Review: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

Here’s my story:

One year ago, I was reading Bookish’s “Spring Preview,” looking for an interesting book to read. I came across The Winner’s Crime, which sounded interesting. But I soon realized it was a sequel to The Winner’s Curse, which came out a year before. I thought that was it—two books in the series. I (mistakenly) thought it was safe to go ahead and buy The Winner’s Curse, then read Crime.

At this point, you, my lovely imaginary readers, may be wondering at my word choices, such as “that was it,” “two books”, and “mistakenly.” You see, I have a pretty strict-ish rule about series: Don’t read the books of a series until they are all out, so I don’t have to wait for years (Talking to you, George R. R. Martin!) for the next book to come out. This is a direct result of fearing I would die before I finished the Harry Potter series. (Yeah, I was a paranoid and weird little twenty-something! Maybe I still am, considering this is a rule I pretty much follow always. 😛 )

I was wrong, of course, about the Winner’s duo. While reading Curse, I went online to find out more about the author and the TWO books (If you know me, you know I love, love, love spoilers!) from the TWO book series and disappointingly discovered that a THIRD book, the end to the trilogy, would not be out until March 2016. Damn! I was peeved, to say the least. I loved The Winner’s Curse, and I wanted to gobble these books up in a weekend, like I do with most series. Crashing into this roadblock was unpleasant, mainly because of my penchant for binge reading.

So I did what any unreasonable person who had a pretty strict-ish rule about series. Despite The Winner’s Curse falling under the LOVED IT AND WANTED TO MARRY IT category in my pantheon of book descriptions, I refused to read the second book, the one I had originally spied, until the third book came out, promising myself that I would reread The Winner’s Curse again before The Winner’s Kiss came out.

And that’s what I did…and it was totally worth it.

As you know from my previous blog post, I bought The Winner’s Kiss this past Friday at Barnes and Noble. But I didn’t read it.

No, I first had to reread The Winner’s Curse, which I did on Friday night until three in the morning. Then, you know, Easter and tired, so I had to wait until Sunday afternoon to read The Winner’s Crime. I finished around eight that night.

A normal person would have waited. But you might have realized by now that I’m not normal. The Winner’s Kiss was right there, tempting me, calling me, and I broke. I stayed up until two o’clock in the morning reading, and I couldn’t finish it. (As I’ve said before, I have a job, and dealing with a bunch of seniors with senioritis with no sleep at all is a problem.) I forced myself to put it down and to go to bed. The next day, the minute I got out of school, I cracked the book again and finished the last 100 pages. (Did I mention that I read the last five pages before going to sleep on Monday morning?  I had to!  I had to know! It’s a sickness!)

I’ve read series with disappointing endings (Prim!), and I was afraid that Rutkoski’s Kiss would be like this.

But it wasn’t.

If you can, read The Winner’s Kiss after you have reread The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. If you do, you’ll really see how well-plotted this trilogy is.

Rutoski introduces us to Kestrel in The Winner’s Curse, a seventeen-year-old girl who is the daughter of a general. Oftentimes, we think of heroine’s in the young adult genre as fierce fighters who can physically take on whatever comes their way. Kestrel isn’t like that, necessarily. While she’s an adequate fighter in a world where fighting skills, like her father’s, are admired and craved, she is more cerebral, and she’s waaaay more strategic (Seriously, does Katniss EVER seem to have a plan?), something that is innate in her being, as well as built upon by her father, General Trajan. When I think of intelligence in heroines within young adult literature, she by far beats the pack. She uses her intelligence to buy herself leverage over others or, sometimes, just to beat someone at cards because she likes a good game.

But in The Winner’s Curse, she is conflicted about her talent for strategy, fighting against it in favor of her true art—music. She loves music with passion, pouring her strength and memory into her piano when conflicted.

And in the first book, she’s conflicted a lot by Arin, a slave she buys in the market. Something draws her to him, and equally, him to her. Arin, a former aristocratic boy who is made into a slave when Kestrel’s father overtakes Arin’s homeland of Herran, hates Valorians, especially Kestrel and her father. But, like any good young adult romance, this adds to his conflicted feelings when he realizes Kestrel’s depth. Later in the book, when thinking strategically, he looks to Kestrel for maneuvers, although he’s no slouch himself at strategic thinking. Rather than trying to tear her down like many of the characters in the book, Arin admires her strategic strength, probably because he has similar characteristics. They both can see many steps ahead of what others see and act accordingly. But even more than Arin, Kestrel has an ability to read a situation through amazingly piercing observations. Where Arin often reacts to situations, Kestrel creates the situations through her intelligence, often using those scenarios to her advantage. Of course, they both are hiding things from each other, but interestingly, they rarely hide who they truly are from each other.

It’s different, though, in The Winner’s Crime. Moving beyond the borders of Herran, Rutkoski sends Kestrel and Arin into a world of old-school court intrigue. Arin’s emotions often make him seem more rash than Kestrel, who is often forced to view the world coldly and dispassionately to save not herself, but Arin, whose sometimes reckless behavior endangers him and her. Once again, Kestrel deals with master manipulators, such as the emperor of Valoria, who wants her for a daughter-in-law, seeing in her similar talents at strategy as he and her father possess. Kestrel’s lies to save Arin and minimize the steep price of war drive a wedge that seems permanent between the pair.

But the emperor’s not wrong when he says this to Kestrel:

“Of all the lessons you could have learned as empress, the most important would have been this:  loyalty is the best love.” –The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Her constant loyalty to Arin, despite her manipulations and lies, prove to be the best love, giving him an opportunity to fight against the prejudice and injustice his people face from the emperor, general, and the people of Valoria.

Then, there’s The Winner’s Kiss. *Sigh*

Once again, Arin and Kestrel distinguish themselves as capable and admirable protagonists. By alternating equally between Arin and Kestrel (I felt the two previous books leaned more towards Kestrel’s perspective, especially Curse), Rutokoski takes the action to the middle of war between Herran and Valoria. Both Kestrel and Arin have pieced apart truth from lie, but other factors seem to disrupt their fairy tale ending. Kestrel, especially, separates herself as a strong opponent in the war games they play. She was not wrong when she told the emperor’s son in The Winner’s Crime, “If you won’t be my friend, you’ll regret being my enemy.” This is a lesson that her father is learning as the war wages, with the Herrani forces making swift and cunning maneuvers at Kestrel’s will.

The emperor likes his games, and the action in the previous two books is often punctuated by strategy games, such as cards or a domino-like game called Bite and Sting, that mirror the story. The Winner’s Kiss is no exception. The Valorian war with the Herrani is a game to the emperor, allowing both he and his general to create advantages through clever gambits. But to Arin and Kestrel, it becomes a passion for their and Herrani people’s freedom, a passion they can’t afford to lose. While the emperor enjoys playing with his vicious power and the general enjoys the pleasure of outwitting his opponents, it is inevitably Kestrel who is the only one who can beat both of her former mentors, as long as she can ignore any loyalty and love she feels for her father. Her conflict in this regard is difficult and brilliantly done because there has never been a question in any book about how much she loves her father and craves his approval.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I read all three at once because I really saw how the characters of Arin and Kestrel grew throughout all three books. They hit into a confidence, but not arrogance, in the final book that allowed them to cast off the final dregs of childhood, while giving them the maturity to figure out how the manipulations and lies separated them in previous books.

Additionally, there’s a beauty in Rutkoski’s prose that I think wasn’t present in previous books, such as this beautifully written metaphor:

“…the whole conversation glowed within her like one of those fireflies. Watching them you’d almost think that a firefly winks out of existence, then comes back to life, vanishes again, returns. That when it’s not lit, it’s not there at all.

“But it is.”  

–The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

So, my dear fantasies, I do hope that you pick up The Winner’s Trilogy and enjoy it as much as I did. Let me know if you do and what you think in the comments section!

Ta-ta for now, my lovelies,

HMichaele

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The Winner’s Series by Marie Rutkoski

Oh, yeah, baby! (Like Austin Powers) You know how I was pretty upset about not being able to read The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski during spring break, my unreal friends? Well, tonight I went to Barnes and Noble because I wanted to see if they had mistakenly put out the copies. (They do this all the time!) They hadn’t, but I asked the sales clerk if they had any. After checking for Winter (obviously wrong!) and asking if it had an apple in a hand on the front, I told her it was “winner”, and she found it in the system. She said it was in the back, but she wasn’t sure if she could sell it. She asked the manager, and he told her she could sell it early if people ask. ASIDE: Is this a real thing? Or should they have waited until Tuesday? Whatevs. I benefited from it, regardless!

So I officially have a copy of the book I really wanted to read over spring break, with two days left. Did I mention I’ve been waiting to read The Winner’s Crime until this weekend because I hate reading series books when they are not all out. (I didn’t know it was a series for some reason when I picked up Curse.) Yeah, so now, in two days, on Easter weekend, I get to read constantly so that I can get to the book I really want to read. Like, I’ve been waiting for Kiss to come out like I waited for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I was even planning to stay up as long as it took on Tuesday to finish it. Yeah, that’s how much I wanted to read it.

But now my plan is ruined. Instead, I will be reading parts of Curse, just for a refresher and all of Crime. Then, I’ll get to the end of the series with Kiss. In case you can’t tell, all of this will require little sleep (because, again, I do have a life and kids) because I can usually only read at night.

Sounds awesome, right? No, seriously, a book I’ve been waiting forever to come out and a whole weekend of reading a series I love–that is, in fact, my definition of awesome.

I’m such a book nerd. 🙂

Hope you have a good weekend of reading ahead of you as well, my dear imaginary ones! And Happy Easter!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Favorite Romance Novels of 2015

I love romance novels, much to the mortification of my husband, who falls under Will Smith’s “just don’t understand” category. (Pretty sure I just dated myself with that comment!) And I think everyone in the world has done a list of their favorites, and maybe I will one day. Not today, though. All I want is to mention some quality romance novels I’ve read throughout the past year. It’s probably the genre I read the most, so here’s what I love about it:

I love it when I read a hero who is protective and a heroine who isn’t afraid to make decisions. I love it when he follows her into the fray, despite the fact that he might have serious misgivings. I love it when hero is confused by his own feelings, even though the readers absolutely aren’t and neither is the heroine. I love it when a heroine is powerful and not confused by her own mind. I love, love, love when a hero thinks he’s not good enough for her, because sometimes he really isn’t…but could be. I love it when he scoffs at the idea of love, but then is completely overcome by it and her. I love it when he gets upset that she gets hurt or puts herself in danger, but is not judgmental, merely relieved she’s okay. I love it when a hero puts himself on the line for the heroine, sometimes to the point of breaking things off with her so that she can have the life she deserves. I love it when a heroine can still function after he does this; even though she’s heartbroken, she can still live her life. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Bella Thorne. Blank pages for her tumult because life doesn’t matter without Edward? Get real, please, and grow the f*** up! Teenagers and tweens were reading that thinking it was okay, much to my disgust!) But on a total double standard, I love it when a hero can’t. (I know this isn’t fair.)  Then again, I do love it when he is able to pick himself up and become the man she deserves. I love it when the hero is misunderstood, even by the heroine, but proves himself worthy and good. I love a fairy tale turned into a new kind of romance.  (Hello, Marissa Meyer and my second post of this blog!) I love a heroine who is thoughtful and challenges the hero’s long held beliefs in himself.

You know what? I just love it all.

So, knowing all of this, here are some of my most recent keepers:

  1. Exile in the Water Kingdom by Cassandra Gannon.  Currently free on Kindle Unlimited, it has a brilliant heroine in Ty and a totally misunderstood hero Gion. Add in supernatural powers and a new take on mythology, and I was sold. But it’s really the sweetness of their romance that won me over. It’s the third book in a series, which are all free as well on KU, but it can be read as a stand alone.
  2. Built by Jay Crownover. A lawyer and her contractor. Who wouldn’t want to read this? Add in unexpected legal troubles, and you have a win for me. Did I mention that I love it when the woman is the one who is wary of a relationship? Yeah, I do, and you get it here. This is the first in a new series by Crownover, but it has ties to her Marked Men series.
  3. Confessions at Midnight by Jacquie D’Allessandro. Daniel saw Carolyn and fell in love. But she was in love with another man. Daniel, being a remarkably good person who saves animals and people alike, stays away. But after the death of her husband, they attend the same weekend soiree, and Daniel sees his opportunity. This is about him taking a chance on Carolyn and realizing his true feelings. It’s a historical novel, the second in series, but I read it first out of the series, which didn’t affect the rest of the series at all.
  4. You Own Me by Shiloh Walker. Seriously hot! Decker and Lizzie are meant for each other and have been since high school. Not sure I liked what kept them apart for so long (it seemed like a stretch), but I was willing to overlook it for their romance. Short, so expect to read it quickly.
  5. Beast in Shining Armor by Cassandra Gannon. Again, free on KU. And no, I’m not really Gannon. This was just a damn good book in her fairy tale series. (There are only two!) A different take on Beauty and the Beast–an oldie, but a goodie!
  6. Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase. Chase is an established romance writer, but that being said, I don’t always enjoy her books. Sometimes, her heroines are a little too spoiled for my tastes. But Clara was just the right amount of headstrong and sensible. And her hero, Oliver Radford, was just enough intelligence (okay, he was super smart) mixed with wariness to handle her adventurous spirit. Oh, he was, of course, in the category of “trying to convince himself he wasn’t in love with her”. Needless to say, he couldn’t.
  7. Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare. Once again, we have a sad little hero, Rafe, trying to convince himself he doesn’t love the heroine, Clio. Truly, it’s a plot that never gets old for me. But it is interesting that he is trying to get her to marry his brother, who is the marquess, while Rafe is a second-son boxer. Throughout the book, he courts her in his brother’s name (the brother has no idea he’s doing this), but seeing how well Rafe knows Clio, the reader knows way before Rafe th at he’s doomed.
  8. Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Holt. Until this book, Notorious Pleasures, about Phoebe’s sister Hero, was my favorite. I didn’t know Holt could do better, but here we have Hero’s sister Phoebe, who has been going blind her whole life, striving for adventure. And the only one who seems the least bit interested in what she wants is her bodyguard Trevillion, who thinks he is completely beneath her because she is the daughter and sister of a duke and he’s an ex-captain in the British army. He’s not, though, which we quickly see. Their romance is sweet and heartwarming.
  9. One Reckless Summer by Toni Blake. Again, an established writer, but I had never read her before this past year. I’ve now read some of her other books, but this one is by far the BEST. The main characters, Jenny and Mick, have a small shared past, but it’s the trauma of their present that brings them together. A sweet love story where the characters find themselves, as well as each other.
  10. To Bed a Beauty by Nicole Jordan.  I like some of Jordan’s romances, but not all. I’m actually really careful about purchasing her books because, to me, they are hit and miss, along with being expensive for someone who buys a lot of books. But Beauty was fab. Roslyn, always judged for her beauty and not her considerable intellect and kindness, is loved by Drew, but he doesn’t realize it’s love. He thinks he just wants her. Of course. She wants to marry a man of her choosing, and she enlists Drew’s help. Hi-jinks ensue. Never was true love so hidden from the main characters. I loved it!

These are only a few of my more memorable reads this past year. Maybe I’ll make a list of my favorites of all time, a list everyone does, but I don’t care. I love lists about romance novels! 😉

And, if you do exist, let me know what your favorite romances of 2015 were in the comments section. I love expanding my collection!

Talk to you soon, my not-sure-you-exist lovelies!

Ta-ta,

HMicheale

 

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I feel a little embarrassed that I had not read this series until recently, honestly. I saw a rec for it on at the International Literacy Association’s Young Adult Choices last year, and I put them on my “To Read” list. And, boy, am I glad I finally got around to reading them.

First, the books are quick reads, despite the number of pages (Winter sits at 832 pages, according to Amazon).  I read them all in a week, no problem.

Secondly, Meyer kept the main characters from the first book while adding new perspectives. In many series, the author usually has us following main characters over and over again, or the author changes the perspective to one of the minor characters, without revisiting the original characters. Meyer adds different characters’ perspectives in each book, while still incorporating the main characters from the first book, Cinder. It’s important because the new characters’ challenges really revolve around the decisions of Cinder and her prince.

Does this make sense? In the first book, Cinder, the main perspective that we see is Linh Cinder, a cyborg in a futuristic China. She meets the prince in chapter one, and this being a Cinderella story and all, you probably can guess how it ends. But it actually doesn’t end that way. In Scarlet, Cressand Winter, we still get Cinder’s perspective, as well as Prince Kaito’s, along with additional characters in each–Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Carswell Thorne, Winter, and Jacin. The women’s perspectives are dominant in each of these novels (the novels are named after them, after all), but we do get some of the male perspectives at certain points, which I think adds to the action and clarification of points. Plus, the Carswell Thorne from Cress is pretty funny. Seriously. He is adorable and total comic relief in a series could have been majorly tedious after the first book. Thorne’s introduced in the second book, Scarlet, and he was needed, definitely! Everybody else feels so much weight behind their decisions, and Meyer needed him to lighten up the mood.

For the characters, you have the cyborg Cinder, the imperial prince of China Kaito, a vegetable farmer looking for her grandmother in Scarlet, a strangely strong Wolf (I don’t want to get too much away on him. It’s part of his and Scarlet’s story.), the tech whiz Cress, the arrogant but lovable Thorne (Captain Thorne, as he tries to convince people to call him), the step-daughter to the villainess of the story in Winter, and her brave guardian Jacin. All of these characters are well-woven into Cinder’s story, who is ultimately trying to fulfill her destiny.

Whenever I read something like these novels, I wonder how much effort it took for the author to weave all these distinct characters together. My guess, a damn lot. I’m significantly impressed by the breadth of Meyer’s plot, spanning seemingly disparate characters and different countries and linking them successfully. If I could actually write fiction, I would think that this would be the hardest part, and Meyer does it so well you don’t even notice that she’s drawing you into the story.

I cared about these characters, and I wanted them to have their fairy tale romances. Of course, it’s an uphill battle for that romance, extending beyond their eponymously (I think I made this word up! It should have an adverb form, though, so I created it. You’re welcome, world!) named novels.

Plus, there’s a lot of action in most of the novels, Cinder being the exception because its job is to really set up the story for us and figure out what Cinder’s destiny is.

Overall, a quick and delightful read, if you’re looking for something not too serious after a really heavy novel. (I read this series after Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which was thought-provoking but harsh.)

So, my imaginary readers, I would definitely recommend The Lunar Chronicles to you! I enjoyed it immensely, to the point where I still want to know what else happens to the characters after Winter ended. (Hint, hint, Marissa Meyer, who doesn’t read this blog AT ALL or EVER!) 🙂

BEST OF THE SERIES:  Toss up between Scarlet and Winter. Loved the new characters, Scarlet and Wolf, in Scarlet, but Winter has the varying perspectives from all the main players, plus the resolution of the series!

Ta-ta, once again, you lovely figments,

HMicheale

First blog post: Spring Break Project

Okay, so the first question I think I should answer is this:  Why start a book blog?

Good question, imaginary readers.  I guess I wanted to start one so that I can talk about books.  Seems simple, right?  But it’s not.  You see, I read a lot (How vague!  How general!), and when I read a book I really like, or sometimes don’t like, I want someone with whom I can discuss my thoughts about the BOOK I WISH I COULD GO BACK IN TIME AND READ FOR THE FIRST TIME AGAIN BECAUSE IT WAS THAT GOOD or the BOOK I WISH HAD AN UGLIER COVER SO I WOULD HAVE NEVER PICKED IT UP.  Currently, however, I have few real life friends to discuss these things.  They have lives, and, I’m sure this is surprising, I have a life as well.  When I get together with my friends, we generally have life-updating discussions, where we bash husbands, complain about children, or reminiscence about our shared past. Or, you know, drink.  Books are a side note, at best, and a nonissue, at worst. So, this is why I’m starting a blog.  I want to vent.  I want to give my opinion.  And, my imaginary friends, I want to know that there are others out there who like books as much as I do.  Even if you aren’t real-person real, just internet real.

So there it is, my reasoning for starting this blog.  Maybe I’ll grow bored with this game in a few weeks.  That’s my usual time span, anyway.  However, here’s to hoping for success and continuance with this endeavor, as unlikely as it may be.

For my first book, I want to vent about something that has upset me.  Is anyone else particularly peeved that The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski isn’t out during Spring Break? No, instead, it’s out a week after, which means I’ll be up all night Tuesday reading this book, when I should be snoozing in preparation of teaching 150 kids with crazy amounts of senioritis, which they think is an actual disease!  (They often cite it as the reason for being absent!  Senior Quote:  “I just couldn’t deal!”)

Anyway, I’m just saying that I wanted to read this book over break, and I’m totally bummed that I can’t and will, subsequently, be super tired and short-tempered when I go to work the next Wednesday.

So, what is my book of choice for this week?  I’ve decided on two–The Lake House by Kate Morton and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.  I’ve heard Ember was awesome from the highest of sources–one being the checkout guy at the bookstore where I bought it who said, “The paperback book you bought was AH-MAAAAZING!”  To be fair, he couldn’t remember the name because it was already in the bag.

The other book, The Lake House, is by a favorite author of mine, Kate Morton.  Really, if you’ve read one Kate Morton book, you know the plot outline pretty well.  Same book, just a different mystery.  Past indiscretions lead to crime and mystery.  Six, seven or so decades later, a modern-day character takes up the mystery, researching the past events and using some impressive sleuth skills to get to the bottom of the events, obviously bringing something to the table that long-gone players didn’t have.  Usually, the character doing the research, including interviewing the once-upon-a-time leading characters who were well enmeshed in the drama and were usually children when the drama took place, is somehow related to the mystery, sometimes knowing it and sometimes not.

Here are some things that you’ll love from The Lake House:

  1. Morton can paint an idyllic setting.  A beautiful lake house with a delightful garden and woods hiding it from view contrasts with nefarious secrets hidden in its depths. In the modern times, it has become a picturesque, dilapidated home seemingly stuck in time with even a teacup left on one of the tables amidst the layers of dust and ruin. Seriously, Morton and her settings are awesome, but The Lake House seems even more lovely and lonely than others and an obvious analogy for some of the characters themselves.
  2. The mystery is entertaining.  I really get entangled in the mystery in her books, especially The Lake House. I want to know how it’s all going to end. I want to see if I’m right when I start making the connections with the characters. And the mystery makes sense. In this particular book, you can absolutely tell why no one ever figured out the mystery, mainly because they weren’t looking.  Not because they wanted to forget, but because they were too close and the pain surrounding the event was too much for them to decipher the truth. The modern character, in this case Detective Constable Sadie Sparrow, really adds a distance and logic that the past characters just can’t match. Plus, the older characters were children during the episode, so their memory is staunched by their youth and gaps in their childish knowledge. (I seriously thought of Atonement by Ian McEwan for a while, though none of these characters from the past are quite as destructive as Briony.)
  3. The characters are well-developed.  One thing that can really make a novel fail is a poorly drawn character. This book is not one of those. The many–and I do mean many–characters are developed in a believable way, from the main characters of Sadie, Eleanor, and Alice to the minor characters like Howard and Constance. Plus, their motivations are reasonable. Only once have I thought, Really?, (Have I mentioned I like to read the end before I get there once I start hypothesizing on the answer to the mystery?), but as I’m reading, that one choice is making more sense. More importantly, I care what happens to these characters, not just Sadie but all of the others as well.

Seriously, if you’re looking for a delightfully engaging read during spring break (do other adults get this break?), pick up The Lake House by Kate Morton. This is not my first book of hers, but this one is highly addictive. And it’s always fun to see if you can figure out the mystery before the characters. (As I’ve said, I usually I cheat because I have to know if I’m right!  It’s a sickness!)  Plus, her books, The Lake House in particular, are highly entertaining and never disappoint, and I think that might be what spring break should be about, don’t you, imaginary ones?

That’s all for now, my internet friends. Next up, I’ll share my thoughts about An Ember in the Ashes. Hope you have happy imaginary adventures of your own this spring break!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele