Book Tour: The Winner's Kiss

As part of the blog tour for The Winner's Kiss, we're sharing some of our favourite kisses from books. I had a hard time with this one - something classic like Pride and Prejudice is always a good pick!

But today I have to go with Ella & Char in Ella Enchanted. It's one of my absolute favourite books and it has been for years. I still find it to be such a charming (pun intended) little read! And what I really love about this is that there's so much build up and development to the relationship between Ella and Char. They fall for each other slowly, and gradually come to truth each other. For that reason, there's plenty of emotion behind their kiss and it's heartwarming and sweet rather than purely sensual. (Although I always advise people to pass on the movie. It's a tragedy compared to the book.)

I've adored reading the first two books in Marie Rutkoski's trilogy so naturally I'm very excited for The Winner's Kiss. There's been a lot of tension in the first two books, and I'm hoping we can finally see how this will all be resolved.

The Winner's Kiss
by Marie Rutkoski
On Sale March 29th, 2016
War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

To read more posts in the blog tour, you can visit the list of participating blogs here.

And I'd love to hear more from you! Are you excited for The Winner's Kiss? What's your favourite literary kiss?

Marie Rutkoski is the author of The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of Wonders and The Celestial Globe. The Cabinet of Wonders, her debut novel, was named an Indie Next Kids’ List Great Read and a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, among other honors. Rutkoski grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She attended the University of Iowa, where she took Writers’ Workshop classes and studied with Pulitzer Prize-winner James Alan McPherson. After graduating, she lived in Moscow and Prague. Upon receiving her Ph.D. from Harvard University, she held dual appointments as a lecturer there in both English and American Literature and Language, and History and Literature. Rutkoski is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children’s literature and creative writing. She lives in New York City with her husband and cat.


Book Review: Winter

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer
Release Date ~ November 10, 2015
Feiwel & Friends ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9780312642983
Hardcover personally purchased

Goodreads Synopsis:
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

My reviews for other books in The Lunar Chronicles:

At long last, the end is here. I was slower reading Winter than I had hoped, and in part because I wasn't sure I was ready for this series to end. I received an ARC of Cinder in my early blogging days, and I quickly fell in love with this series!

Winter is a beautiful ending to a beloved series. I felt wholly satisfied by the end of the book, and I flew through all 800 pages. The Lunar Chronicles is one of my most recommended series to people, and I highly encourage those of you who haven't read the books yet to start now that the series is complete!

  1. A strong farewell to a cherished series:

    The last book in a series is tricky. It should tie up loose ends and feel emotionally satisfying. I love the slow, building pace of Winter and that we keep up with each of the characters instead of focusing too much on one. When I finish a series, I want to end it by closing the book and happily sighing - which is precisely how I finished Winter.
  2. The distinctive personalities of each character:

    Multiple POVs is tricky, and with this many books and this many characters I was half expecting the characters to blur in my mind. But they don't. Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter are our leading ladies and they're drastically different from one another. And their male counterparts are the same.
  3. The power of a revolution:

    Readers of this series know that a revolution has been coming. And we finally get to see the pieces put into motion in Winter. But what works really well is seeing how each of the prior books and characters (aside from Cinder and Kai) have their stories tie into the overarching plot. There are so many hurdles that our heroes and heroines need to overcome, and there's a real rush reading the book and cheering them on as they fight their way to the end. Even the slower parts of the book aren't boring; they're just a good chance to catch your breath! 
The one problem with writing such a book series with such a rich world and complex cast of characters is that even with Winter being 800 pages, some parts of the book felt too short. There isn't a lot of time spent on Winter and Jacin, partially since we were introduced to them much later on in the series.

Winter is a hard farewell because it's sad to say goodbye to a series that I have loved and enjoyed so much. But these are wonderful books and I really look forward to rereading them in the years to come.


Book Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley
Release Date ~ January 5, 2016
Abrams Books ~ HarperCollins Canada
ISBN13: 9781419710346
ARC received from HC Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been close. After all, nothing can unite four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict, spartan upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

This richly conceived, haunting fantasy draws on the early writings of this most famous literary family to explore the deathless bonds between sisters and brothers, between writers and their creations.

Despite my longstanding love of literature,  I've never read any books by any of the Brontes. So I came into readings Worlds of Ink and Shadow with very few ideas or expectations for the story.

I didn't realize how much of the story is based on actual events in the Bronte family's life until I had finished the book. For that reason, I think Worlds of Ink and Shadow is likely more appreciated by avid fans of the Brontes, with plenty of appeal for those who are new to their stories (both real and fictional) as I am.

  1. The power of a rich imagination:

    The premise of the story is a fascinating one, and an idea which I'm sure many readers and writers have wished was true; how would you like to be able to enter into the world you've read about or created? What would you sacrifice in order to make that dream come true?
  2. Family dynamics:

    The relationship between the Bronte siblings was also interesting to read, as there's jealousy, rivalry, but also a strong sense of loyalty. I liked this flawed, realistic view of the Bronte siblings and the trials they encounter, and I particularly liked how Lena Coakley tied this into the historical facts we know about the Bronte family. 
I find that much of historical fiction has a different pace from other genres, and Worlds of Ink and Shadow is no exception. The story is gradual and I found it was a harder narrative to adapt to, and it took me a few chapters to really get into the story. Readers expecting something with a faster pace may be disappointed and find this a harder story to read.

But at the end of the book, I was left with a greater appreciation for the Bronte family and their stories (both real and imagined). I recommend Worlds of Ink and Shadows for readers who, like me, are new to the Bronte family and are looking for an enjoyable introduction.


Book Review: The Masked Truth

The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong
Release Date ~ October 13, 2015
Doubleday Canada ~ Random House
ISBN13: 9780385684750
Review copy received from Penguin Random House Canada

Goodreads Synopsis:
Riley Vasquez is haunted by the brutal murder of the couple she was babysitting for.

Max Cross is suffering under the shadow of a life-altering diagnosis he doesn’t dare reveal.

The last thing either of them wants is to spend a weekend away at a therapy camp alongside five other teens with “issues.” But that’s exactly where they are when three masked men burst in to take the group hostage.

The building has no windows. The exits are sealed shut. Their phones are gone. And their captors are on a killing spree.

Riley and Max know that if they can’t get out, they’ll be next—but they’re about to discover that even escape doesn’t equal freedom.

The Masked Truth is a thought-provoking thriller, one which will appeal to those who crave action and mystery, but appreciate a challenging plot at the same time.

  1. A sensitive approach to mental health:

    I'm happy to see more books that tackle the subject of mental health, but I'm even happier to see books which are sensitive to the experiences of people who experience mental health issues. The Masked Truth is particularly good at this, while featuring a number of characters with various mental health diagnoses, yet treats them as respectfully as they should be. Their struggles are acknowledged and readers are given just a hint of some of the internal struggles one might experience.
  2. A complex, engaging mystery:

    I thought I had figured out what twists there would be in the story fairly early on, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was wrong and the book wasn't as easy to figure out as I originally believed. The plot takes quite a few turns in different directions, which is important. I like a mystery that keeps me guessing for the length of the book. 
There were a few aspects of the storyline that I had a harder time with because they seemed too unlikely to be believable. They felt a little too convenient for the plot which made them feel forced and disrupted the flow of the story and left me with quite a few questions when I had finished reading. While the mystery was good, it didn't feel like it was wrapped up in a satisfying way.

But the real strength of The Masked Truth is its characters. I loved Riley and Max, both so different from each other and different from me. Even while struggling with incredibly difficult circumstances, all of the characters felt lifelike and genuine. I cared about their stories and what happened to them. And their relationships developed naturally, in a way that seemed very authentic.


Book Review: Blood and Salt

Blood and Salt (Blood and Salt #1) by Kim Liggett
Release Date ~ September 22, 2015
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9780399166488
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn in this one-of-a-kind romantic horror.

“When you fall in love, you will carve out your heart and throw it into the deepest ocean. You will be all in—blood and salt.”

These are the last words Ash Larkin hears before her mother returns to the spiritual commune she escaped long ago. But when Ash follows her to Quivira, Kansas, something sinister and ancient waits among the rustling cornstalks of this village lost to time.

Ash is plagued by memories of her ancestor, Katia, which harken back to the town’s history of unrequited love and murder, alchemy and immortality. Charming traditions soon give way to a string of gruesome deaths, and Ash feels drawn to Dane, a forbidden boy with secrets of his own.

As the community prepares for a ceremony five hundred years in the making, Ash must fight not only to save her mother, but herself—and discover the truth about Quivira before it’s too late. Before she’s all in—blood and salt.

Blood and Salt is likely one of my most unexpected reads this year but in a very pleasant way. There's a little bit of horror, but a lot of magic which makes for a surprising and fun read - one that is ideal for the autumn season right before Halloween!

  1. A good horror read for those who don't typically read it:

    I think the fact that Blood and Salt is fairly light on horror is going to cut both ways; on one hand, it's great for people who are new to horror or don't particularly love to read it. This is a great book for them. On the other hand, those expecting a terrifying story likely won't find it here. Blood and Salt has some disturbing, eerie scenes but nothing that left me scared to turn the light off.
  2. A creative and unlikely mashup:

    Blood and Salt has been marketed as Children of the Corn meets Romeo and Juliet, which is one description I never imagined I would hear. And I have to say, it's an accurate description. The story is part star-crossed, fated lovers trapped in a bizarre and life-threatening (potentially supernatural) situation. The romance also has an important role to play, as its integral to the overall plot and why certain events are happening. 
But more importantly than simply a unique storyline, there's some interesting myths and magic behind the events unfolding in Blood and Salt. I'm a curious person, so I wanted to know precisely what was going on as Ash tries to figure out what happened to Katia and how that relates to Ash. 

The biggest disappointment to me was that Blood and Salt didn't feel like true horror which is what I was hoping to find in this book. Horror is a tricky genre to write, and while the story started strong, it didn't maintain the creepy atmosphere that it started with. 

The combination of horror and romance is a unique one, and I think it's the main reason why Blood and Salt is one of the more interesting books I've read. It stands out from others, and I loved seeing such a creative spin!


Book Review: The Impostor Queen

The Impostor Queen (The Impostor Queen #1) by Sarah Fine
Release Date ~ January 5, 2016
Margaret K. McElderry Books ~ Simon & Schuster Canada
ISBN13: 9781481441902
ARC received from S&S Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

The Impostor Queen reminded me a little bit of Disney's Frozen - now bear with me - but not in a way that felt overly familiar or predictable. The world of The Impostor Queen is a magical realm ruled by a young queen who is gifted with awe-inspiring fire and ice magic, in a world where magic isn't very common and the two types are not combined in such strength. And many of the characters struggle with themselves and their own identities. But that's where the similarities end.

  1. Strong character development:

    Ellie's demeanor changes drastically over the course of the story, as she leaves the only life she's known behind her. It's a pivotal moment for her, because while she has clearly always been a curious person it spurs her to action and to finally start making decisions for herself. It can be tricky to write a character who experiences such extreme changes in just one book, but it's done well here in a way that feels natural and crucial.
  2. A vibrant fantasy world:

    This is so important in fantasy books, but too often it's skipped over. Sarah Fine has put an incredible amount of thought and imagination into creating the world found in The Impostor Queen making it a captivating read in which it's easy to lose yourself as a reader. There are rules to magic and how it can be used, some of the politics are hinted at (and I'm hoping to learn more of later on in the series), along with secrets and mysteries.
  3. A story that doesn't disappoint:

    It's fairly often that I read a book which I enjoy, but disappoints me in some small ways. Usually, it's because I feel the book relies on cliches or overused plot twists. I loved that The Impostor Queen didn't rely on any of these to keep the story moving ahead. For example, instead of having a love triangle, the romance in the story changes and flows naturally. And instead of dragging out the story with a ridiculous and unnecessary fight, the characters learn to deal with their problems head on. These are minor details, but they make for a much more enjoyable story. 

I've written about another one of Sarah Fine's books before, but I have to repeat myself here: Sarah is an exceptional author. She's talented and writes beautiful books which hold your attention and flow beautifully. She instills emotion behind each and every word and truly sets the stage for her story with the language she uses.

The only thing I might add to the story is additional character development for some of the secondary characters. While Elli stands out as a lifelike character, I felt that some (Oskar and Sig, in particular) could have benefited from more backstory and more dimension. I'm optimistic that this is something that will come in the future, as they're able to engage more with the plot on their own instead of relying on revealing more about Elli's situation as The Impostor Queen needed to do.

The Impostor Queen is a lively book, one that will readily hook readers for a satisfying read and left me anxiously awaiting the next book to learn more about the future Kupari and its citizens.


Cover Reveal: Holly Schindler's Spark

I'm excited to be a part of the cover reveal for Holly Schindler's upcoming release, Spark!

Fair warning... it's a snazzy one! I'm a fan of it :) I love the colours and dreamy look to it.

A bit about the book:

When the right hearts come to the Avery Theater—at the right time—the magic will return. The Avery will come back from the dead.

Or so Quin’s great-grandmother predicted many years ago on Verona, Missouri’s most tragic night, when Nick and Emma, two star-crossed teenage lovers, died on the stage. It was the night that the Avery’s marquee lights went out forever. 

It sounds like urban legend, but one that high school senior Quin is now starting to believe, especially when her best friend, Cass, and their classmate Dylan step onto the stage and sparks fly. It seems that magic can still unfold at the old Avery Theater and a happier ending can still be had—one that will align the stars and revive not only the decrepit theater, but also the decaying town. However, it hinges on one thing—that Quin gets the story right this time around.

Holly Schindler brings the magic of the theater to life in this tale of family ties, fate, love, and one girl’s quest to rewrite history.

Spark is set for a release date of May 17, 2016 from HarperTeen. 

I love the idea of an urban legend, which sounds like it has a rather important part to play in Spark (sorry, pun intended with that one)!

And now... the cover reveal!

So, what do we think? Are you a fan of this cover? I'm curious to see how the image here fits with the rest of the story!

You can currently pre-order Spark on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and for my Canadian friends - Amazon Canada and Chapters Indigo :)

Don't forget to add it to your Goodreads TBR shelf! Spark

Holly Schindler is the author of three previous YA novels: PLAYING HURT as well as the critically acclaimed FERAL (starred PW review) and A BLUE SO DARK (starred Booklist review, ForeWord Book of the Year silver medal, IPPY gold medal). A writer of books for all ages, Schindler’s MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, has made the master list for children’s book awards in Illinois, South Carolina, and Alabama. She is also a hybrid author, having independently released comedic women’s fiction (FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS) and the forthcoming PLAY IT AGAIN, her adult follow-up to her YA PLAYING HURT. She can be reached through her author site, and hosts special sneak peeks and giveaways for subscribers of her newsletter.

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