Review: The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date ~ March 4, 2014
Farrar Straus Giroux ~ Macmillan
ISBN13: 9780374384685
ARC received from Macmillan for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Winning what you want may cost you everything you love 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. 

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. 

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. 

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

The cover for The Winner's Curse is pretty (YES, it is) but it doesn't do the story justice at all. This story is, in a few words, devastating, gripping, and thrilling! I haven't stopped thinking about this book since I finished reading it. I've just been pining away for more!

The Winner's Curse is a low fantasy read, ideal for those who like a little bit of political intrigue and a great setting in their books.

  1. Low fantasy at its best:

    I love (all) fantasy books and while I prefer high fantasy, The Winner's Curse is a one of the best low fantasy books I've ever read. (Sidenote: I'm putting The Winner's Curse in the low fantasy category because while it's a fictional world, the way the world works is rational and real and doesn't contain magical or impossible elements). There's less suspension of belief for readers, which is fantastic for readers who are less interested by magic. While the world is fictional there are some aspects which reminded me of other historical settings.
  2. Oh my, swoons!:

    Do you like your romance to be epic?! Pick up The Winner's Curse - trust me. While the romance takes centre stage in this story, it also wasn't sappy or ridiculous. I was absolutely swept away by Arin and Kestrel and I couldn't get enough of these two. Most of all I loved how they tried to figure each other out, but still remained their rational thinking. And the tension just dragged on forever! So much tension that just wouldn't go away and it was brilliant. I liked Kestrel so much - she stood out on her own and had a vivid personality. She was such a clever girl, yet she had her own faults and she had to overcome those and work with it. But overall, Kestrel is an incredibly strong heroine.
  3. An explosive story:

    I couldn't get enough of the politics and culture incorporated in The Winner's Curse. I was enthralled by these little details, and I'm dying to know what happens to this world in the next book. The plot development was my absolute favourite part of this book! It is beautifully written and the story is so captivating. I am dreaming about this book, its characters, and its world. I cannot let it go. I'm in love with it too much.
The characters are flawed which is good, but this also means they aren't instantly likeable. My appreciation for them only grew over time as the story progressed and I was skeptical of Kestrel, in particular, at first. There were also a couple subplots that didn't seem to influence the main plot; maybe they'll come up in later books, but they didn't seem particularly relevant for this book.

The Winner's Curse was one of my favourite books released this year so far. I've rarely felt so invested in a book series before, and I have such high hopes for the next one! The situation Arin and Kestrel are put in is so difficult as they're both forced to question values and beliefs they've held for such a long time - The Winner's Curse is reading for that alone.


Waiting on Wednesday {36} The Merciless

Jill @ Breaking the Spine hosts this weekly meme where we can share a book that we are so excited for and are anxiously awaiting their upcoming release!

This week my WoW pick is...

The Merciless by Danielle Vega
Release Date ~ June 12, 2014


Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned

Brooklyn Stevens sits in a pool of her own blood, tied up and gagged. No one outside of these dank basement walls knows she’s here. No one can hear her scream.

Sofia Flores knows she shouldn’t have gotten involved. When she befriended Riley, Grace, and Alexis on her first day at school, she admired them, with their perfect hair and their good-girl ways. They said they wanted to save Brooklyn. They wanted to help her. Sofia didn’t realize they believed Brooklyn was possessed.

Now, Riley and the girls are performing an exorcism on Brooklyn—but their idea of an exorcism is closer to torture than salvation. All Sofia wants is to get out of this house. But there is no way out. Sofia can’t go against the other girls . . . unless she wants to be next. . . .

In this chilling debut, Danielle Vega delivers blood-curdling suspense and terror on every page. By the shockingly twisted end, readers will be faced with the most haunting question of all: Is there evil in all of us?

So I've been meaning to do a new WoW post for AGES and when I went to pick a book for this week, I had such a hard time choosing! There are so many great books coming out soon... but I quickly picked The Merciless!

I've been craving more scary books lately - but they can be so hard to find in YA. And I love that The Merciless considers the question of innate evil. That's a hotly debated topic, and I'm incredibly curious to see how The Merciless tackles such a tough question.

Also, I think this cover is so neat! Wouldn't it really pop on a bookshelf??

I'm curious - will any of you be picking up The Merciless? Or a story like this just too much horror for you? Anyone else interested in reading more scary books? 
And here's a really tough question - are some people just born evil? Is there a little bit of evil in all of us? I'm not too sure myself... but I think there might be. 


Review: Half Bad

Half Bad (Half Life Trilogy #1) by Sally Green
Release Date ~ March 4, 2014
Viking Juvenile ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9780670016785)
ARC received from Penguin Canada to review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.
You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

The story in Half Bad is one bursting with emotion and tension. The writing is thoughtful, and Nathan's character stayed with me long after I finished reading this book.

  1. A story that simmers (slowly):

    The main character, Nathan, is absolutely filled with pent up emotions but the plot progression is fairly slow - don't expect action-packed excitement. Despite the external circumstances endangering Nathan, much of the story revolves around his internal struggles. I found that worked very well for the story in Half Bad, but you have to prepare yourself for a slow-moving plot.
  2. Harry Potter (without Hogwarts):

    Let me explain what I mean by this: Half Bad is not at all the same story as Harry Potter. However, it felt to me like it could very well be set in a similar type of world - but not Hogwarts. Think of the United Kingdom where there are social divides between witches, and the magic is subtly woven into the real world. More like the later books in Harry Potter where the Ministry of Magic takes a more prominent role in the story. The way the magic works is interesting as well, because it isn't exactly something that can be learned but more like a skill inherited or gifted to the witch. 
The story isn't quite told in chronological order though, and I found it jarring at times to jump around in the book's timeline. There were some ways in which it was effective and kept my focus narrowed on certain aspects of the plot. But overall, it felt mostly jumbled to me as a reader. 

I was most confused by the second person narration used briefly on occasion. Second person narration is so hard for me to connect with as a reader! And it didn't feel like it added anything to the story. I had no problem relating to Nathan's character or his circumstances otherwise and the second person narrative was just confusing. And the use of this technique was so minimal, it seemed out of place.

That being said, Half Bad is a remarkably emotive book. Sally Green's storytelling is beautiful, and she touches on a wide range of issues and feelings with it. I felt a complete connection to Nathan and I was fully invested in what happened to him. For that reason alone, I would recommend reading Half Bad along with the benefit of a curious magical world. This story is utterly heartbreaking and the events endured by Nathan are horrific and shocking - which is why his story has stuck with me. 


Review: The Diviners

The Diviners (The Diviners #1) by Libba Bray
Release Date ~ September 18, 2012
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ~ Hachette Book Group
ISBN13: 9780316126113
Review copy received from HBG Canada

Goodreads Synopsis:
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

Libba Bray is a master of Young Adult paranormal (in my opinion) and The Diviners is perfect proof of that claim. The Diviners is a creepy, bold tale that will leave your heart pounding in anticipation.

  1. An eerie, macabre storyline:

    I'm the kind of person that likes to be scared... but just a little bit. And The Diviners struck a perfect balance between some of its more disturbing scenes and humour/mystery to ensure my nightmares weren't horrific.
  2. Part murder mystery, part ghost story:

    There's a difference between reading true crime and ghost stories, but somehow the lines end up blurred here. The evolution from one to the other is flawless with its gradual development and slow reveal of the mystery. And I liked the inclusion of both aspects, which are similar yet distinct, because it appealed to both my curious nature and my imagination.
  3. A real Roaring Twenties atmosphere:

    This is positively brilliant on Libba's part. I have rarely read a book with such a strong sense of atmosphere which completely consumed me, and without losing my interest. The incorporation of appropriate slang, attention to detail in the descriptions, and the setting itself all reflected the time period and it really stood out to me.
I had some mixed thoughts on the characters, however. I didn't love Evie but I didn't hate her, either. She's clearly a flawed character and far from perfect - I don't mind that at all and think that's a rather accurate reflection of a teenage girl. I don't want perfect characters. But I never felt like I truly connected with her, and I think that can partially be attributed to the sheer number of characters introduced and the switching points of view. For this reason, it also seemed to take a while for the plot to build, and overall that's where the book suffered.

Importantly, there were a few too many subplots which were briefly introduced yet without any follow up. It's clearly a set up for future books in the series, but I wasn't a big fan of the simple introduction without any development whatsoever. 

This story is so unlike other books I've read that even with its weaknesses, I adored it! It's an exceptional YA book, and Libba Bray has impressed me yet again with her talent for weaving a story and immersing me in the reading experience.



Review: Tsarina

Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick
Release Date ~ February 27, 2014
Razorbill ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9781595146939
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review 

Goodreads Synopsis:
Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.

When I was younger and became a voracious reader all on my own, it was historical fiction which captured my attention. One book in particular was Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess from The Royal Diaries collection. And then I went through a phase where I read every book about Anastasia Romanov that I could get my hands on!

I was thrilled when I first heard about Tsarina's upcoming release. As I read it, I was incredibly pleased with the story Jackson Pearce (under the pen name J. Nelle Patrick) created for a fascinating historical character and event.

  1. Writing with rich details:

    Jackson's writing in Tsarina is STELLAR. I'm wary of books bogged down in too much detail, but there is a perfect balance here which painted a breathtaking picture in my mind for the setting. The storytelling in Tsarina completely swept me away!
  2. The sweetest love story:

    It was interesting starting the book with the romance already intact - so many stories explore the build up to a relationship, but Natalya and Alexei are already together and looking to the future. This adds such a different perspective from other YA books, plus the love story is kind of the grounding element for this book. This provides Natalya's motivation for most of the book. And yet, it's so difficult watching it all unfold!
  3. A magical, historical re-imagining:

    Historical fiction always takes some artistic liberties with filling in some knowledge gaps or changing certain details - but I hesitate to call Tsarina true historical fiction. It does follow a very important period in Russia's history, however it truly felt to me more like a fanciful re-imagining of this event rather than true historical fiction. 
The only thing I didn't love about Tsarina was the ending - it felt like such a stretch to me after reading through the whole book. I just wasn't happy with the closure we were given! Partially because it isn't what I wanted but the rest of the story didn't convince me that this is how the characters would respond to the situation they were put in. 

But this is a perfect read for those looking for a swoonworthy, heart-wrenching love story and a little bit of magic in a tragic time. It's a story many of us are familiar with, but with its own unique twist. 

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