Book Review

ARC Book Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl (Crown of Coral and Pearl #1) by Mara Rutherford

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Audience: Young adult fantasy
Length: 432 pages
Author: Mara Rutherford
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: August 27th, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

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.

Thank you to the publisher, Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press, and Netgalley for the digital ARC. All opinions are my own.

REALLY FEELIN’ THIS.

Oh wow. I am so excited I received an ARC for this because it was fantastic!

At first, I was worried. I didn’t realize this was a duology (once I checked this, it also quickly got better and made more sense). It took about 40% of the way through the book to get Nor off her home island, Varenia. I still think too much time was spent there, but it seems it was being used to really build a background for Nor and her family/lifestyle.

Once off the island and in Ilara, things start really going down. I was all for one of the princes because I imagined him as this rough bad guy who has a soft side that would slowly come out. HOT DANG, I was wrong. I kept flipping pages trying to see if we would get a redemption for him, and it still hasn’t happened. I thought I would be frustrated with this, but instead…I am here for it. Own your evil. He’s an amazing villain that I know has many more layers that I can’t wait to see in book two.

Nor’s love interest is growing on me. Since I wasn’t for him at first I had pushed him to the side for a bit until it was clear what was brewing between the two. I love the mystery and intrigue behind him as well. There’s so much to still learn. We got plenty in this book and it felt like it left just the right amount out for further solving the puzzle of the princes of Ilara.

I really loved Nor as our main character. She grew on me over the story. I liked that she had such a tight sister bond with Zadie and that that never wavered. Family continually remained important to her. Nor was sneaky, a bit impulsive, and full of love for those close to her. I am behind her as a heroine for Varenia.

I thought the pacing at times was slow, but things continually picked up. It made this hard to put down and I was always wondering what would happen next. The ending was left open, but not in a CLIFFHANGER kind of way.

Overall audience notes:

  • Young adult fantasy
  • Language: very little light language
  • Romance: a few kisses, occasionally a little passionate
  • Violence: poison, torture, blood-letting, swords, knives, near-drownings, throwing people off of cliffs, murder

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Book Review

ARC Book Review: The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

Rating: ☆☆☆ 1/2
Audience: Young adult historical fiction + fantasy
Length: 384 pages
Author: Jenn Bennett
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 3rd, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it. 

Thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for the e-ARC. All opinions are my own. Release date, page length, etc. subject to change before publication.

OVERALL ENJOYED.

I feel really conflicted about this book. It took me longer than usual to get through and I really did enjoy it, but I didn’t love how the ending went down which kinda bummed the book overall.

The world building was really cool. I love that it was set in Romania! That is unique and vastly different than a lot of YA books and thought it was great. The world building was well done and I felt like I was running all over the countryside with Theo and Huck. They really went on an adventure and that wasn’t stagnant in the slightest.

What I did realize after finishing this book was that I am not [as big of a] fan of second chance romances where they grew up together. I didn’t get all the feels for them that I was hoping. Their banter and interactions were sweet and funny so I still shipped them overall. I was happy things worked out enough in the end. They had decent chemistry but I hated the nickname Banshee (and he would not stop calling her that).

What annoyed me with the ending was the transition to caring more about her Father than Huck. I get that the premise was about family, BUT Y’ALL, we spent the entire book reconnecting with Huck and looking for her Dad (where Theo continually talked about how annoyed and upset she was with him). Then, she leaves Huck in his moment of need to find her Dad, and I don’t know. Since she talked up not liking him, I frankly didn’t care that much what happened to him. There was an interesting twist involving Theo that was creepy and accurate for a novel set around Vlad the Impaler.

I did like the dialogue and writing style. The addition of the history from the region was very interesting. Bennett must have done a lot of research to make it as accurate as possible (with creative choices for the book). I do enjoy her style and look forward to reading more books from her.

Overall audience notes:

  • Young adult historical fiction + fantasy
  • Language: some strong language
  • Romance: a few kisses
  • Violence: poison, dark magic, scythes, losing a finger

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Book Review

ARC Book Review: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

Rating: ☆☆☆
Audience: Young adult fantasy
Length: 336 pages
Author: Adrienne Young
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Expected Release Date: September 3rd, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

The new gut-wrenching epic from the New York Times bestselling author of Sky in the Deep.

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Wednesday Books (St. Martin’s Press) for the e-ARC. All opinions are my own.

IT PAINS ME THAT I DIDN’T LOVE THIS.

I found myself scanning by the end. This let me down compared to Sky in the Deep (a favorite of mine last year). I’m trying to break it down so here are some bullet points:

What I did like:

  • I liked having Halvard as the protagonist. Since he’s up and coming as the next clan leader it was a good perspective. He learned and experienced a lot to help him better serve his people. I found him fierce and easy to cheer for. I wanted things to work out for him.
  • Tova. I really enjoyed her character.
  • The strong focus on family bonds. This was a highlight in SITD too. A favorite part is the fierce loyalty they feel for one another and trying to protect what sense of peace they have.
  • Realllll obsessed with the cover.
  • It’s a really quick read! Even when I started scanning (which wasn’t until after the halfway mark) I noticed how fast I was flying through it. The chapters are short and the writing has a whimsical style to it.
  • How clean the book is. I love a book that doesn’t have excessive amounts of language or romance. This hit those marks well (regardless of what I thought overall). It’s a clear YA book.

What I didn’t like:

  • That we hardly got to see Tova. She may have been a POV, but we hardly learned anything about her until the last few pages.
  • There is no romance (which I’m only noting as an issue because other reviews highlight it, but I did not see it). I stand by that sentence. Tova & Halvard don’t even have a full conversation with each other until so deep into the book there isn’t time to form chemistry. The kiss at the end came out of nowhere for me.
  • A lot of side characters (especially on the Svell’s side) who had no history. So they were supposed to be seen as bad, but I wasn’t invested in them.
  • It was missing depth and development for the plot in general. As I mentioned above, we barely know anything about the Svell (and Tova’s clan – the Kyrr). Everyone is thrown together without much of a story.

Okay, I think I have broken it down enough. While this wasn’t quite for me, it could be for you! There was definitely some highlights, I just overall had some issues.

Overall audience notes:

  • Young adult fantasy
  • Language: none
  • Romance: a kiss
  • Violence: a lot, clans warring, arrows, knives, swords, axes, murder

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Book Review

ARC Book Review: The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ 
Audience: Adult fantasy romance
Length: 391 pages
Author: Amy Harmon
Publisher: 47North
Expected Release Date: August 20th, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

From ​the New York Times bestselling author comes a breathtaking fantasy of a cursed kingdom, warring clans, and unexpected salvation.

Bayr of Saylok, bastard son of a powerful and jealous chieftain, is haunted by the curse once leveled by his dying mother. Bartered, abandoned, and rarely loved, she plagued the land with her words: From this day forward, there will be no daughters in Saylok.

Raised among the Keepers at Temple Hill, Bayr is gifted with inhuman strength. But he’s also blessed with an all-too-human heart that beats with one purpose: to protect Alba, the first girl child born in nearly two decades and the salvation for a country at risk.

Now the fate of Saylok lies with Alba and Bayr, whose bond grows deeper with every whisper of coming chaos. Charged with battling the enemies of their people, both within and without, Bayr is fueled further by the love of a girl who has defied the scourge of Saylok.

What Bayr and Alba don’t know is that they each threaten the king, a greedy man who built his throne on lies, murder, and betrayal. There is only one way to defend their land from the corruption that has overtaken it. By breaking the curse, they could defeat the king…but they could also destroy themselves.

I’M STILL STUNNED.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, 47North, for the e-ARC and opportunity or read The First Girl Child. All opinions are my own.

I’m sitting here trying to write this review, but I’m not even sure where to start. I absolutely love everything Amy Harmon writes. And this was no exception. TFGC was different from her usual books (generally contemporary, she does have 2 that are fantasy). It only goes to show she can write, regardless of the genre. AND I AM HERE FOR ALL OF IT.

One of the big themes I noticed was about mother’s. And all different types too. Ones who were unloved and unwanted, had their babies taken from them, ached to have a child, and more. This personally resonated with me (because I am a Mom) and struck chord after chord of the fierce love and protection mother’s have for their babes.

A lot was also focused on the true need and affect women have on the world. We are all so unique and divinely inspired and have immense amounts of talent to give to the world in various forms. It was interesting to feel what it would be like if girls did stop being born. And what an awful place that would be.

BAYR. I so deeply love this character. This book is around 400 pages and it felt long because of the intense connection that was built watching Bayr from birth to growing into a man. As he learns to speak it’s noticed that he has a stutter. The way Harmon uses his weakness as a strength was everything. There were some allegories woven in that were stunning. I cheered Bayr on in every way possible. Watching his relationship with Alba had me staring at my book contemplating what gods I was going to have to pray to for them to get a happy ending. This was a relationship built out of pure childhood love. It was so achingly sweet and precious and beautiful.

I loved so many of these side characters too. Dagmar, Ivo, Ghost, The Keepers, Dred, seriously, everyone. Dagmar was the best POV to watch Bayr grow up and his heart-shattering relationship with Ghost will bring you to your knees. It was tender and built on so many things they both needed. I loved Dred (Dagmar’s Dad, Bay’s Grandfather) because his immediate acceptance of his grandson has me feelings all the feels. I enjoyed every connection I built with these characters.

Amy Harmon is one of my favorite authors for a reason. Her ability to bring out these characters to life and create magnificent worlds filled with heartbreak and hope always leave me breathless.

Overall audience notes:

  • Adult fantasy romance
  • Language: none
  • Romance: kisses to make-outs, mentions of wanting to lie with another, some vague mentions of having done so, but not descriptive
  • Violence: knives, murder, battle
  • Trigger warnings: childbirth resulting in mother’s death, suicidal thoughts, someone with a disability being referred to as an idiot and bullied

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Book Review

ARC Book Review: Kingdom of Exiles (The Beast Charmer #1) by Maxym M. Martineau

Rating: ☆☆☆
Audience: Adult fantasy romance
Length: 448 pages
Author: Maxym M. Martineau
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Expected Release Date: June 25th, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without. 

Thank you to the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca and Netgalley for the e-ARC and opportunity to review Kingdom of Exiles. All opinions are my own.

IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME.

I dearly wanted to love this, the synopsis was interesting. I had read some good reviews, I was SET to love this…and then I didn’t. But I also didn’t hate it. So please take this review in that light.

First off, HIGH STAKES POKEMON. That is what thought popped in my head and I could not get it out. Leena (and other Charmers) charm these creatures into being their friend and staying with them. They use them for a handful of reasons and care for each other, so yes, if you are even a tiny bit of a Pokemon fan, you can’t miss the similarities. I actually really loved this. It was fun getting to see all of the creatures and I wish we could have learned more about them!

My biggest turn-off was the instant attraction. Noc is supposed to be an assassin after her, and literally after their first run in he’s forgotten that was his job. Immediately they both (dual POV) talk about how attractive, brave, etc. each other is and I didn’t have long enough to get behind their relationship so I felt like I was continually playing catch-up.

I liked the world-building. Maybe could have been more intricate though it was an enjoyable time as Leena, Noc + crew moved throughout the country to achieve plot goals. I really got a sense for the towns and the way most things worked. It’s an easy read overall and easy to keep going. I really loved the side characters that were with Noc (his other assassin friends). They were fun, had different personalities and forged great friendships with Leena.

As far as the plot goes, things were way too easy. For instance, this beast that Leena needed to catch to prove her innocence happened in a few paragraphs, and nothing even went wrong. There was so much build-up to how dangerous and deadly this could be…but it wasn’t. The same thing happened with Noc. His own personal issue was taken away from him so simply!? I actually doubted that it had happened because I thought there was no way it was that effortless.

I know it’s only book one, so I understand some things get left out for later installments. I was missing more backstory (and story in general), from everyone. Based off of how the story played out I believe this information is coming in book two. So while I was bummed, I get it. I also missed general explanations of some things that jumped out of nowhere.

Overall audience notes:

  • Adult fantasy romance
  • Language: a bit of strong language
  • Romance: kisses make-outs, and [personally the only other thing I had trouble with and skipped over] a few way too explicitly detailed love scenes
  • Violence: physical, animals, poison, magic, knives, torture

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Book Review

ARC Book Review/Blog Tour: In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton

Howdy! Today I have a special review post because I’m on the blog tour for In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton.

I really enjoyed this book and it was just released. Scroll down for my review and don’t forget to add it to your TBR.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆ 
Audience: YA Historical Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Author: Susan Kaplan Carlton
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Expected Release Date: April 9th, 2019
Image & Other Reviews on: Goodreads

BOOK SUMMARY:

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

Thank you to the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers for the eARC (through Netgalley) and opportunity to read In the Neighborhood of True. All opinions are my own.

FINDING YOUR VOICE.

I loved the perspective this book gave. We often see Jewish related books based around World War II. This instead, brings it past that time into an era where anti-Semitism is still heavily prevalent (especially in the South US). The historical aspects (the hate crime from this novel) really struck a chord.

This book, personally, felt like the first time we all realize that racism is truly around us and how difficult it can be to accept that some people are filled with unfounded hate.

Our main character, Ruth, had to learn a lot in this book. Initially all of our focus was on her fitting in. Wearing the perfect outfit, going to the right school, being in the best circle of friends, dating the cute boy, etc. She was vain and a bit shallow. While tedious at first, you can see how Ruth’s perspective and mindset change over the novel. She felt compelled to hide who she truly was for fear of being ostracized. It wasn’t until there was a glaringly obvious reason that Ruth decided to tell others that she was Jewish. Sometimes, it takes a big push to understand the gravity of the situation.

There was so much research for this book! Carlton seriously did an amazing job of putting me in the 1950s-60s without it being too heavy-handed. What’s funny is I would cringe at certain things characters would say/do because it’s not the way we handle things now. Which I credit as a positive. I loved feeling truly present in the story.

One of the reasons I gave four stars was that it took way too long to get back to the trial. The first chapter is set up with Ruth being a witness to something, then it skips back 6 months. I clocked it at 94% when the trial actually came back into play. I would have loved a bigger expansion on that piece and less on Ruth being in high school and running around with Davis.

The ending made me pause as the title clicked into place. Ruth had made some choices and had continually only told portions of the truth. She at last realized she was tired being in the neighborhood of true, and wanted to live and experience life without having to hide behind her own omissions.

Overall audience notes:

  • Young adult historical fiction
  • Language: very little
  • Romance: a kiss, make-outs, a glossed over love scene
  • Violence: hate-crime
  • Trigger warnings: underage drinking/smoking, description of a lynching, hate-crime, racism, anti-Semitism

SUSAN KAPLAN CARLTON currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.

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