Review: “The Winner’s Crime (Winner’s Trilogy #2)” by Marie Rutkoski


20443207Title: “The Winner’s Crime (Winner’s Trilogy #2)”

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Publication Date: March 3, 2015 (Macmillan Children’s – North America)

Genre: YA, high fantasy, AWESOME

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

☆: 5/5 stars – a more internal approach compared to book 1, but still awesome.

Review: Oh boy. Where do I start? I loved book 1, “The Winner’s Curse”, in a way that I haven’t really loved Rutkoski’s books before. It felt like she’d evolved so much in all of the areas of technical novelship/novelcraft (is that a word? it’s a word now), and with book 2, while it did have a few slow areas, it was the quiet where the loud in book 1 was. This book is a more quiet, sinister book than book one – more quiet deception, less physical action, and more internal examination. And that’s what made it great (along with how it was used with all of our players). If you were a fan of “The Winner’s Curse”, you simply must move on to “The Winner’s Crime”.

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Blog Tour Stop!: Review – “The Kiss of Deception” by Mary E Pearson


unnamedTitle: “The Kiss of Deception”

Author: Mary E Pearson

Publication Date: July 8, 2014 (Macmillan – North America)

Genre: YA, high fantasy

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a really awesome new series has just begun!

Review: Definitely different fare from Pearson, whose Jenna Fox series is the only work I’d read from her so far. I’m happy to say that “The Kiss of Deception” blows all of her previous work (that I’ve read) totally out of the water, and adds some more wonderful content to the very small YA high fantasy canon. With Lia as a wonderfully dynamic character leading the charge, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drooling over the next installment and wanting it right now. If you’re looking for some awesome new YA high fantasy with a great female MC (or even if you’re not), go ahead and give “The Kiss of Deception” a try.

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Review: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow


Sorrow's KnotTitle: Sorrow’s Knot

Author: Erin Bow

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publication Date: October 29, 2013 (Arthur A. Levine Books)

Source: ARC I received in a swap

Jacket Copy: In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled or destroyed with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders.

Otter is the daughter of Willow, a binder of great power. She’s a proud and privileged girl who takes it for granted that she will be a binder some day herself. But when Willow’s power begins to turn inward and tear her apart, Otter finds herself trapped with a responsibility she’s not ready for, and a power she no longer wants.

3/5 stars – Lyrical and uniquely woven but not always grabbing

For years, a copy of Plain Kate sat patiently on the shelf in my high school library and yet I never checked it out. The rave reviews were nearly everywhere in the blogosphere, but it took me until my last year and a half of high school to utilize our library. When I walked by it, I either said “I’ll do it later” or found too many other books I wanted to read more. I still want to read it, but my experience with Sorrow’s Knot makes me a little more hesitant. Though it’s beautifully written and very unlike other YA fantasy novels, the way the prose has to carry most of the story’s burden makes me worry Bow simply might not be a writer for me.

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Review: “Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)” by Sarah J. Maas


Crown of MidnightTitle: “Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)”

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: High Fantasy, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal, AWESOME

Publication Date: August 27, 2013 (Bloomsbury – North America)

Source: NetGalley review copy

Synopsis: An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.

But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king’s contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king’s bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she’s given a task that could jeopardize everything she’s come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon — forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

☆: 5/5 stars – MY FEELS. THEY HURT.

Review:  After finishing this book, it feels like my heart went five rounds and lost, hard, face down on the floor. After “Throne of Glass”, it feels like Maas has made a huge leap from the writing in all technical aspects, which was originally setting us up in her world with her characters in book one, to making them feel so very, very real and full and there in book two. Definitely in my top ten for 2013 so far, “Crown of Midnight” is everything I could have possibly wanted in a sequel for “Throne of Glass” and more.

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson


11431896Title: The Bitter Kingdom

Author: Rae Carson

Genre: YA, High Fantasy

Publication Date: August 27, 2013 (Greenwillow)

Source: eARC for review from the publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis: The epic and deeply satisfying conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

3/5 stars – Often fun but racist/colonialist just as often

Most of my friends love this series, but I seem to be a black sheep when it comes to Carson’s fantasy trilogy. Sure, it’s fun, but there’s been something crucial missing from each installment that kept me from feeling anything more than mild appreation of it. I came in hoping . The Bitter Kingdom is a strong finale, but it’s also pretty racist in how it represents Elisa and the Inviernos.

If anything has changed since The Girl of Fire and Thorns, it’s Elisa. Her character arc from then to now is beautiful in how she’s grown more confident, settled into her role as a ruler, and learned to do what has to be done for the good of the people. She demonstrates her ability to be cutthroat when she has to multiple times throughout this novel and she never gives up. Carson’s story is by and large well-paced. Some of the journeys drag on too long and other parts move too quickly to fully allow readers to feel what just happened, but rarely did it feel as long as the 448 pages the novel actually is.

The parallels between Elisa’s world and ours are well-written and horrifying in equal measure. Elisa’s society and people are clearly European; when they arrived, they forced the Inviernos from their native lands in order to settle there themselves and the courts seem to bear a lot of European influence as well. Much of the vocabulary has a Spanish flavor, especially our antagonists’ names; “inviernos” is how one says “winters” in Spanish and this is why I have never been able to take our antagonists seriously.

With their long, formal names and how Elisa’s people kicked them out of their homelands to a place inhospitable to them and bereft of their cultural heritage, Inviernos are clearly the Native Americans here. They’ve got a very good reason to be bitter at Elisa’s people and have taken their anger to the point of war, though they’re clearly the antagonists (that’s a whole other stew to consider post-review). It reminds me of the conflicts between Native Americans and Americans in the Great Plains during the 1860s and 1870s, though Americans were the aggressors there.

These parallels is where my claim the book is racist comes from: the colonialist overtones these parallels provide. Elisa is at one point positioned as the Inviernos’ champion because she is supposed to be one of them. Just to repeat it a little more simply, our colonialist-European-parallel heroine is positioned as the God-chosen hero of a people with clear parallels to Native Americans.

Really? REALLY? Suppose she is one of them. She is so far removed from that ancestor that it’s practically a nonissue now, as is the fact she isn’t white due to the parallels between her racial-ethnic group and Europeans in this world. Being able to use magic and having a Godstone in her belly does not make her an Invierno nor their God-chosen hero. It makes her a member of the racial-ethnic group that forced their off their land and made to live in a place that is slowly killing and/or weakening them. Considering she wasn’t born with the stone or the magic, she displays no dominant traits of her long-ago ancestor.

A question comes up later as to whether or not God intended Elisa to do as much as she has or if it’s something she chose to do herself. This is a rather important question in this context because if God  intended her to be the Inviernos’ supposed champion, this entire world is inherently racist. If Elisa chose it, it’s just her. Either way…

Carson’s next work is the first book in a fantasy trilogy set during the Gold Rush, but considering how each book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy either failed to improve on the previous entry or barely improved on it, I’m having second thoughts. If its quality is going to be on level with this, it’s not going to do me any good to read it.

Blog Tour Stop! Review and Giveaway: Defy the Dark edited by Saundra Mitchell


Defy the Dark

Welcome to the first stop on the blog tour for the Defy the Dark anthology! See the end of the post for the other stops and a giveaway for a copy of this anthology (totally worth reading!) and more.

Title: Defy the Dark:

Author: Saundra Mitchell (editor)

Genre: Anthology, Post-Apocalyptic, Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, YA Contemporary, Time Travel, Historical, High Fantasy, LGBT, Magical Realism, Paranormal Romance, Comedy,

Publication Date: June 18, 2013

Source: ARC provided by contributor Valerie Kemp for an ARC/blog tour

Synopsis: Defy the Dark, an all-new anthology edited by Saundra Mitchell. Coming Summer 2013 from HarperTeen!

It features 16 stories by critically-acclaimed and bestselling YA authors as they explore things that can only happen in the dark. Authors include Sarah Rees Brennan, Rachel Hawkins, Carrie Ryan, Aprilynne Pike, Malinda Lo, Courtney Summers, Beth Revis, Sarah Ockler, and more.

Contemporary, genre, these stories will explore every corner of our world- and so many others. What will be the final story that defies the dark? Who will the author be?

☆: 4/5 stars – Pretty solid! If only the contest winner’s story were in here too…

Sadly, my review of this is incomplete. My ARC is missing one story: “The Sunflower Murders” by Kate Espey, the winner of the Defy the Dark Author Contest. Yet another reason to buy the finished copy because it’s sure to be awesome!

Anyway, some statistics first before I review each individual story. Number of authors whose stories I fell in love with and whose future publishing exploits I will stalk/continue to stalk: 2. Number of authors whose works I have sworn off for good: 4. You’ll pick them all out easily!

“Steepstalk” by Courtney Summers: 5/5. This story puts us in the head of a stalker. That’s about the simplest way to put it. She’s so obsessed with her object of “affection” that she she rewrites events in her favor and we never even get her name. Who has time for themselves when so deeply obsessed with someone else? Not this girl. Books where the lead characters are being stalked are my guilty pleasure, but getting put in the head of one was just as great!

“Nature” by Aprilynne Pike: 1/5. The weakest story of the anthology, not to mention the only one I gave 1/5. This story has twenty or so pages and four or five are spent dumping the history of this post-apocalyptic world on us and telling us why ladies of certain hip sizes are forced to have all the babies. It’s a poorly written story with too many glorified parallels to Mormonism, a religion I have many fundamental problems with. Creepy in all the wrong ways.

“The Dark Side of the Moon” by Dia Reeves: 3/5. This made sense solely because I’ve read this author’s Portero books, which this story is set in. It’s weirder than a gaggle of geese playing hopscotch, what with baby spider people, not-magic magic, and a kid trying to prove himself to his girlfriend’s parents. Kinda fun, but it grates on me when obviously magical things are crawling around and people say it’s not magic the way Patricia does. Points for an interracial relationship, though. He’s black, she’s white.

“Ghost Town” by Malinda Lo: 4/5. Well-written, creepy, and starring an LGBT character as Lo’s stories always too. She’s such a reliable source of diversity! She develops her female lead Ty well, gets across how hurt she is by the prank the girl she liked pulled on her, and all that tripped me up is that its parts were told in reverse chronological order. I didn’t catch that until my third reread and it made the first two quite confusing.

“Eyes in the Dark” by Rachel Hawkins: 2/5. There are a few creepy moments and good writing here and there once they drove into the forest and encountered the red-eyed creatures, but this is mostly a story that induces facepalming. The female lead cheats on her boyfriend with some eye candy, the writing is immature, and they call something skanky for laughs. It’s not that funny to me. Her writing has been getting too immature for me to deal with anyway, so off my list she goes.

“Stillwater” by Valerie Kemp: 5/5. It’s the only other five-star story in this anthology and let me tell you, it is GOOD. This creepy little Texas town has kept two branches of the same family together for years and when they go to sleep, they forget how they can escape this odd, magic-entrapped place. The authentic Southern voice, the elements of magical realism, solid writing, and how the story plays out makes me want to keep an eye on what Kemp does in the future. This is why I love anthologies: I usually find one good author to start following.

“I Gave You My Love By the Light of the Moon” by Sarah Rees Brennan: 3/5. Brennan normally writes great short stories, but this one is rather bland. Nothing more than a vampire-and-werewolf story that doesn’t use the words “vampire” or “werewolf”. It’s so unremarkable and especially disappointing because she’s shown she can do better.

“Night Swimming” by Beth Revis: 2/5. This one is a prequel to her Across the Universe series, but have fun trying to figure out who the unnamed main character is and their role in the series. I’ve actually read the first book of this series and have no idea who they are. Considering that they’re writing out vengeful plots in the end, they might be a little bit important. Being unable to fit the events and its main character into the continuity of the series took away what little I enjoyed about this odd story.

“Almost Normal” by Carrie Ryan: 3/5. There are elements of This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers in this zombies-are-invading-oh-noes story, but it doesn’t have the same magic to it. It also gives us the third nameless protagonist of the anthology!  I’m unsure if their gender was ever specified either, so my brain says they’re female and that makes their relationship with their girlfriend and LGBT relationship. My head, my rules. But they’re most likely male, sadly.

“There’s Nowhere Else” by Jon Skovron: 3/5. The idea of this teenage boy’s soul leaping into other bodies while he sleeps is fascinating, as is the eventual battle two separate forces wage for his gift. It’s rather blandly written, however, and undermines the genuinely entertaining premise.

“Naughty or Nice” by Myra McEntire: 2/5. And another one off my list! This story takes its lead characters Bex and Henry to Bavaria, where an unusual festival has them running from a monster whose sack they have to grab if they want to live. It’s an awesome idea, but the judgmental way Bex describes other girls and the haphazard way the hyponenuses (Henry and Bex each had their own love interest before getting together during the story) are gotten rid of makes this so difficult for me to enjoy.

“Shadowed” by Christine Johnson: 3/5. This is the one high-fantasy-themed story in the anthology and once again, I love the idea. A girl whose own shadow is trying to kill her? Yes! What kills it is the confusing ending, how the love interest attaches to Esme unnaturally fast, and the badly explained premise in general.

“Now Bid Time Return” by Saundra Mitchell: 4/5. The protagonist escapes to Europe for a week hoping the polar night (the sun being down all the time) will help her sleep, but she ends up finding so much more. It’s a little time-travel story that’s well-written with well-developed character and an amazing idea, but how they saw each other through time still confuses me and there’s no resolution whatsoever.

“The Moth and the Spider” by Sarah Ockler: 2/5. Aaaand another author off my list. This story of a girl trying to write her suicide note when someone calls her with the wrong number has a very literary feel to it, but it’s very odd too. We have no idea why Cali tried to kill herself and her only real quality is her desire to die until Theresa Zednick calls the number she thought was her mother’s. Not well-developed, though admittedly well-written.

“Where the Light Is” by Jackson Pearce: 3/5. Another unremarkable story. In a town of miners, the lead works in the mines in order to live up to other people’s expectations; his father was a heroic miner who saved people’s lives and died a few years before. He meets a Knocker (mountain-dwelling creature) while working in the mines one day and strikes up a friendship (later romance) with her. Decently written, nice idea, but it didn’t stick with me.

“This Was Ophelia” by Tessa Gratton: 3/5. The focus of this story is the romance between a girl named Ophelia (who cross-dresses and attends clubs as a guy named O) and a boy named Halden, who likes kissing boys and likes O but not Ophelia. These two fall in love over the course of three nights and their overdramatic affair is the focus of the story, making the story itself overdramatic. However, the prose is lovely and the Hamlet parallels are awesome.

GIVEAWAY TIME

Yep, another giveaway! This one is for a finished copy of this anthology, a gorgeous bookmark, and a glow-in-the-dark bracelet. Here’s what you’ve got to do:

  • Be 13 or older.
  • US and Canada entrants only, sadly.
  • Fill out the Rafflecopter widget to your heart’s content.
  • Don’t cheat! All your IPs are belong to me.
  • If you win (lucky duck!), you’ve got twenty-four hours to respond before I pick another winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NEXT STOPS

June 11th: Seeing Night Reviews

June 12th: Book Belles

June 13th: Reader Girls

June 14th: Soul Unsung

June 15th: Valerie Kemp (aka one of the contributors who wrote an amazeballs story and organized this whole shebang!)

Review: “The Pirate’s Wish (The Assassin’s Curse #2)” by Cassandra Rose Clarke


15714476Title: “The Pirate’s Wish (The Assassin’s Curse #2)”

Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke

Genre: YA, high fantasy,  LGBT, AWESOME

Publication Date: June 4, 2013 (Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot – North America)

Source: NetGalley Review Copy

Summary: After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.

Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – an excellent end to a great duology!

Review: Okay, not to spoil anything here (since this is clearly on the cover) but this book gets extra points for incorporating one of my ultimate favorite mythical creatures that gets almost no love at ALL from YA – the manticore. For fans of “The Assassin’s Curse”, “The Pirate’s Wish” definitely doesn’t disappoint at ALL, and if anything, builds really well on everything that was so awesomely developed in “Assassin’s Curse”. You see the characters grow, more of the  world, and ultimately, a slow-burn romance that finally comes to fruition. What’s not to love? If you’re looking for a wonderful high-fantasy YA book this year that strays from the usual high fantasy traps of alternate-world version Europe, go for “The Pirate’s Wish”.

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