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 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.

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.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Trigger Warning: Torture. There are a handful of scenes where Harry is tortured for information. While the author doesn’t go in to explicit detail, there is enough detail that could potentially bother some readers.

If you could start your life over from childhood with the knowledge you have now as an adult, would you do it? What would you change? What would you not change? Such is a question that has been asked over and over again. And such is also the basis of this week’s review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Harry August is an ourobouran – a rare and unique person who lives, dies, and is reborn to live their life again and again. He is also a mnemonic – a rarity even among ourobourans – meaning that he remembers every minute of every life.

I am quite unsure how The First Fifteen Lives… escaped my book radar. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I try to keep tab on books that I might enjoy reading. And since starting this blog I have tried even harder to keep abreast of up and coming books in genres I enjoy.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August hits almost every point. North does a great job in building a world that is both familiar and new. She peppers in real world history adding another layer of believability to the story. The twists and turns that eventually develop are designed to keep the reader’s attention and it succeeds. Her characters are imperfect, not one of them is wholly good or wholly bad. The things they do and the decisions they make, each one believes they are acting for the greater good. Even when such decisions could mean the end of the world as we know it.

One thing that might detract a few readers is that the story isn’t told in a completely linear manner. When we first meet August he is at the end of his eleventh life and we are then taken back to his first life. This jumping back and forth could be a bit disconcerting for some, especially once the plot really starts moving along.

Those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy like Doctor Who or the movie Groundhog Day should give The First Fifteen Lives… a try. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to my readers.

Provided for Review: The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

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

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

First and foremost, I would like to thank the very nice people at Netgalley for providing this book to read and review.

The Waking Forest is a beautiful book. The way Wees writes is very descriptive, evoking emotion with even the smallest turn of phrase. The characters of Rhea and her family are portrayed in a very realistic manner thanks to this. Rhea and her sisters squabble one minute then help each other out the next, something someone with siblings of their own will easily recognize.

The drawback though is that sometimes Wees’ descriptions become too much. The narrative becomes bogged down with descriptive words and phrases and the story itself slows to a crawl.

For the first half of the book, the story is told from two separate point of views – Rhea’s and the Witch’s. As each story is unique with its own set of characters, it’s easy to keep track of who goes where. It is only during the second half when the two stories are combined that things become a little more difficult to follow. Individuals who were sisters in one part now have no relation and the same but different.

Sadly, it is almost impossible to accurately describe the goings on without giving away massive spoilers, so I shall refrain from going further.

In writing The Waking Forest, Wees has created a unique story line. While there are some flaws, overall I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it to my readers.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish cover

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves.

Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

Technically, The Last Wish is not the first book in The Witcher series though it is often listed as book one. In truth it was printed after The Sword of Destiny – book three – of the series. However, as the events in The Last Wish take place before The Sword of Destiny, it is put first when listing the books of the series.

Since I have not played the Witcher games before reading the books, I did not go in with any expectations aside from the knowledge that this a fantasy series unlike many on the market today. I’m glad for this because from what I understand, there are differences between the two and I know I would be constantly comparing them.

The Last Wish was originally written in Polish and translated to English, a fact that is sometimes obvious while reading. Because while Sapkowski builds a world that is easily believable, the action and story becomes clunky and awkward at times. And as I do not read Polish, I am relying on the English translation when giving my opinion.

The characters that populate the world that Sapkowski writes of are a diverse sort. There are royalty and there are servants, there are those who are human and there are those that are not. These creatures come from a variety of tales and easily recognizable; vampires, elves, goblins, and gnomes.

What gives realism to the world created is that no one character is perfect. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys”. Every character does what they believe is the right thing; for themselves, for their loved ones, for their city or village. Even the titular character – Geralt of Rivera – does not fall in one particular category. As a Witcher, it is his job to seek out the monsters that plague the people. It is a profession he has trained for since he was a child and it is unclear whether he truly enjoys his work or not.

The Last Wish, as well as the rest of the Witcher series, isn’t your ordinary fantasy series. While it does have the creatures that are common in other books, there is also a darkness and a gritty element that may not appeal to everyone. Those who are looking for some realism in their fantasy will likely enjoy it.

Provided for Review: Redhand by Tony Leslie Duxbury

This book was kindly provided for review by the author. Thank you!

It is the new age of barbarism, hundreds of years after the collapse of civilization.

Most of the vast knowledge that mankind had accumulated has been lost. The once great cities are either piles of blasted rubble or crumbling ruins. After society imploded, humanity turned on one another. Decades of war followed. The survivors banded together in tribes and clans.

All the bullets and bombs have run out. It’s back to edged weapons and blunt instruments. Technology has taken an enormous step backwards, and so has humanity. 

He belongs to a band of wanderers, mainly peaceful people who gather and hunt. One day they suffer a raid by a group of warriors and in the aftermath, he finds himself alone. All his family and friends killed, and he left for dead. The only survivor was his little sister, which the raiders kidnapped. He vows to rescue her. After a night of mourning, he sets off to get back his sister, not yet a man and without any idea how to go about it. The shock of the raid and the grief that followed it fundamentally changed him. He surprises himself time and again as he tracks down his sister’s kidnappers and gets her back.

Redhand is a book about change. After a catastrophic event referred to only as The Collapse, society as a whole changed. War pitted man against man until the bullets ran out. And even once they were gone, man continued to rally against his proverbial brother; only this time using weapons of metal and stone.

Duxbury does not shy away from showing how brutal and cruel things have become in his novel. His action scenes are vivid and often times gruesome, the protagonist dubbed Redhand unwilling to back down from a fight. The young man isn’t the only one prone to violence though, nearly every character we meet has fought and continued to fight for their survival.

Redhand is told through a series of five short stories; each story a chapter in the young man’s life. The stories are in sequential order so the reader can watch as the protagonist changes from a wide eyed youth to a hardened traveler. The issue comes with the lack of any real character development, even with Redhand himself. Were this a full length novel, it could have allowed for stronger emotional bonds to form between reader and book characters.

The ending of the final story also felt very abrupt. Almost as if Duxbury wasn’t sure how to bring things to an end and simply stopped writing. Such a sudden ending took me by surprise as I was expecting Redhand’s travels to continue at least a little more.

Overall, Redhand is a decent take on the post apocalyptic genre. I think with a bit more work fleshing out the stories and the work of a good editor – the copy I received still had a few editor’s notes left in it – it could become something much better. Readers looking for a fast read might give this one a look.

The Perfect Assassin (The Chronicles of Ghadid #1) by K.A. Moore – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind people at Netgalley. Thank you!

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan (spirits) running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target. (via Goodreads)

Many times when an author chooses to write a novel set in a fantasy world, they take their inspiration from European style sources. Doore’s decision to use Middle Eastern style influences for her characters and setting give The Perfect Assassin a refreshing feel. The city of Ghadid is one of sand and stone, where water is oftentimes scarce. Where magic and belief play a influence on every person’s day to day life and in a unique twist, it is the men who cover their faces and not the women.

The main character, Amastan, is easy to relate to. He is a young man just starting his journey in life, and while he has spent years training to be an assassin, he still has his doubts about being able to actually do the job. For many who are just leaving school/college, this is a feeling they will likely understand all too well. Amastan can be brash at times but as the book goes on he learns to trust his instincts, even if things don’t end quite in the way he wants.

Other secondary characters are also introduced. They are Amastan’s “cousins”, individuals related to him (though distantly) who have received the same training as he has and are part of the Basbowen family. The second book focuses on one of these secondary characters, and it is my hope that future books will feature others as well.

I feel I must make mention of the homosexual romance that is a small thread in the overall tapestry of The Perfect Assassin. I know the majority of my readers will be like me and not care over the fact that Amastan falls for another man, but there are some who might take offence and so I give this tiny mention. Personally, I thought the blooming romance between Amastan and Yufit was rather sweet and well done. In my opinion, it was very cute.

My only complaint in regards to the book is how the word God is handled. Any time a character says the word, it is written as “G-d”. Now whether this is a choice of the author’s or of the publisher, I can’t say. What I can say is that I found it irritating and it immediately pulled me out of the story every time I came across it. I do not understand why some authors do this, but I believe if they wish to use this particular name they should either spell it out wholly or come up with another moniker.

In conclusion, I enjoyed reading The Perfect Assassin. There was a good deal of action without too much gratuitous violence and Doore’s fluid writing really helped to move the story along. I see there is a second book in the series coming out later this year and I am already looking forward to it.