few episodes of a new TV series. In it we are introduced to the main characters, given a little bit of drama and questions, and are left wondering what will happen next. All key components of any good series that hopes to draw viewers in.

As far as the characters themselves, it’s still too early to tell who is a “good” guy and who is a “bad” guy. Even with the main character Sapphire, it’s too early to know if one wants to root for her or not. She does seem to be an interesting character though, as does her good friend Ben. It’s obvious he knows more than he’s telling but whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be seen.

For an introduction to a new series Shadows shows a lot of promise. I enjoyed it and encourage my readers to seek it out.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Trigger Warning: Violence. Of many kinds. This is a zombie novel so it should go without saying. Some of the violence is directed towards children.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a great and unique take on your typical zombie story. The zombies – or hungries as they’re referred to in the book – are not the main character. They do make a few appearances in the book but most of the time they are referred to by the human characters. Something else that makes this story unique is the origin of the zombie virus.

Also on the unique front is how the book doesn’t focus solely on the zombies, but instead focuses on the human characters and how they interact. The world has changed drastically and not every one is taking to it well.

For me, I believe what truly makes The Girl With All the Gifts an enjoyable read is the mysteries behind the scenes. Melanie is such a lovable individual and she has so much love to give if she could only find someone to accept it. But for whatever reason, no one will get close to her. She doesn’t understand but she is determined to find out.

I really enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts. At times it can be heartbreaking and at other times it can be breathtaking. There is some gore but I still recommend it to my readers.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide.

Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you could have sworn that it actually happened? That you lived a whole other life? And now that you’ve woken up, you come to the realization that this is your real life and that other life was only a fantasy?

What if you’re told that the life you dreamt of was a result of FMS – False Memory Syndrome? That despite how real it felt that it was all just an illusion? How would that make you feel? How do you think that would make any one feel?

Continuing in the thread of ‘What if…?’, what if you were told there was a special chair. A chair that allows you to revisit past events? And in revisiting the past, the potential to change the future? Would you sit in the chair? What would you change?

All of these questions – and many more – are posed in Blake Crouch’s most recent book Recursion.

In it, neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for a way to preserve memories. To allow important moments to be recorded so that they might be experienced again. To save what little is left of her own mother’s mind before Alzheimer’s claims her completely. And while Helena succeeds in being able to record memories, it is when they are played back that trouble starts. Trouble that could potentially change the world as we know it.

I will be blunt dear reader, Recursion is not an easy read. At times it is science heavy and at other times it is emotion heavy. It is however a very good book and one that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.

The Testament of Loki (Loki #2) by Joanne M. Harris

Ragnarok was the End of Worlds.

Asgard fell, centuries ago, and the old gods have been defeated. Some are dead, while others have been consigned to eternal torment in the netherworld – among them, the legendary trickster, Loki. A god who betrayed every side and still lost everything, who has lain forgotten as time passed and the world of humans moved on to new beliefs, new idol and new deities . . .

But now mankind dreams of the Norse Gods once again, the river Dream is but a stone’s throw from their dark prison, and Loki is the first to escape into a new reality.

The first, but not the only one to. Other, darker, things have escaped with him, who seek to destroy everything that he covets. If he is to reclaim what has been lost, Loki will need allies, a plan, and plenty of tricks . . .

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self harm and references to eating disorders. In one particular scene the main character cuts herself and threatens suicide.

First of all dear readers, for those who do not already know – the Loki in this book (as well as in book 1 The Gospel of Loki) is NOT Marvel’s version. This Loki is the OG Loki, the original version from Norse mythology. He is not Thor’s brother and he is not Odin’s son. He is Chaos incarnate.

And just like he did in the first book, Loki is once again doing what he does best – getting in to mischief. He does find himself on unfamiliar ground though as he finds himself in the modern day. Things like cell phones and pizza both confuse and delight him.

Harris has once again shown her love of the characters because she imbues them with life like few others can. They all have their flaws, especially Loki (though he considers himself practically perfect).

What I really enjoyed about The Testament of Loki was the growth that both Loki and Jumps go through. Jumps comes to accept who she is and what she can and cannot change about herself. To see her blossom from a shy reserved individual to a brave one was lovely. The same can be said for Loki; over the course of the book he learns not to be so self-centered and to actually care for someone other than himself.

My only complaint is how short the book itself is. I would have loved to have seen more of Loki learning about the modern world. As it is, he was only given a very brief time to experience all it’s wonders.

I am told that the end of this book leads in to one of Harris’ older series – Runemarks and Runelight. I have already added them to my list and will be reading them sometime in the future.

Fans of Joanne Harris should of course seek this book out. Same for those who are familiar with the Norse pantheon and the original Loki. For everyone else, go read The Gospel of Loki and then come back to this one.