Book Review: A Jewel Bright Sea, by Claire O’Dell

 

a jewel bright sea
Image belongs to Kensington Books/Rebel Base Books.

Title:   A Jewel Bright Sea
Author:   Claire O’Dell
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:   4.0 out of 5

Anna Zhdanov is the daughter of a scholar. She’s also a bond servant. So when someone steals a jewel from the Emperor, her master tasks her with recovering it—and earning her freedom. But the wilds of Eddalyon are an island paradise, filled with enemies, pirates, and magic.

Soon Anna’s status as indolent noblewoman is called into question, and she finds herself held captive by the notorious pirate caption Andreas Koszenmarc, who’s also searching for the missing jewel. With the Emperor’s guard and another brigand at their heels, Anna must decide if she can trust Andreas—before both of them lose the jewel and their promised rewards.

I enjoyed A Jewel Bright Sea. Pirates and magic? I am definitely there for that. There was so much going on behind the scenes in this novel, and that sense of a bigger picture gave a lot of depth to the story. The reader just knew that there was an explanation for everything—even if they couldn’t figure out what that was just yet. Anna has lived a tough life, and she trusts no one, so deciding whether to trust Andreas is a big deal for her. I loved the worldbuilding here as well, as that made the story truly shine.

Claire O’Dell is an award-winning author. A Jewel Bright Sea is her newest novel, the first in the Mage and Empire series.

(Galley courtesy of Kensington Books/Rebel Base Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: Spin, by Colleen Nelson

spin

Title:  Spin
Author:   Colleen Nelson
Genre:    YA
Rating:    4 out of 5

Dizzy Doucette lives with her brother and dad above their vintage record store. She’s learning how to spin records, and realizes she has talent. But the one thing that haunts her every day is thoughts of her mega-famous singer mother who abandoned them when she was a baby. And no one knows her mother’s identity, as keeping that secret has always been a part of Dizzy’s life.

Struggling to deal with thoughts of her mother, Dizzy incorporates some of her music into one of her own pieces, and the next thing she knows, it’s everywhere and her secret is out. Dizzy never expected people to react to the news of who her mom is like this. She just wanted her mom to acknowledge her.

I know nothing about DJing and spinning records, so this was a completely new world for me. Spin was a quick read, and, surprisingly for a YA, this isn’t a romance-influenced story (except a bit for Dizzy’s brother). The story is about Dizzy and her struggles to accept her mom and her actions as Dizzy reaches for her future and her identity.

Colleen Nelson is a writer, a runner, a mother, a librarian, and a teacher. Spin is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Dundurn via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika and Maritza Moulite

dear Haiti
Image belongs to Inkyard Press/Harlequin TEEN.

Title:  Dear Haiti, Love Alaine
Author:   Maika and Maritza Moulite
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old Alaine Beauparlant knows exactly what she wants to do with her life:  follow in her famous mother’s journalist footsteps. She loves her dad—who’s been there for her through everything since her parents’ divorce—but journalism has her heart. And clearly her mother’s, since she never has time for Alaine.

Then her mother loses it on TV, and in the aftermath, Alaine has “the incident.” She knows she crossed the line, but she’s just grateful she gets to finish the year doing an “immersion project” in Haiti, working for her aunt and getting to spend some time with her mom. Learning about her heritage is great—until she discovers the family curse and realizes her family will never truly heal unless all the secrets are brought to light.

I have approximately zero in common with Alaine on the surface—my parents are still married, there’s no family curse I’m aware of, and I’m unlikely to let my temper make a public spectacle—but I did relate to her so much. She has these huge dreams and the drive to realize them, but she must deal with her issues and embrace who she is before she can reach for her dreams. She’s a vibrant, sympathetic character, and I loved learning about the culture and history of Haiti along with her.

Maika and Maritza Moulite are the daughters of Haitian immigrants. One has an MBA, the other a master’s in journalism. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is their new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin TEEN/Inkyard Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in August (2019)

I read 24 books in August, bringing my total for the year to 143.

A handful of those were great reads, but three of the truly excellent reads included a book about three older women who changed their lives and found their dreams, a fantasy that started off with a girl who had never set foot on land, and a girl who has never really thought about her ethnicity and is forced to not just confront it but decide how it will shape her life.

women in sunlight

Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes (she also wrote Under the Tuscan Sun) is about three older, single American women who become friends and defy expectations to move to Italy. While there, they truly embrace themselves and who they are as they create their best lives yet.

crown of coral and pearl

Crown of Coral and Pearl, by Mara Rutherford. Nor and her twin sister are the most beautiful girls in Varenia, so they know one of them will be chosen to marry the prince of Ilara. Nor longs to see the mainland, but when her sister is chosen, she knows that will never happen. Until her sister is injured and she’s chosen to replace her—finding Ilara a land of treachery, murder, and darkness.

color me in

Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz. Nevaeh has never really thought about her ethnicity, but when her Jewish father and her black mother separate, she and her mother go to live with her family in Harlem. One of Nevaeh’s cousins is angry because Nevaeh can pass as white and is oblivious to struggles of those around her in Harlem. Then Nevaeh’s dad decides she needs to embrace her Jewish roots, leaving Nevaeh struggling between two identities.

Also worth mentioning:

beekeeper

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri.

never have i ever

Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson.

enchanted ever after

Enchanted Ever After, by Shanna Swendson.

What I Read in August (2019)

Books Read in August: 24

Books Read for the Year: 144/175

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Women in Sunlight, by Frances Mayes (cultural). This is an incredible read about three women and Italy!

The Bronte Plot, by Katherine Reay (TBR). I really do love this author’s work. I felt like the beginning of this was a little rushed, but the rest of the book was very enjoyable. And I got some books to add to my TBR list!

Manfast, by Natasha Scripture (nonfiction). Eh. Can you really call it a man fast if you hook up with random guys and think nonstop about relationships, meeting someone, and dating?

The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights, by James Knowles (classic). I skimmed this more than anything. I’d never heard the part where King Arthur becomes Roman Emperor.

The Best Yes, by Lisa TerKerst (spiritual). This was a book full of food for thought. What if saying “No” is the Best Answer for you?

For Review:

house of salt and sorrow

House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A Craig. I loved the culture the best in this tale of a family who have lost a mother and four daughters when one daughter decides to find out if the deaths were accidents—or something more is at work.

blow a love story

Blow:  A Love Story, by Tracy Ewens. Millie is a romance author struggling to write a “serious” book. Drake thinks he’s recovered from his near-death six years before. Both of them have issues they need to work out. I intend to read the other books in this series ASAP.

The Last Hope_Cover

The Last Hope, by Krista Ritchie. I hadn’t read the first book in this duology, so it took me a bit to figure out what was going on, but this was a fascinating world.

the silence between us

The Silence Between Us, by Alison Gervais. Loved this story of Maya, a deaf girl who now has to go to a hearing school, and her struggle to accomplish her goals while getting people around her to accept who she is and who she wants to be.

state of lies

State of Lies, by Siri Mitchell. After a physicist’s husband dies in a car crash, she’s just struggling to learn how to live again. When she receives a message from behind the grave, she starts questioning everything. This was highly readable.

color me in

Color Me In, by Natasha Diaz. Nevaeh is 16, biracial, and reeling from her parents’ separation and moving in with her mother’s family, where she doesn’t fit in. For a girl who’s never questioned her identity, now she is faced with the reality of prejudice and must decide whether to blend in—or make her voice heard. This is an incredible read, and I loved Nevaeh from the first page.

beekeeper

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri. The story of two Syrian refugees seeking asylum in England. Told in three different timelines, which was initially a bit confusing, but this is such an emotional, moving story. Such a good read!

crown of coral and pearl

Crown of Coral and Pearl, by Mara Rutherford. Fantastic read! I loved all of this.

isaiah's daughter

Isaiah’s Daughter, by Mesu Andrews. I’m a huge fan of this author, and this biblical fiction did not disappoint!

the red death

The Red Death, by Birgitte Märgen. This was merely okay for me. I love dystopian and medical thrillers, but the characters and their implausible actions, along with too many “convenient” resolutions just didn’t quite work for me.

dear Haiti

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika and Maritza Moulite (review forthcoming). This was an interesting read. Alaine was sometimes whiny and sulky—an annoying teenager—but she grew so much in this novel. I loved the look at Haitian culture, too.

a jewel bright sea

A Jewel Bright Sea, by Claire O’Dell (review forthcoming). I really enjoyed this tale! I’ve never read anything by this author, but the worldbuilding was fantastic, and I loved the characters. Also, pirates!

spin

Spin, by Colleen Nelson (review forthcoming). I learned a lot about DJing in this book, but the solid family core is the real focus here. A quick, entertaining read with some deep issues.

rebel girls

Rebel Girls, by Elizabeth Keenan (review forthcoming). It’s weird reading a book set when I was in high school. Except…I went to a small country school, and this is set in a Catholic school. But still, same issues. I enjoyed this read!

Just Because

Enchanted Ever After, by Shanna Swendson. Because I love the Enchanted, Inc. series and I was so happy to see another book! I stopped reading everything else to binge on this one!

never have i ever

Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson. I actually thought this came out at the end of August—not the end of July—so when I realized it was already out, I binge-read it. It’s a big change from Jackson’s usual Southern fiction (which I adore), but this was absolutely un-put-down-able!

Flirting with Forty, by Jane Porter. I’ve read this a handful of times—and I still love it!

Sent Rising, by Erin Lorence. This was supposed to be for review, but…there were some issues with the writing that bothered me enough I decided not to review. I enjoyed the book. Just some technical issues.

Of Blood and Bone, by Nora Roberts. Looking forward to the third one!

 

Sundays are for Writing #35

It was a good writing week!

Despite a lot going on at work—by which I mean lots of things changing/in the works/maybe a new job position I’m excited about—I wrote four book reviews, and got in three solid days of fiction-writing.

Six pages of fiction isn’t horrible for the week, and I’m planning to increase it, as I’m still toying with the idea of doing NaNo this November.

Book Review The Red Death, by Birgitte Märgen

the red death
Image belongs to the author.

Title:   The Red Death
Author:   Birgitte Märgen
Genre:   Medical Thriller
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

It started with one death. Not much in the scheme of things. Not in New York City.

But one death leads to two, and what looks like unrelated deaths are linked by horrifying similarities:  signs of the plague. The plague.

Maggie De Luca, an epidemiologist, is called in to investigate—and soon realizes she’s in over her head. Microbiologist Michael Harbinger sees the protentional for a global pandemic but thinks he can make a vaccine—except the plant they need to make it only grows in a remote area of the Amazon, surrounded by hostile tribes. As the death toll rises, Maggie and Michael will need all the help they can get if they’re to stop this deadly virus from decimating the population.

In my mind, Stephen King’s The Stand, with its sprawling cast and its terrifying superflu, will always be the epitome of plague/dystopian novels—King is one of the masters, with the ability to terrify with even a single image (a red balloon, a sewer opening). The Red Death is not on that level. But its simple plausibility is horrifying.

I did have some issues with the characters, though. Maggie De Luca is an epidemiologist with the CDC—investigating a suspected case of the plague—and she wanders into a place she feels certain holds clues without even wearing a pair of gloves, much less a hazmat suit? Not believable to me. Which made it hard for me to suspend my belief for the rest of the story—with all the instances of how things “just worked out” without the characters really doing anything. Like the bit in the Amazon. Sure, sometimes things do just work out—but every time? That’s the issue I had with this novel:  the plague causing a pandemic was plausible, but the characters and their actions just weren’t, causing a real disconnect for me.

The paragraphs of exposition that opened every chapter—in an “As you know, Bob” format—gave me a chunk of explanation that should have been worked into the story, instead of making me feel like I was attending a lecture.

(Galley courtesy of author in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Isaiah’s Daughter, by Mesu Andrews

isaiah's daughter
Image belongs to WaterBrook.

Title:   Isaiah’s Daughter
Author:   Mesu Andrews
Genre:   Biblical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

After she loses her family to war, Ishma—desolation—is a child grieving and frightened when she is taken in by the prophet Isaiah and his wife. She grows up in their home but fear still lurks when she sets eyes on a soldier. Since Isaiah is out of favor with the king, he has been tasked with teaching the young noblemen, and Ishma is introduced to young Prince Hezekiah when he is traumatized from his brother’s ritual sacrifice.

Ishma and Hezi are close friends as they grow up, but his father’s evil reign separates them for years, despite their love for each other. Until Isaiah adopts Ishma and gives her a new name, Zibah, delight of the Lord, which also makes her one of the nobility—and eligible to marry the prince. But Zibah must overcome her fears and learn to trust in the Lord if she is ever to end up where she truly wishes to be.

I’ve only read two of Mesu Andrews’ books—so far—but I love how she brings stories from the Bible to vibrant, breathing life! As Ishma grows from a frightened, traumatized child to a loving and faithful adult, the reader is drawn along on her journey—and learns truth along with her. I cannot recommend Mesu Andrews and her novels enough!

Mesu Andrews has been writing since her chronic illness over 20 years ago. Isaiah’s Daughter is the first in the Prophets and Kings series.

(Galley courtesy of WaterBrook via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Crown of Coral and Pearl, by Mara Rutherford

crown of coral and pearl
Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title:  Crown of Coral and Pearl
Author:   Mara Rutherford
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   5 out of 5

Their entire lives, Nor and her twin sister Zadie knew one of them would be chosen to wed the Crown Prince of Ilara, who ruled Varenia, where their people lived. When Nor was scarred years ago, she knew that honor would fall to Zadie, but Nor still dreams of seeing a city, a castle, and everything that happens on land.

Then Zadie is injured, and Nor is chosen to replace her. Now she’ll live her dreams of seeing far places. But Ilara isn’t the place she imagined. Instead, it’s cold and dark and locked in the heart of a mountain. And the Crown Prince is cruel and dangerous—and intent on destroying the Varenian way of life for his own ends.

Nor must learn to navigate the intrigues at court if she is to save her people and unravel the mysteries of Ilara—a murdered queen, a failing royal bloodline—and the prince’s half-brother, Talin, is the only one she can trust.

Crown of Coral and Pearl was entrancing from the very first page. I cannot imagine never setting foot on land, but the culture of Varenia is so vividly drawn that I felt comfortable there. Nor and Zadie’s love for each other, despite their mother’s hatefulness, is so loving and uplifting, and I rooted for everything to work out for them. Ilara is completely different, yet just as vividly realized, and, while I had no desire to visit there, the setting was just as much a part of the story as the characters. An excellent read!

Mara Rutherford is a journalist turned author. Crown of Coral and Pearl is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)