The Winner’s Curse

The Winner’s Curse is the first novel in the Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski. I read this to prepare for a convention panel I had presented with a friend, but it has been on my TBR for a while.


Kestrel is the daughter of a prominent general, living in the house and country of the conquered Herrani people. She is beautiful, but her beauty is not as important to Kestrel as her music. Within the year, like every young person her age, Kestrel must decide to either join the military or marry. Her father wishes her to enter service and become an even more brilliant tactician than she already is. But Kestrel wants to continue with her music, a past time often frowned upon.

One day, Kestrel unwittingly enters a slave auction. At first an observer, she soon finds herself bidding on – and winning – a young Herrani blacksmith. Though slaves lose their original names, Kestrel discovers that her new acquisition is known as Arin. At first, neither of them get along; in fact, Kestrel – the rightful owner – does not give Arin any work and so the house butler forces the blacksmith to forge countless horseshoes. Upon hearing this, Kestrel takes Arin as her companion escort, as young women cannot travel unattended.

Soon, the pair discover they speak each other’s languages and have a great deal in common. Thus begins first a friendship and a rumor, which soon turns to something more. But Kestrel is unaware that Arin is actually part of a secret rebellion, one that seeks to free the Herrani from their conquerors. Kestrel has always been sensitive to the plight of the Herrani and reluctant to enter the military. Will she side with her father and her people? Or will her heart guide her towards Arin and his rebellious wishes?

I was intrigued the first time I read the summary for the Winner’s Curse. It seemingly had all the fantasy elements that I like in a book: a strong hero/heroine, a touch of realism, and a well thought out world. The prose is beautiful as Marie Rutkoski is an English professor. I thought I would really enjoy it.

However, I was a tad disappointed with the story. I’m not sure why. It is a bit slow paced, being more focused on world and character building than action. I usually like stories that take their time and build on itself. Being a trilogy, there is likely more coming that I haven’t yet seen. But I just don’t feel interested enough to continue – at least not at this juncture. Perhaps in the future when my TBR isn’t so enormous and overwhelming (like that will ever happen).

My rating: 3/5

Keeper of the Lost Cities

I apologize for not posting last week. Projects were due and my attention had to be diverted. Classes are nearly done for the semester so I should be back to posting regularly with few hiccups.

Onto the review!


Keeper of the Lost Cities is a middle grade novel by Shannon Messenger. Sophie Foster is a 12 year old prodigy. She is a senior in high school and, like most child prodigy’s, she doesn’t get along with her classmates. But it is not only her mental abilities and age that separates her; Sophie is also a telepath. She can hear the thoughts of everyone around her, and no one is aware of her abilities. Sophie keeps her abilities to herself as she is unsure how she will be received by family and acquaintances.

One day, while on a field trip to the museum, Sophie meets a young man named Fitz. Only a few years older than her, Fitz seems unusually interested in Sophie. She thinks it is just teenaged attraction – until she accidentally discovers that Fitz can also read minds. Sophie soon learns that her mental abilities are not human, that she isn’t the human she thought she was. Sophie is actually an elf from a parallel world, where nearly everyone has some sort of magical ability. But Sophie seems to be a rare case as all elves possess blue eyes; Sophie, however, has always had brown eyes.

In an effort to better control her telepathic abilities and discover more about herself, Sophie leaves her human family and attends Foxfire Academy to study. There she must unlearn everything she knows as magic doesn’t follow the laws of human nature. Once a prodigy who didn’t have to struggle with her grades, Sophie now finds herself just above average – and even struggles in some of her subjects.

All too soon, Sophie learns that there are far greater secrets about her than just her unusual origins. Who were her elven parents? Why are her eyes brown? What else, other than telepathy, can Sophie do? And, most importantly, who is behind it all?

I came across Keeper of the Lost Cities while visiting the children’s section of my local Barnes and Noble. For a reader who often buys books because of their covers, Keeper is definitely one of those. But it is currently a five book series so I wasn’t sure how I would like it. I decided to check it out on Overdrive from my local library. I find it an intriguing read. For a middle grade novel, it is rich and imaginative. Having Sophie raised as a human lends some weight to her narrative. The reader feels like they are experiencing all the newness of being an elf right alongside her.

I really enjoyed this novel, but am holding off on continuing to see how many more installments there are. While there are lingering questions, the first volume doesn’t end on a huge cliffhanger so I feel it is a good place to pause for the moment. I do highly recommend it for those interested in reading middle grade.

My rating: 3.75/5

The Rose and The Dagger

The second of The Wrath and The Dawn duology, The Rose and The Dagger picks up directly where its predecessor left off.


Shahrzad has left Khorasan and journeyed into the desert with Tariq where she is reunited with her family. Much to her horror, however, it appears that her father, Jahandar, had something to do with the attack on the capital city, but Shahrzad cannot determine what. All she knows is that is has something to do with the magic in his blood, the same magic that is in her own veins, and a mysterious but dangerous book. Now, Shahrzad finds herself a guest of Omar el-Sadig, a Badawi emir, and, as the Calipha, the target of many people’s hostility.

But all Shahrzad wants is to return to Khalid. In her attempts to return to his side, she begins to use the magic carpet given to her by Musa Zaragosa and seeks out the mage at his Fire Temple. While visiting, Shazi meets Artan Temujin, a descendant of the creators of Jahandar’s book; he agrees to help Shazi find a way to lift Khalid’s curse. First, however, she must learn to use her magic, and Artan intends to be her teacher.

Meanwhile, Khalid is attempting to rebuild his city – often in disguise and as a commoner – and though he misses Shahrzad, he believes she is safer away from him while his curse remains. All is not well in the imperial palace as Khalid finds himself at odds with his cousin Jalil after Despina decides to leave with the Rajput.

Things become more complicated when Reza bin-Latief, Shiva’s father, makes a secret deal with the Sultan of Parthia, a deal that involves Shazi and Khorasan’s downfall. A deal that Jahandar may be involved in.

I was feeling a bit lukewarm with The Wrath and The Dawn but I was totally in love with The Rose and The Dagger. I enjoy stories with character development and holy moly was there some development going on in this story. The characters are so much richer and more developed in this second installment, which makes sense because the story has already been set up with its predecessor. At its core, this story is a love story, but Shazi and Khalid also focus on their relationships with other people, such as their family.

There’s just enough magic to add a fantasy element to this novel. But, again, what I really liked were the characters and their interactions and how many of them have changed from book one and continue to change. It’s not a happy ending for everyone, but it is a nice, wrapped up ending to a wonderful set of books.

My rating: 4.5/5

Bitch Planet vol. 1

Occasionally I read comics. Since comics are technically books, I don’t see why I can’t review them.

The first comic/graphic novel I read in 2017 was Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. It had taken me a while to actually read this comic despite how much I adore Kelly Sue’s writing, mostly because the visuals are gritty and not my usual aesthetic. With the events at the end of 2016, it was high time I finally dove into this comic.

BitchPlanet_vol1-1

Bitch Planet takes place in the not-so-distant future where those – mostly women – who do not conform to society’s “standards” are deemed non-compliant and sent off to an off world prison. What makes a person non-compliant could be a variety of things: committing a crime such as a murder, or merely being overweight can also be deemed not the norm. A variety of different women are featured, and each are non-compliant in their own way. The first volume mostly revolves around Kamau Kogo, a well-known athlete it appears but what is unclear is why she is non-compliant.

The story follows Kamau as she is given an unlikely proposition: to put together a group of women to participate in games that normally reject non-compliance. Kamau is determined to win and puts together a seemingly ragtag motley crew that work quite well together and have a shot at winning – until tragedy strikes.

The art of Bitch Planet is gritty and normally not my standard for comics, but De Landro’s style is quite suitable for this story. As an intersectional feminist, I found myself empathizing with the characters and detesting the society they live in – a society that isn’t that far removed from our own. Had I not read a Kelly Sue book before, I might not have been inclined to pick this title up. As it stands, Kelly Sue writes excellent stories for a variety of themes and reasons and I really did like Bitch Planet.

Volume 2 is released soon (it not already) and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

My rating: 4/5

The Grisha Trilogy: Shadow and Bone

OMG! I’m so sorry! I’ve been so busy with grad school and work and trying to read that I keep neglecting this blog. I promise I will do better! It’s taken me a bit but I’ve figured out how to budget my time better so I hope to get back on a weekly posting schedule.

Anyways!

I had another book planned for posting but I haven’t had the chance to take photos of it yet so instead I’m going to just ahead.


Shadow and Bone is the first of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy and it set in the same mystical world that her Six of Crows series is in. The Grisha Trilogy, however, takes place a few years before Six of Crows and introduces some characters that make an appearance in Crooked Kingdom.

Alina Starkov is an cartographer apprentice in war torn Ravka. She and her best friend Mal were raised in an orphanage by a benevolent Duke and when they came of age enlisted in the army. While Alina is a mere map making apprentice, Mal is one of the best trackers in the First Army. When their units receive word that they are to cross the Shadow Fold, a mysterious darkened region that separates Ravka’s two halves, Alina has her reservations. The Shadow Fold is supposedly occupied by monsters; even with Grisha – powerful sorcerers – on their side, how is the First Army supposed to safely cross?

Alina’s fears are realized when the vessel carrying her and Mal is attacked and Mal is badly injured. Helpless but refusing to leave his side, Alina suddenly unleashes a power she did not have. After returning from the Fold, Alina meets the mysterious and powerful Darkling, the only Grisha able to control shadow and darkness. It is from him that Alina discovers that she is a Sun Summoner, a rare Grisha talent that rivals the Darkling’s own powers.

Sent to the Little Palace in Ravka’s capital to train, Alina finds her new life difficult to adjust to. She has trouble summoning her power at will, but no one knows why. Her life is further complicated by homesickness for Mal and a growing attraction for the Darkling. But the Darkling is not all that he seems, and soon Alina is running from a life of comfort in order to preserve her freedom and growing power.

Shadow and Bone is Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel. I rather enjoyed her style in Six of Crows, but I didn’t enjoy Shadow and Bone quite as much. For one thing, it is written in first person. Have I mentioned before how I do not enjoy stories written in first person as much? The pacing is a bit slower than Six of Crows; this doesn’t bother me as much since Shadow and Bone is the first of three novels, but it did seem to linger a little too long in the beginning.

While I don’t think I’ll enjoy the Grisha Trilogy quite as much as Six of Crows, it is still a little too early to say. I definitely plan to continue on as one of the characters mentioned in Crooked Kingdom has yet to appear, and I am pretty sure he will be my favorite. 🙂

My rating: 3.5/5

A Monster Calls

Conor O’Malley is both a typical and atypical young boy. He’s quiet, has virtually no friends, and lives with his single mother after his father left them. But Conor’s mother is ill and Conor has to take care of both of them. It is a lot of work for such a young man. And there’s another problem Conor faces: constant nightmares of losing his mother to her illness. Conor cannot imagine living without his mother.


In their backyard, from the kitchen window, there is an old yew tree. Conor’s mother loves the yew tree, but Conor thinks it is a bit creepy. He doesn’t quite understand where his mother’s affection for the tree comes from; Conor simply doesn’t think much about it.

Until the day the yew tree comes alive and speaks to Conor. The tree makes a deal with Conor: he will tell Conor three stories, at the end Conor must tell the tree a story. But the tree doesn’t want just any story. He wants Conor to tell him about his nightmares. For his part, Conor thinks it’s all just another nightmare.

Until he finds leaves on his floor in the morning. A dream wouldn’t leave something tangible behind…unless it wasn’t a dream?

As Conor struggles to come to grips with his mother’s failing health and how it will change him, he listens to the stories of the yew tree. But are they just stories? Did they actually happen? And what do they mean for Conor?

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness was originally the brainchild of Siobhan Dowd; unfortunately, she passed away due to illness before it could be written. Ness does a fantastic job writing this short narrative about a boy who must learn that losing the thing he loves the most is difficult but not the end. And that sometimes letting go is for the best.

I really enjoyed A Monster Calls, perhaps far more than I expected to. While short in length, it packs a lot of introspective thought and emotion into it. I often felt myself empathizing with Conor as I read his story. It is quite different from the high fantasy stories I have been reading of late, but it is quite a read and one I recommend to anyone who has had any interest in it.

My rating: 4.75/5

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Just when you thought we left the Wizarding World behind…surprise! A new adventure arises! But wait…is this a prequel? Yes, and no. It’s not a direct prequel since it does not focus on Harry specifically, but it occurs 70 years before he was born and it’s events are related to Harry’s adventures in as yet unexplored ways.


It’s 1926 in New York City. It’s a glamorous era, but also the age of prohibition. It’s a great time to be alive…unless you are a witch or wizard. Because being a witch or wizard in North America isn’t like being one in Britain. While still secretive, witches and wizards in Britain still are free to express themselves and mingle with muggles. But North American witches and wizards are forbidden to have any unnecessary interactions with no-majs (muggles) and, because of prior persecution, live in fearful secret.

Enter Newt Scamander (of the famous Hogwarts text, but before he actually wrote the text). He is on his way to Arizona via New York on a personal matter, and he’s brought a magical case with him. Of course, if you know anything about Newt, it’s no ordinary case; it’s filled with magical creatures Newt is either studying or caring for (or both). While in New York, Newt unknowingly breaks a North American law when he brings his creatures with him. Shortly thereafter, he breaks another law when he encounters the no-maj Jacob Kowalski and doesn’t obliviate him after Jacob witnesses Newt doing magic. This forces witch and ex-Auror Tina Goldstein to take Newt into custody at MACUSA (North America equivalent of the Ministry of Magic) in an effort to reclaim her Auror status.

Things don’t go as planned when Newt discovers that some of his creatures have escaped. To complicate matters, something seems to be terrorizing New York, attacking no-majs. Newt’s escaped creatures are blamed and hunted despite Newt’s insistence of their innocence. It then is up to Newt, Tina, Queenie (Tina’s legilimens sister), and Jacob to find Newt’s creatures before they get hurt and discover the cause of the attacks.

While JK Rowling released a version of Harry Potter’s first year textbook a few years ago for charity, the actual Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is her newest wizarding work. It is not, in fact, a novel but a screenplay/script from the movie. As such, it’s a very quick read but it still contains all of the elements that make a Rowling wizarding book. What makes this book extra special for me is the artwork of MinaLima, the dynamic duo artists team behind all of the Harry Potter stories and movies. Add to that the introduction of a new character who is a Hufflepuff (badger house pride!) who is lovable, dorky, but totally exceptional at what he does and I have not only found a new wizarding book but my favorite wizarding world character.

I highly recommend watching the movie then reading the script. I find that reading the script afterwards allowed me to capture what I missed in the movie since I could read dialogue I missed hearing or expand on short scenes. Either way works, but I think reading the script afterwards allowed a much better glimpse at the movie itself.

Let me be perfectly frank: I literally screamed when I heard JK Rowling was releasing a new wizarding story. I laughed when I finally saw the trailer for the movie. I grinned like an idiot throughout the entire movie. And I squealed like a teenager when I read the script. I can’t wait for the blu-ray release to live through it all again. It’s so go to be back!

My rating: 5/5