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20443235The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Some kisses come at a price.

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?. – Goodreads

Review:

To be completely honest, I struggled with this book. In part due to my mood — where every book I was reading was a struggle, but that being said, I’m so glad I read The Winner’s Kiss. When we finished the second book The Winner’s Crime Rutkoski left us on the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers. Arin was lead to believe that Kestrel lied to him and actually became engaged to the emperor’s son, not knowing it’s all part of a ruse. Because Arin was convinced that Kestrel has changed, and not for the good, he is now prepared for war.

Kestrel; however, is now a prisoner of war and what she quickly learns is the way everyone survives is to be drugged. I spent a good portion of this novel with my heart in my throat because I honestly wasn’t sure where Rutkoski was going to take the novel. You can tell that her craft is finely tuned and really at its best throughout The Winner’s Kiss.

“Nobody hurt her. This was very Valorian. Kestrel was here to work for the empire. Damage bodies don’t work well”  –6%

Kestrel’s scenes throughout the prisoner period were extremely painful to read. What Rutkoski did was make me, as the reader, feel as if I was there in the jail with Kestrel. It was uncomfortable and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The chapter breaks of Arin’s point of view was not helpful either, because he was not having an easy time himself. Although The Winner’s Trilogy has always been Kestrel’s trilogy, The Winner’s Kiss is really Arin’s time to shine. Although there was a very slow start to this book, by about 15% of the novel the speed begins to pick up and doesn’t stop until the final page.

A pivotal moment in the book is the moment Kestrel and Arin are reunited and one of them doesn’t recognize the other. It’s painful, harsh and cuts open a few wounds, but it was needed. It made The Winner’s Kiss an even stronger novel. Kestrel has obviously changed after her time in the worker’s camp and has extreme PTSD.

As well written this book was, I extremely struggled with The Winner’s Kiss, based on the fact that I’m a mood reader, I wanted to quit at about 40%. I understand that this sounds like sacrilege, but it’s true, I really struggled with this book. Ultimately for a final book, I expected more.


Hello! We are thrilled to be part of What’s Your “Winner’s Curse” Blog TourAfter I read both books I knew I would flail my arms to be part of this tour. So here we are! Welcome to our stop!

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The ‘Winner’s Curse’ is an economics term that means you’ve gotten what you wanted – but at too high a price.  What would you pay too much for?

I’ve thought long and hard about this actually. Love? A solid job that I love every day? Concert tickets? (I go to a lot of concerts.) A puppy? Let’s be real, it’s going to be the puppy right? But I ultimately decided on books, because here’s the thing. 10938939_10104635626778671_1187815709_oEven as a librarian, I own  a lot of books. I use the library all the time, I work at a library, I’m lucky enough to read ARCs and last year I still spent enough to pay off a good portion of my student loans if I would have just said no.

It’s a problem. I often buy books that I have to have only to have them sit on my shelf for a year before I sell them to my used book store down the street. Many times I start the year going “I am only going to get books for a book signing that’s coming to town!” But then I read a really, really good book and I have to buy it. Or my friend publishes a book and of course I’m going to support 10478135_10103856641970471_4860144068877182893_nthem. While in The Winner’s Curse  and The Winner’s Crime, Kestrel probably wishes that her curse could be something as simple as too many books and not paying too much for Arin, but still, without a doubt my winner’s curse is books. Oh the buyers regret I’ve had. Not every time, but enough that I have started to double guess almost any book purchase I have, because I recognize I have a problem.

But isn’t it a good problem to have? In my room I am literally surrounded by literature and my friends. Of course 10675520_10104490744693531_1017883376531321512_nmy father jokes that one spark and my room is gone. And I don’t regret the money I’ve spent going to book events (including yallfest and driving to California one day, just because I wanted to see Kasie West.) There is something comforting about seeing an author who’s book you loved and telling them how much it meant to you. Or seeing Stephanie Perkins, who you’ve talked to on her blog a lot and having her recognize your name and having her give you a hug because she knows you needed it. I don’t regret that. I also don’t regret the friends that books have brought me.

From Tina, who I run this blog with and send daily emails to about books and general life complaints to my friend Erica who works in book publishing and I almost never talk to about books. Unless it comes to how I need to purge my 711606_10102227000614811_1257611367_ncollection and she’d like to set a skype appointment with me because “Ashley you have a problem. Let’s work through it.” Or having a bookbff in which there is no book judgement? Those friendships mean the world to me.

Will I get better about my winner’s curse? Maybe. I am running out of room. It would also be nice to pay off my student loans. But the feeling of those books? And my friends? Worth it.

More about The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime

16069030The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 14, 2014
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

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.  – Goodreads

21469060The Winner’s Crime (The Winner’s Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Book two of the dazzling Winner’s Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

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.  – Goodreads


21469060The Winner’s Crime (The Winner’s Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source: Publisher (Thank you!)
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Book two of the dazzling Winner’s Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

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. – Goodreads

Review:

After I finished the first book, The Winner’s Curse, I quickly picked up The Winner’s Crime. The Winner’s Crime picks up quickly after the first book, about a month has past and Lady Kestrel currently lives in the palace with her future husband and father-in-law. Kestrel is still as ornery as she was in the first book and is still a smart game player.

She calmed herself. The emperor didn’t know the truth about the day she had pushed for an end to the Herrani rebellion. No one did. Not even Arin knew she had bought his freedom with a few strategic words … and the promise to wed the crown prince.–pg. 7 ARC.

Because Kestrel is an excellent game player, she is trying to push the wedding as far off as possible. No one, but her future father-in-law wants, this wedding to happen. The man she is promised to, Verex, is not interested in this wedding and is actually wondering why she wants to be married to him.

“If you won’t be my friend,” she told Verex, “you’ll regret being my enemy.”–pg. 46 ARC

The Emperor is not a good man, and neither is the Prince. While, for most of the novel we have no feel on the Prince, what we know is that he bribes many around him and has them in their pocket. It seems the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it came to him. When Kestrel lies to the Emperor he makes it clear she will live to regret that action. For quite sometime nothing happens, which of course makes Kestrel let her guard down, which is the last thing she

Kestrel’s life is better when she knows who the bad people are and who the good people are, and this includes Arin. Sweet Arin who ends up at the Palace with Kestrel, who remembers all of the feelings she has for him even when they both try to deny it.

They are both a Taylor Swift waiting to happen with their lack of communication and how you just want to smish them together so they can be happy. Alas, that doesn’t happen throughout The Winner’s Crime, but that’s okay, becasue Rutkoski’s email kept me so firmly in this world, that my heart was willing to forgive. I should be clear, there is nothing about The Winner’s Crime that is romance. I spent a lot of time reading this article not even sure if there would be a happy ending because Rutkoski is that good.

“Marry him,” Arin said, “but be mine in secret.”–pg. 194 ARC

The problem with the two, is that they are on different pages hoping the other is reading their page. It’s hard enough in friendships when there is misunderstandings, but when it comes to two rulers that aren’t holding a proper conversation, it is painful to read. But it is a must read. It doesn’t suffer from that dreaded middle book syndrome and is a solid book that left me wanting more from the third book.

 


twcThe Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: starstarstarblank_starblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

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.

Review:
I really love Marie Rutkoski. The Shadow Society was great, and her middle-grade seems really intriguing. I love Rutkoski so much, I knowingly started reading a fantasy romance. Kestrel is a noblewoman, privileged, wealthy, and living with her father in an occupied country. The former leaders and aristocrats of that country are now house slaves, while the indigenous peasants are just straight up slaves. So that’s nice. Her best friend is a twit named Jess, and she has a brother named Ronan. Ronan and Kestrel have an Alina/Mal relationship from early on in Shadow and Bone, meaning Ronan flirts with Kestrel, but Ronan flirts with everyone, so Kestrel does not believe he has real feelings for her. Arin, introduced as Smith, is a slave, bought by Kestrel on a whim when she and Jess happen by a slave auction one day. Arin is a skilled blacksmith, and I worried about the implications involved in a slave/master romance. Some would say it’s not possible for a slave to consent to romantic feelings because of the power held over them by their owners. They were owned. They aren’t considered people. Arin makes reference to the fact that some Valorians call the slaves “animals,” something that should sound familiar to any American with any knowledge about slavery here. In The Crown of Embers, Elisa and Hector are in love, but Hector is Elisa’s subordinate. Hector is duty-bound to do as Elisa says, even if he doesn’t want to, and risks punishment if he doesn’t comply. That is not an equal relationship. Rae Carson handled that so, so well in the Fire and Thorns series, by the way. I worried that Rutkoski wouldn’t acknowledge the imbalance of power in a meaningful way.

I really enjoyed the plot of this novel, set in an occupied country where the oppressed were once much more sophisticated than their oppressors. It’s like the Visigoths sacking Rome. Valorians ate with their fingers before discovering Herrani utensils. Valorians also had a penchant for duels, gladiator battles, and just generally finding entertainment through killing. The Herrani had music and art and poetry, which is now all owned by the Valorians. There is also an underground movement, a resistance, as there always is in these kinds of situations. The French resistance during World War II, for example. Politically, I tend to side with lefty revolutionaries, but I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to root for in this novel. Both sides are guilty of killing innocents, and how are we to know what we would do if our country came to be occupied, what methods we would use to be free. We can’t predict something like that. The Valorians invade because they think winning is the most important thing. Win or die. The Herrani could teach them a lot. So there are complicated relationships and dynamics, and it is so hard to hear Jess refer to Arin as Kestrel’s “property,” because you know she is an otherwise decent human being who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but her culture has poisoned her in a way. It’s poisoned a lot of its youth with their slave trade. I really liked this part of the novel, this exploration of the terrible things humans do to one another. The worldbuilding was great, there were no huge info dumps, no incredibly obvious foreshadowing. The only thing that bugged me about characterization is that Arin is the worst person to be planted anywhere, because he needs to blend in in order to have better access, but instead he’s yelling at Jess that she has no soul. He’s a terrible choice of spy. Kestrel is fine, though I did enjoy reading about her having her fingers broken. It kind of served her right. So the characters were fine. The romance, though, continued to trouble me a little.

Arin was a noble. This was obvious to me from the moment he was introduced at the auction. He would have been Kestrel’s equal, had he any knowledge of aristocratic life after the age of nine. He’s been a slave longer than he was a noble, and while he retains the knowledge he learned in those early years (fluency in Valorian, horsemanship, etc.), he spent his life under a master doing hard labor. He’s built up a lot of anger and resentment, and why not? It’s not like the General is a nice guy, despite loving his daughter. Kestrel herself isn’t sure if she’d remain in her father’s favor if she were to lose a duel. So I didn’t buy that Arin and Kestrel were on even playing fields. She dismisses him at will, at one point even having him locked up after lying to him (for his own good, but can you see how, for lack of a better word, paternalistic that is?). That’s not an equal relationship. I do think Kestrel has the capacity to change, and so does Arin, but I wonder if there might be resentment between them forever. Kestrels owns Arin. They aren’t friends. She’s his mistress, and he’s only a slave. I don’t find that romantic, I find it manipulative and creepy. Another thing that stuck with me was when Arin told Kestrel that her old nurse, Enai, never truly loved Kestrel, but was forced to because she was a slave. She did was she had to to survive, which included nurturing Kestrel. Enai was denied access to any children she may have had, and they were replaced by the child of a man who killed many of her people. After The Help was written, a lot was said on this topic too. Did Mammy really love the white children she took care of when she knew they’d grow into their parents, that they wouldn’t let her use the toilet inside, that someday they’d look at her with the same look as their parents? She was kept away from her children at all hours, not allowed to go home at night to see them, things like that. There were many essays written about it, and it’s very interesting. This exchange between Arin and Kestrel reminded me of that conversation in a lot of ways.

I started to like Kestrel less in the second half, through no fault of her own. She can’t be expected to see the good in revolution, so when the Herrani begin to fight back, she is very angry and betrayed. I was amused in an impatient way with her indignation. The slaver mad that the slaves don’t like being slaves. I think my update at this point was “Oh, KESTREL,” because it is really a hilarious sign of her privilege that she thought someone she owned was her friend and wouldn’t lie to her. Come on, girl. At the same time, the life she has always known is over, and that’s never easy. Regardless of her discomfort with aspects of slavery, when it comes down to abolishing it, Kestrel is not on board. And why would she be? Privileged class. I spent some of this time hoping Jess would be murdered also, because I am mean and cold-hearted. I am indifferent to Ronan. Why is romance always lost on me? It’s a curse (no pun intended). Arin, for his part, is doing a great job of looking like a fool for letting Kestrel be a jerk to him and his cousin, Sarsine. Kestrel is a jerk, but she’s right that Arin’s making sad puppy eyes at her all the time is undermining his reputation. Arin isn’t much of a leader if you ask me. Not if he lets one mouthy daughter of the occupier make him look stupid. And he does. Repeatedly. At this point, I was also starting to become uncomfortable with what I saw as the implication that Kestrel is smarter than these people. She outsmarts them, she’s coddled by Arin, she regularly humiliates them, all with no punishment. It’s like it’s being implied that because she’s presumed smarter, she has a right to be where she is, an occupier.

So I sort of ended up hating this one, and this might be the longest review I’ve written in awhile, but I left it with three stars because the plot, at least, kept me interested and I never really put the book down and walked away from it. If the next novel focuses on someone other than Kestrel, I might read. Otherwise, not for me.

Also, hello! I’m back in a limited way. Burnout is still kicking my butt, but I’m hoping all the new books coming out will help spur a renewed interest.


tssThe Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Library
Rating: starstarstarstarblank_star
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Darcy Jones doesn’t remember anything before the day she was abandoned as a child outside a Chicago firehouse. She has never really belonged anywhere—but she couldn’t have guessed that she comes from an alternate world where the Great Chicago Fire didn’t happen and deadly creatures called Shades terrorize the human population.

Memories begin to haunt Darcy when a new boy arrives at her high school, and he makes her feel both desire and desired in a way she hadn’t thought possible. But Conn’s interest in her is confusing. It doesn’t line up with the way he first looked at her.

As if she were his enemy.

When Conn betrays Darcy, she realizes that she can’t rely on anything—not herself, not the laws of nature, and certainly not him. Darcy decides to infiltrate the Shadow Society and uncover the Shades’ latest terrorist plot. What she finds out will change her world forever . . .

In this smart, compulsively readable novel, master storyteller Marie Rutkoski has crafted an utterly original world, characters you won’t soon forget, and a tale full of intrigue and suspense.

Review:
Darcy Jones is different. An orphan, her countenance and behavior freak out adults and children alike, and Darcy is bounced from foster home to foster home until finally landing with a decent human. She has friends at her suburban high school, and they protect her from the stares of others. Except for Conn McCrea, who shows up one day in Darcy’s English class, glaring like Edward Cullen. He and Darcy are soon set up as partners on a project, and they get close. Unfortunately, Conn turns out to be an interdementional cop, who arrests Darcy pretty violently and takes her to Alt Chicago (though they call our world “the Alter”) to be processed and possibly charged. Darcy, meanwhile, has no idea what’s going on, as her memory pre age five is completely gone. It’s repressed, we find out, but I won’t ruin it for you. She is accused of being a Shade, beings considered terrorists, living like second-class citizens in Alt Chicago. And they kind of are terrorists, though they have their reasons (like mass genocide of their people during the Great Fire). Darcy doesn’t decide to infiltrate Society. She’s basically forced to by Conn and the Interdemensional Bureau of Investigation in order to stay out of solitary confinement. The IBI is a nice take on our own law enforcement, and how sometimes we can take things too far. So, Darcy decides to make a scene in public, outing herself as a Shade in order to gain entrance to the Society’s Sanctuary. It works, and she meets Orion, son of a Society council member, Meridian (they all have names like that). Darcy isn’t exactly welcomed into Society by the other Shades, but she’s allowed to stay in the Sanctuary.

I liked this one a lot, partly because it’s set in Chicago, and Rutkoski is pretty obviously from around here. She gets everything right, and the departures she took in Alt Chicago were fascinating and horrifying, like the idea of brownstones on the corner of Michigan Ave and Van Buren St (that’s the heart of downtown, or the Loop). The idea of no EL was jarring too. I loved it. It was pretty perfect, scenery-wise. I also liked Darcy herself. She’s been abandoned so many times, betrayed, hurt, that she doesn’t trust her own feelings, especially when it comes to Conn. She has to decide if she wants to be a Shade or a human, and it’s hard decision for an adult, let alone a confused seventeen-year-old girl. Darcy is in emotional pain for a lot of the novel, but she doesn’t do a whole lot of rash or stupid things. She just tries to figure things out. And she does, eventually, but that doesn’t mean things don’t get messy. She is pursued by Orion pretty aggressively, and Darcy has some pretty awesome things to say to Orion about it:

“No,” I said. “Help is freely given. You did something else. My body isn’t a bargaining chip. It’s not yours just because you want it, or because you think I owe you something.”

There is a mystery and a twist, and I had some idea what the mystery was, but I wasn’t prepared for the lengths the Shades were willing to go to destroy the humans. Despite what it sounds like, not all Shades want to destroy humans, and Rutkoski did a good job showing that by making it something Darcy is confronted about. At least two high up Shade officials do not support the terrorist activities of their fellows, and Darcy and Conn can eventually use that to their advantage. And speaking of Darcy and Conn, their love story is sweet and hard and heartbreaking and cute. I liked them together, and I think they worked through their issues in a realistic way. The romance was certainly not at the forefront of the novel either.

So go out and get this one! I loved it, and it’s perfect for anyone who likes alternate history with a supernatural slant.