Book Review: The Winner’s Kiss

Title: The Winner’s Kiss (The Winner’s Trilogy #3)20443235

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: 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?

Review: If you have followed my reviews of The Winner’s Trilogy, or have read the books for yourself, then you will know that the story of Kestrel and Arin is one to bring exquisite joy and agony. Once in a slave and owner relationship, the two of them fall in love, despite being on opposite sides of an impending war between their countries. Their loyalties towards their people and what they thought they stood for are continuously tested, with betrayals occurring in the mind of the greater good, leaving both characters where they are at the opening of The Winner’s Kiss. War is now the only option for the Valorians and the Herrani.

Continuing her magnificent style of writing, Rutkoski weaves a story of politics, war, and romance. Push and pull. Give and take. Choices, that will hopefully improve if the hero and heroine are able to make a better world. Forgiveness also plays a large part in this conclusion, asking questions about its shape and its possibility. Kestrel and Arin must learn more about themselves, for with all that has occurred since they first fell in love they are no longer the same people.

For me, Kestrel and Arin are my favorite romance in YA Fiction. I have always been able to feel connected to them; largely in part to the way they are written. Their feelings towards the situations they must face, and especially towards each other, have always reached off the page to grab a hold of my heart. When characters are so easily able to reach their audience there is no place for the emotion to hide; you will feel it, you will buckle under it, grow frustrated with it, praise it, love it: all because it is so true and raw.

In my opinion, this is one of the best series conclusions I have ever come across. I feel so complete inside, while also being so bereft to leave behind two characters that I love so much. Their story, and the story of the Herrani gods, will live on within me hopefully, because I really do not see how it could ever get better than this.

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Review: Vengeance Road

23719270Title: Vengeance Road

Author: Erin Bowman

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden gold mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers—and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.

Review: Life changes forever when Kate Thompson returns home to find her house burning and her father hanged. Along the road, she can see the dust as those responsible flee on horseback, spurring her to seek revenge, and to seek answers about why her father was killed and by whom. Thus an adventure is set, moving across the Wild West of Arizona, entangling Kate with two brothers on her trail, and a quest for gold that can leave them all dead.

And I loved every minute of this one.

First of all, it is refreshing to come across a story in the YA genre that is something other than contemporary or fantasy. Vengeance Road did not shy away from the staples of a good Western story, containing action, saloons, gangs, stagecoaches, shoot-outs and rugged terrain. Violence and the consequences of actions spurred by greed or single-mindedness are never shied away from. The author did a fantastic job to place her readers within the setting; Kate speaks with a dialect straight from a Western, and every location was clearly painted, especially once the Superstition Mountains are reached. In addition, I thought the main characters were real. I understood Kate’s need to seek justice and answers; she never came off as a character putting on airs to suit the story that needed to be told. Even when she discovers romance with another character it felt true and never distracted from her goal and the story.

I come away from this one with an entirely new appreciation for Westerns, while hoping that I will encounter more excellently plotted ones in the future. Take a chance on this one, even if Westerns are not your usual style, because I do believe the other elements of the story will please every reader.

Review: Ross Poldark

25365667Title: Ross Poldark (The Poldark Saga #1)

Author: Winston Graham

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew.

Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

Review: What can I say? After watching the most-recent BBC adaptation of this series, I knew I needed to read the books as well. Due to time restraints, I actually listened to the audiobook, which was absolutely amazing in case you wanted to know; the narrator was fantastic!

I think the appeal of this series is that it is a generational saga that sucks the reader to the coast of Cornwall. All of the characters, primary and secondary alike, are given their own voices, personalities, flaws, and further complexities to carry them through their lives. I felt as if these were real people: there is depth to the interactions and relationships with one another. Because the writing of the characters is so strong it becomes compulsory to want to be amongst them more and more, hence I understand the lasting appeal of the Poldark saga.

Beyond the strong characterization is also the firm sense of time and place. This is superb historical fiction, taking place after Ross returns from the Revolutionary War to find his places at home in Cornwall. The towns, homes,the coast, and the way of life are all depicted give the reader proper footing to understand these people and why they feel the need to make certain choices.

Excellent read/listen. I can’t recommend this enough.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

25142924Title: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

Author: Mitch Albom

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: This is the epic story of Frankie Presto—the greatest guitar player who ever lived—and the six lives he changed with his six magical blue strings

Frankie, born in a burning church, abandoned as an infant, and raised by a music teacher in a small Spanish town, until war rips his life apart. At nine years old, he is sent to America in the bottom of a boat. His only possession is an old guitar and six precious strings. His amazing journey weaves him through the musical landscape of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, with his stunning playing and singing talent affecting numerous stars (Duke Ellington, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley) until, as if predestined, he becomes a pop star himself.

He makes records. He is adored. But Frankie Presto’s gift is also his burden, as he realizes the power of the strings his teacher gave him, and how, through his music, he can actually affect people’s lives. At the height of his popularity, tortured by his biggest mistake, he vanishes. His legend grows. Only decades later, having finally healed his heart, does Frankie reappearjust before his spectacular death—to change one last life. With the Spirit of Music as our guide, we glimpse into the lives that were changed by one man whose strings could touch the music—and the magic—in each of us.

A lifelong musician, Mitch Albom’s passion shines through on every page. Written with an ear for rhythm and cadence, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is a classic in the making. Heartrending and inventive, Albom’s latest is infused with the message that “everyone joins a band in this life”—and that music, like love, has the power to affect us all.

Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto is one of those books that demonstrate why I love to read.

From the very beginning I was captivated by this story. The reader is introduced to the narrator, Music, who is to go on to tell the life of one of his most treasured disciples, Frankie Presto. As someone who loved the narration of Death in The Book Thief, this storytelling technique worked very well for me. Music bestows talent upon those who reach for its color at birth, and it also collects from a person once they leave the world. The narration lent even more magic to the story with the conversational tone it took up with the reader, because in that tone I could detect the passion Music had for those who loved it as much as it loved them.

And because of the love Music had for Frankie, I was able to connect with him and those important people in his life whom he would go on to form bands with. I always wanted the best for him, I always found myself rooting for him and for something good to finally happen to him. In the end, this book is about many things, but what I will take from it to be the most beautiful is the ability of people to connect and contribute to Frankie’s journey like I did, and how that exhibited kindness and openness of the heart is the true magic that can change the lives of the many bands people join in life.

No words could ever do justice to how beautiful I found this book and how much it touched me.

Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids

Title: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids 23309653

Author: Sarah Ockler

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

Review: After an accident at sea takes away her ability to speak, and most importantly: to sing, Elyse goes to Oregon for the lack of anything else to do. There she hopes to be left alone, and come to terms with the new reality that is her life. Instead, she is swept up in the storm that is a small-coastal town on the cusp of large-scale development, all of which hinders on a bet that she can impact if she overcomes her fears and regains her voice.

To say that I loved this book is a bit of an understatement. I was transported to the town of Atargatis Cove, to live among these characters, and to understand Elyse. Within this story is the incorporation of so many important issues, such as the loss of identity in the light of corporate development and the confinement of gender roles and expectations.

Even more significant is the discussion of speech versus voice, and how Elyse learns that one does not necessitate the other. So many of these characters have lost their voice, or had it taken from them; they must overcome their fears and reconstruction of long-term dreams. To go on this journey with Elyse and Christian was everything that this book promised to be. I do not just recommend that people read this book; I encourage it, as it is one of the best contemporary stories I have come across in a very long time.

Review: The Hedge Knight

11970747Title: The Hedge Knight (The Tales of Dunk and Egg #1)

Author: George R.R. Martin

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: A novella originally published August 25, 1998 in the Legends anthology, edited by Robert Silverberg. Set in the world of the Song of Ice and Fire series eighty-nine years before the events of the main cycle, the story relates the adventures of Dunk (eponymously called Ser Duncan the Tall) and his squire, Egg.

Review: Desperate to return to the world of Westeros — and admittedly impatient for book six of the series — The Hedge Knight was exactly what I needed. Set eighty-nine years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place, this short story is the first of a series that follows a knight from Flea Bottom and his young squire. On their first adventure they meet, attend a tournament, and must fight for their lives.

Tournaments of the past are something that has long been mentioned within the series, so it was wonderful to be placed within one to witness the rules and traditions. Even more enlightening and enjoyable, however, was being able to be in the presence of members of the Targaryen royal family. George R.R. Martin is one of the most gifted writers I have ever encountered; the way he is able to form multiple characters in such a limited amount of pages amazed me. I leave this story with a greater appreciation for what could have been with the Targaryens had things been different in certain cases, along with being filled with anticipation to witness the further development of the two main characters as they embark of further adventure where they will hopefully meet more characters with eventual stakes in the series.

The Hedge Knight is a must-read for fans of this world.

Review: The Silkworm

Title: The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) 18214414

Author: Robert Galbraith

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

Review: A year after the release of The Cuckoo’s Calling comes another crime fiction novel about the private detective, Cormoran Strike. Eight months have passed since he solved the case of Lula Landry, and the notoriety he has gained from the press has elevated Strike’s struggling agency to one that is nearly afloat. Until Leonora Quine appears in his office, Strike had been booked for cases dealing with frivolous investigations, such as spying on roaming lovers or spouses. But Leonora asks for something different: she asks for Strike to find her missing husband, an author named Owen Quine, and bring him home.

Quine has been missing for days, yet in the past it had not been uncommon for him to walk out on his family for periods of time due to his attention-seeking nature. However, things are different this time around now that his disappearance coincides with the uproar that has taken the publishing world by storm as the first draft of his newest novel is passed to agents and leaked to others. In the pages of his work are damning caricatures of the people around him, and none of them are pleased with what has been said about them and all of them could have sought revenge. In order to solve this mystery Strike, his assistant, Robin, and a cast of supporting characters who are in close confidences with Cormoran must delve into the pages of Bombyx Mori with critical and textual analysis. I don’t know about others that have read this book, but I did not see it coming…

And I love that!

If you are a reader who is interested in a slow-burning story then this is the book for you. From the very beginning the author lays out clues very clearly, but you have to continue to read for them to begin to form a bigger picture. After being so surprised with the murderer of The Cuckoo’s Calling I was determined to go through this book slower in the hopes that I would beat Strike to the punch; I’d flip back to previous chapters to re-read information, I’d form theories in my head. But I never guessed the killer or the motive behind the act, and in the end I am glad for my failure because it adds so much more to the reading experience to go on this ride all the way to the end. This case draws Strike into the world of publishing to display it for the good and the bad, and I cannot help but wonder the motivation for that as well. After her trust is betrayed she comes out with a story like this: is it brilliant or ironic? All I can say is please, please, please let J.K. Rowling continue to write more installments in this crime fiction series because she has a total knack for it.