Monday, March 2, 2015

BR: The Winner's Crime

by Marie Rutkoski
The Winner's Trilogy; book I

The Winner’s Curse was one of those unsuspecting books that really swept me off my feet- I had such a book crush on it, especially since it left me DYING for a sequel.

Summary (goodreads):


**contains SPOILERS for book I!**




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.
**

My Thoughts

So, The Winner’s Crime.

!!!

Let's start with the good bits- the best bits- which are the characters. I loved Arin’s character development, The Winner’s Curse is mostly from Kestrel’s point of view, so it was really exciting to get to learn more about Arin. I liked the character traits he embodied this time around that (mostly) couldn’t be seen in book 1, such as his lack of self-preservation, his risky need to push limits. While he was definitely more complex as a character, I found him frustrating as well-- there was a bit too much push-pull (although we can all agree, his situation really isn't ideal).

It was like the book was filled with these maddening moments where readers are teased over and over again, until I stopped feeling that stirring of surprise and longing for something to just happen already. I'm still a fan of Kestrel, though I had some issues with her INABILITY TO JUST GET WITH ARIN ALREADY (wait what? did I say something?). I liked the new characters introduced—the Emperor is a delightfully awful person (although a bit too familiar), Verex seemed sweet, and Tensen was such a great surprise. Also, Kestrel’s dad deserves a sentence too: here you go, General Trajan.

Where the book failed to earn five stars though, is the plot. The pacing was great, but the plot itself just felt messy at times. A mixture of too many things going on (Empire, Herran, Eastern lands), plus the subplots which theoretically ties well into the plot, but were executed poorly (like the trail is set… just awkwardly, but the final reveal is no less satisfying). Like, there’s this whole part with Arin that felt very “good not great”. It definitely falls to sequel-syndrome, in the sense that it feels like a bridge between books 1 and 3, but I’m also a little wary of what book 3 will bring—I think the plot will be a major make or break factor for the final book in the trilogy. It also calls back to how The Winner's Curse (book 1) felt more contained in terms of both setting and plot, and thus felt more tightly wound and better executed.

Writing? Well done, for the most part, although there was still a bit too much tell-not-show.

So overall, I very much enjoyed reading this sequel, mostly because I adore the characters—Kestrel and Arin. Rutkoski did a fine job keeping their character motivations in check, but there were just other aspects of the book that just didn’t hit the right notes.

8/10 – because it was a valiant effort, but not quite perfect. Rutkoski expanded her world and cast, but at the (minor) expense of plot and secondary characters. Kestrel and Arin are lovingly frustrating (THAT ENDING), but hey, I can deal with that. I can’t wait to deal with that.

The Winner's Crime is released March 3, 2015! 








source: e-galley
author website
series website

My mini-review of book one, The Winner's Curse. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

BR: All the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven

TFIOS meets Eleanor & Park is lofty praise, but I don't usually listen to blurbs like that. Instead, I saw how highly rated this book was on goodreads + its subject matter + the other author comparisons... which made me so incredibly stoked to read it (I actually purchased it instead of waiting for the library, that's how badly I wanted it). But of course, this comes with high expectations.

Summary (goodreads):

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
**

My Thoughts

A lot of my thoughts have to do with things I wanted from this book. Perhaps it is a bit unfair to go in with high expectations, to want to be overwhelmed and impressed, to wish for something spectacular. I thought this was it, this would be the one to blow me away. But, well, it wasn't.

To put it in perspective, I got more upset during the acknowledgements than during the book itself.

My reasons for not loving this book has less to do with the book, and more to do with my personal reactions, in a true "it's not you, it's me" reaction. I can recognize how objectively, this book is well done- the main characters are incredibly complex, the writing is whimsical and fitting, and the plot was overloaded with quirkiness.

However, for the life of me, I just couldn't connect with Violet, and at the end of the day, I think that's what is needed for a reader to fall in love with this book. I wasn't really on board with Finch until maybe the halfway point. There wasn't that personal emotional investment in these characters, and I didn't feel like I needed to flip the pages faster to make sure these people are going to be okay at the end-- that feeling, the urgency just wasn't really there, and I think that's what I wanted (and why I was disappointed). And the thing is, I can't really give any reason why - which is why I'm not faulting the book.

What I did like (love) was certain beats of the book. I feel like the 'beats' in the novel (the word just fits, to me, it means like a small chunk of a chapter where things kind of expand for a moment - seriously emotional parts, particular turns of phrases, specific paragraphs of especially powerful writing) were very well done. I could feel myself being pulled in for a second by something Finch does, or something Violet says, but then I'll fall back as the plot continues moving along. I do want to comment on how much I liked Niven's portrayal of Finch - his Awake and Asleep and inbetween, all-consuming feelings were well done-- I liked that Niven wasn't scared to go places with her characters that made my jaw drop (this is true).

There were also parts of the book where I just couldn't really buy into Finch and Violet's romance (and couldn't stand Finch's pushiness, although I understand it's part of the character). It felt very high-school and very insta-love at times. I wish there were more development with the Eleanor aspect, I'm not sure how, but I didn't feel like the closure part hit the right notes for me.

Lastly, I definitely want to discuss how mental illness is such a vital part of this novel - and how well Niven dove head-first into these serious issues. I respect her book's portrayal of the consuming thoughts that an individual is NOT at fault for, the ways she describes fighting and fighting against something that feels so overwhelming and inevitable. It made that big "thing" that happened not feel off, and ultimately made this book heartbreaking and Remarky-able.

7.8/10 - because the characters just didn't do it for me, and with that, I couldn't get as invested in the book as I wanted to be. Perhaps it was my high expectations, but I'm left a bit disappointed. That said, even though it didn't completely connect for me, I'm still singing praises for this one.








source: bought
author website / twitter

Thursday, January 22, 2015

BR: Everything I Never Told You

by Celeste Ng

This novel topped Amazon's Best Books of 2014... and I'm like, oh cool, I guess I'll read it. Plus it's not YA, so huzzah for stepping outside comfort zones!

Summary (goodreads):

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart
**

My (brief) Thoughts

Tears and tears.

There's a lot to love about this book. The characters are complex and intriguing; they carry the story as we flit through histories and grief and the moments in life where perspectives clash and misunderstandings happen. Ultimately, it's a book about histories that shape individuals and the dynamics that hold a family together or tear them apart.

The writing was a little heavy handed at times- Ng's prose sometimes felt too 'tell' instead of show, especially regarding James and Marilyn. However, she shines when really creating the suffocating atmosphere of the Lee household, and setting the stage before and after Lydia's death. Each character had his or her own motivations and complex relationship with Lydia, which made the story richer and Lydia's death that much heavier. I appreciated Ng's refusal to shy away from the racial aspect of the novel and the harsh realities befell upon people of colour and intolerance of society, and felt particularly realistic given the time period and setting.

The story is quiet and beautiful and sad, it's about people and their desires and dreams and promises kept because of love. Oh, and tears. Definitely recommended!

8.4/10









source: library
author's website / twitter

Friday, December 26, 2014

Favourites of 2014

GUYS! 2014 is like, over!
This is nuts.

I lovelovelove favourites lists, in fact, one may even say that favourites lists are my favourite lists. I love to see what books resonated with readers at the end of the year, and which books seem to be a consensus favourite so I can pick them up with higher expectations (heh), as well as to see if I've missed out on books I've been meaning to read.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't actually meet my meager goal of 35 books this year-- same old excuses: university, homework, work, life, time, money, TV shows, passive hobbies... but that doesn't mean I didn't read any fan-effing-tastic ones that I'm eager to share. As per the last few years, I'll be copying the same format (see 2011, 2012, 2013 or just look in the sidebar) that was originally adapted from the lovely Nomes at Inkcrush (it's been years now, Nomes! Wowza.)



BOOKS



1. favourite book read in 2014!!!


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This book. THIS BOOK!!! It's released in 2012 and it's won a slew of well-deserved prizes. I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading it, and when I finally did, it was like the universe had finally calmed down for a moment long enough to let me enjoy the simplicity and beauty of words on a page. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me feel so full of heart and love for these characters that I just want to write jibberish to convey my feelings.

I have so much love for Ari and Dante, and this is the most beautiful book I've read this year.





2. book you were excited about but didn't live up to your expectations

Raging Star by Moira Young. This book makes me a bit angry because I was so emotionally invested and in love with this series (the first book blew me away, the second was a brilliant shocker) and this last one was just frustrating and unengaging and horribly unenjoyable. *frowny face*
There's a handful of other books that could have made this list as well, but this one is the unlucky stand-out.






3. best ache-y, heart-breaking, tear-jerker read

ache-y:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Did you not read what I just wrote above? I ached for these wonderfully realized characters, and their wonderfully realized lives

heart-breaking:
All the Rage by Courtney Summers
This is released in 2015, but boy, did my heart hurt for Romy and boy, did I want to strangle a lot of people. 

tearjerker:
Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan (The Lynburn Legacy, book 3)
I unashamedly adore SRB and she put readers through a very specific and literary hell for this one





4. delicious, rainy day comfort read

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg
This was just such a fluffy, predictable, but still incredibly charming read. Very cute, definitely recommended. 






5. adrenalin-filled, unputdownable read

Catalyst by SJ Kincaid
I want to bring some more attention to Kincaid's Insignia series, Catalyst is book 3 (read my review) and this series is just a bundle of fun, fast-paced action with witty retorts and a fantastic protagonist (that I feel Kincaid gleefully put readers through HELL in this last book).




6. the beautiful prose award

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Is this getting unfair yet? 







7. most atmospheric and vivid setting

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Another book published in 2012, this time it's an immersing fantasy book about dragons. Dragons! 



8. best under-appreciated, hidden-gem book

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This is a high fantasy adventure that was marketed as Ocean's Eleven meets Robin Hood. It is neither of these things, but it is still fantastic -- great pacing, sympathetic characters, excellent action, shocking twists... give this one a go.





9. i-had-no-idea-i-would-love-this-so award
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski 
I distinctly remember my friend Eden holding a giveaway for this book and I had no clue what it was about-- she mentioned how it had been super popular in the blogosphere (again, something I was completely oblivious to) but I poked around the interwebs and decided to trust the reviews and picked it up for myself. It was SO much better than I had expected-- I thought it'd be a 3-4 star read, but I think it's like a 4-5 star read, because I was thoroughly entertained and engrossed in the world and the chemistry between the characters.  



10. outside my comfort zone but gosh how i loved liked it

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
This is a mix of a memoir/nonfiction story, and I gave it a rating of 7.7/10 (so not "loved", but still enjoyed). I'm putting this on my list mostly because I didn't really read anything outside of my comfort zone (does journal articles for school count?) and this is pretty much the only non-YA, non-fiction book I read this year. I do encourage you to watch her TED talk (here), or, while we are on the topic, Brene Brown's TED talk (here).


11. an unfinished series that i'm loving 

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer 
Same as last year! I finished Cress in 2013 (so now I've gone an entire year without a Marissa Meyer book.. *sniff*.. it was fantastic.
Fairest is a companion novel about Queen Levana, and is released in January 2015, while the conclusion, Winter, is released in November. And I am beyond excited.

Honourable Mentions:
The Winner's Curse Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski (I've read book 2 already... so I've got a pretty long wait til the last one)
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss (not holding my breath here, though)





12. can't believe i waited so long to read this

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I can't believe I'm 2 years late to this delightful party.







13. book that lived up to (or superseded) the hype

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
I expected a solid 4-star read, and I got the solid 4-star read. LaCour is a talented author and I've read and enjoyed (and given 4 stars to) all of her books :) Emmi's job was the coolest!
Also, I didn't want to put Ari & Dante on this list again





14. want to re-read already

Aristotle and Dante....  

Yeah, no ragrets.




MOMENTS



1. best plot-twist (no spoilers!)

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
A mild spoiler: "NOOOOOOOOOO HOW COULD YOU" that is all, Mr Lynch, that is all. Not really. You bastard (I say this lovingly).

Honourable Mentions:
Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan-- the above comment works for you, too.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart -- admittedly the hype kind of killed my enjoyment (and memory) for this book, but I apparently really liked it when I first read it (I gave it an 8.5/10). Anywho, great twist. 



2. best swoon-worthy moment


"I love swimming - and you." 
-this is from a book you can probably guess. I'm not sure if the quote is 100% accurate because I don't own the book (*cries*)... but you get the gist.




3. best cliffhanger

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski
Not gonna say any more, it's released in 2015.





4. best ending for a stand-alone

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
This one is a re-read.
I get a little choked up when I read "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman, and a ride home." (which like a dork, is something I've memorized, and is why I noticed that it's misquoted in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and that bugged me to no end. Why am I even telling you this?) 


5. best ending for a series

Catalyst by S. J. Kincaid (The Insignia trilogy). I didn't finish too many series this year, but oh gosh, Catalyst was so satisfying. Not perfect, but definitely loved the darker tone and the resolution for such an action-packed trilogy.





CHARACTERS

1. most memorable female character

Kestrel - The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Loved her.



2. most memorable male character

Dante - Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Or maybe Ari? Is anyone surprised by my lists anymore? 



3. favourite friendship
Kami and Angela - Untold/Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan. 
They were pretty kick-ass-- a sassy, headstrong detective coupled with a secretly-caring but outwardly apathetic bff. They're sisters, really.


4. favourite relationship 

I DARE YOU TO GUESS 

I don't really want to spoil it? But like, it should be pretty obvious by now.. 

5. new literary crush

Probably Dante's parents, or something. I should retire this category, I don't seem to crush on literary characters very much anymore. 


6. favourite sibling relationship

Angela and Rusty - Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan
SRB, you sure are making a lot of appearances on this list!


7. best villain

~society~
BECAUSE SOCIETY KIND OF SUCKS SOMETIMES.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers (released April 2015)
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski



OTHER

1. favourite cover (of a book i read)



It's just so pretty!!



2. book you're looking forward to the most in 2015

This year's list: The Howling Boy by Cath Crowley, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Winter by Marissa Meyer, Minders by Michele Jaffe, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Also, any type of book and/or grocery list by Melina Marchetta.

Several debut authors, and a book I've been holding out for for a few years.

Last year's list (strike-outs mean I read them): The Howling Boy by Cath Crowley, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Raging Star by Moira Young, Catalyst by S.J. KincaidThe Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey.

And to Markus Zusak, WHEN DOES THE BRIDGE OF CLAY COME OUT?!?!??!??!! (just kidding, take your time) <-- pretty sure this comment has been here for the last three years


**


And that's it! Kind of long, kind of repetitive, just like my internal monologues.

Thanks to all of you who have stuck around and read my singular blog post each month (even then, not always). I really appreciated your comments, and I hope to keep it up next year, since I love to set hazardously low bars for myself.

I hope you all read wonderful books and explored worlds and fell in love with characters and prose. Please let me know what your favourite read was this year, I'd love to know!

I'll be posting my favourite movies in the upcoming days, so stay tuned.

Lastly, have a wonderful new year, and an extraordinary 2015. Here's to you! xx

-Audrey

12.26.2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

a Holiday wishlist

Dear Santa,

For Christmas, I want:

A Quentin Tarantinto-esque YA novel (this is very important, Santa. I've been thinking about this a lot). Must include: twisted off-kilter protagonists, dark but funny dialogue, unexpected character deaths, suspense for the ages, violence (preferably not hypersexualized, though), and someone I can visualize as Christoph Waltz.

A ticket for The Hobbit 3 (to be cashed in tonight).

Sarah Rees Brennan to finish writing a her parodies of The 100 (they are brilliant and got me through watching the entire series). In other news, The 100 is not terrible and has complex female characters and a boatload of grey-tinged morality (the best colour for morality, I say!). It also has a boy named Bellamy and a girl named Clarke who need to get married already.

More time to read books. Or, more motivation to do so. And please make Scarlet (from Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen) not annoying, I'm only a few chapters into the book and I really want to like it but I'm worried it's going to veer into mind-numbingly-frustrating-heroine-slash-love-triangle territory.

A good TV show to watch. The Americans? Broad City? True Detective?

Some tiramisu cake from Costco (let's face it, it's the best dessert ever created).

Winter by Marissa Meyer

My TV shows to come back from hiatus.

Someone to write my best-of list because I'm pretty lazy (hint: you can just put one book for all the categories because it is the best)

**

So... what's on your list?