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.

Review: Banished

23385196Title: Banished (Forbidden #2)

Author: Kimberley Griffiths Little

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: After spending months traveling the harsh, unforgiving Mesopotamian desert, Jayden reunites with a broken, injured Kadesh. Although everyone was convinced the violent and unpredictable Horeb, Jayden’s betrothed, killed the handsome prince, Jayden knew in her heart that her love was alive and safe. But their reunion is short-lived, as they learn Horeb is on their trail and determined to take back the girl he has claimed. Soon, the two star-crossed lovers are on the run toward Sariba, Kadesh’s homeland, where, as heir to the kingdom, he plans to make Jayden his princess.

But the trek to Sariba comes with heartache and danger. After narrowly escaping being stoned to death for a crime she didn’t commit, and learning that her sister has disappeared, Jayden’s only solace is her love for Kadesh. But even he is keeping secrets from her…secrets that will change everything.

Review: What happened? One of the things I loved so much about the first book,Forbidden, was the depiction of settings, due to the way it was able to sweep me into the world and the way of life of nomadic tribes such as Jayden’s. Despite being on a journey through the desert for a majority of the story there was no magic in terms of the setting this time around. Rather than immerse the readers into the world, as she had done before, the author seemed as if she were focused on so many other facets of her plot, And unfortunately I did not think all these new plot points did much to enhance this story.

For example, there are so many new threats to Jayden and Kadesh’s future happiness. Jayden’s betrothed, Horeb, continues to be an ever-looming presence, but in addition to him is a new storyline about idol worship, temples, magicians, priest and priestesses. Kadesh also holds on to far too many secrets for far too long; this was a problem for me because my hope with the end of the first book was that Jayden and Kadesh would come to know each other better so that my mind and emotions could comprehend the love they profess for one another. With so many secrets, however, this could not come to pass, making the dialogue and interactions between them feel very stilted and repetitive.

Jayden also became lost for me in Banished. I had connected with her strongly because of her commitment to her family and faith, as well as her determination to take what she desires in life rather than settle for what had been arranged for her. While she would worry over her sisters, her father, and grandmother, that grounded commitment did not feel as strong. Maybe I would have rather had a book focused upon moving towards someone rather than fleeing from enemies.


 

Be sure to check out the giveaway I have going for my blog’s 3rd anniversary!

Book Review: The Siren

25817407Title: The Siren

Author: Kiera Cass

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of.

Falling in love with a human breaks the Ocean’s rules. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.

Review: Pleasantly surprised by this one. Yes, it did include a bit of an instant-love situation, but I have to admit that I completely get it because Akinli was so precious. Kahlen was also a main character that I could understand; the author did a wonderful job of making her dreams and motivations very clear cut to explain her actions.

What I’ll remember most about this book is the fresh take it took on sirens, and the nature of the Ocean. In this story sirens are chosen to sing people to their death in order to feed the Ocean; it is very much a case of a few being sacrificed to save the majority, and it does bring about struggles with responsibility and guilt.

Even better, I initially felt as if I knew where this story would go, in terms of the love angle and the need to be free of the Ocean and siren duties to reach an endgame. I was surprised by the turn of events. At the end I was sucked into this story, unable to put it down. So if you are on the lookout for a YA contemporary with siren-lore then I would recommend giving this a try.

Book Club: Princess in Training and Party Princess

The Princess Diaries Book Club is an ongoing collaboration with my friend Cilla and her blog, Paved with Books. We decided that we would reread this series, at our own pace, and always come back to our blogs and each other to discuss the story and how we feel about it now. If you are interested in joining us, please do!

Title: Princess in Training (The Princess Diaries #6)93726

Author: Meg Cabot

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: Princess for president!

Student body president, that is — nominated by her power-mad best friend, Lilly. This is not how Mia imagined kicking off her sophomore year, but as usual, she has bigger problems to worry about, like Geometry. And now that Mia’s one true love, Michael, is uptown at college, what’s the point of even getting up for school in the morning? But the last straw is what Lana whispers to her on the lunch line about what college boys expect of their girlfriends. . . . Really, it’s almost more than a princess in training can bear!

Review: Surprisingly, this installment of the Princess Diaries series went down much smoother than the others. There was still the problem of Lily, as she attempted to manipulate her way into the Student Council presidency through the nomination of Mia. But there was also a significant amount of growth here for Mia as she copes with a student government election, the question of whether Michael expects them to become sexually active now that he is a college student, and the repercussions of her environmental actions on the international level.

Mia has begun to open her eyes: as a princess she has a responsibility to think of how her actions and opinions will impact the Genovian people. She also realizes that the promises she makes to people in a government capacity mean something for her, and that she wants to take the responsibility. Whereas she usually obsesses over something with Michael until the last minute, this time around she told him how she felt. This is progress! This is what I have been waiting to see, if you have been following these book club discussions. This book made me look forward to the next one because there has to be more from here on out.

 

Title: Party Princess (The Princess Diaries #7) 85993

Author: Meg Cabot

Rating: ★★1/2

Provided Synopsis: Princess just want to have fun . . . And Mia does too, despite the fact that the student government over which she presides is suddenly broke. But Grandmere’s got a wacky scheme to raise the money, catapult Mia to theatrical fame, and link her romantically with an eligible teen bachelor who’s not her boyfriend. No wonder Michael seems to think she’s a psycho, or worse: not much fun. Is it possible that Mia, soon-to-be star of the stage, president of the student body, and future ruler of Genovia, doesn’t know how to party?

Review: I didn’t hate it. But is it just me, or did this feel like it could have been a novella? Mia is invited to a party at Michael’s house and she is not sure what to do or how to act because she is not a “party girl.” The student council that Mia runs is broke and she needs to find a way to gather money for the seniors graduation. Grandmere has written a musical, and has enlisted students from Mia’s school to perform it. There was a LOT of things happening in this book, though I have to ponder: did any of this advance the characters?

Mia is still not communicating completely with Michael. But she has learned that a president (or anyone in charge of a government) should pay attention to the money rather than delegating the responsibility to another. Mia sells herself short in terms of a role in Grandmere’s play, insisting that Lily “deserves” it for no other reason than she continues to be under that girl’s thumb. The grand gesture at the end was so cheesy it was cringe-worthy (although that could be my age speaking, since I am clearly not the target age-group of this series anymore). And really, did any of this need to happen to progress the story of the series?!

Review: The Impostor Queen

23495112Title: The Impostor Queen

Author: Sarah Fine

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

Review: The only reason this is receiving four stars rather than five is because in the end this story wound up being a novel-length prequel to the true fight to come. But do not allow that to deter you from reading The Impostor Queen because this is an incredibly engaging fantasy story that did so many things well.

Elli, when the reader first meets her, holds the title of the Saadella, meaning that she is in a way the crown princess who will become queen upon the death of her Valtia. In the land of Kupari, the Valtia is the wielder of fire and ice magic, making her incredibly powerful and the chosen ruler because of the balance she is able to maintain while she uses both mediums. When a Valtia dies, the magic passes on to her Saadella, to make her the new Valtia and to create a new Saadella so the cycle might continue forever and protect the Kupari people.

But when Elli’s Valtia dies, the power does not come to her. With her life now in danger she retreats to the outer rims of society, where she learns about her power, prophecies, the different natures of fire and ice magic, and the responsibility she feels towards her people. The pace in this story could fluctuate between the high and the low, though I always managed to feel invested in the story and the mysteries about the Valtia and the Kupari magic. Elli was a main character that is easily able to align with as she pursues this journey. This story did a lot of set-up on the relationships between her and the people who will go on to become players in the next novel. And the magic – I thought it was so interesting, and to me it felt like it offered a fresh take on fire and ice magic within the fantasy genre realm.

In the end, I would highly recommend this book. The fantasy elements are strong, the dynamics between characters are interesting (and the romance made me feeeeeel!), and I can promise you that you will want to see how the prophecy will play out as the story moves forward.

Book Club: Princess in Pink

The Princess Diaries Book Club is an ongoing collaboration with my friend Cilla and her blog, Paved with Books. We decided that we would reread this series, at our own pace, and always come back to our blogs and each other to discuss the story and how we feel about it now. If you are interested in joining us, please do!

Title: The Princess Diaries (The Princess Diaries #5) 93731.jpg

Author: Meg Cabot

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: Princess Mia is dreaming about the prom – and contending with a hotel workers’ strike – in the fifth, supremely hilarious episode of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries. This time, Mia’s in the pink about the upcoming Albert Einstein H.S. prom, and she’s crossing her fingers that Michael will ask her to go. (They’re in love, so why wouldn’t he ask her, right?) But during Seven Minutes in Heaven at her b-day party, Mia learns that Michael is not the prom-going type. Good grief, what’s a princess to do?

To make matters worse, Grandmere has gotten a busboy fired due to a mishap with her pooch, Rommel, at a swanky restaurant, so when all of the city’s busboys go on strike, it causes a chain of events that result in Grandmere crashing at Mia’s mom’s place, her pal Lilly Moscovitz picking up a picket sign, and the prom being brought to a screeching halt.

Thankfully, staunch yet boy-wise Grandmere has a plan to change Michael’s mind and put everything back on track, making Mia the happiest “prom princess” on this side of the Atlantic – and readers more starry-eyed than Molly Ringwald in her prettiest pink frock.

Review: Time to admit something: if it were not for audiobooks, it is very likely that I would have to give-up on the Princess Diaries book club. As much as I loved these books when I was in my pre-teens and early teens, there is very little I can relate to with Mia in my current age. While I go through these stories I find myself frustrated with the immaturity of her problems and lack of communication skills.

Mia, if you want to go to the prom, then tell your boyfriend you want to go to the prom. He cannot read your mind, not matter how many times you refer to him as a genius. And please stop using the word “self-actualization,” because going to the prom is not going to help you reach your full potential.

Pros of this book:
1. The escape of Boris
2. Mia laying down the law to Lily in regards to how she will proceed with Boris from here on out
3. The baby’s name – it made me smile

Cons of this book:
1. Lily – her treatment towards her boyfriend and friend is awful
2. Mia’s obsession and research of autism — it made me cringe
3. The repetition of the words prom and self-actualization
4. The lack of communication on behalf of Mia
5. The way Mia’s father’s contract is apparently going to be reneged upon

I am going to continue on, because I figure that Mia has to grow up eventually, and I really want to be there when that happens. Have any of you read Princess in Pink years later? How are you faring with the jarring immaturity of the protagonist if you are much older than she is? Is there any hope that the next book is going to be better?

Review: Wolf By Wolf

Title: Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1) 24807186

Author: Ryan Graudin

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

Review: Premise, premise, premise: say it with me now, because this one was golden. In Wolf By Wolf, Ryan Graudin asks her readers to imagine a world in which Hitler and the Axis Powers win the war. All of the atrocities of his tyranny continue on, leading a Jewish child into a concentration camp where she becomes the subject of experimental trials to purify genetics. After all that had been done to her, this girl grows up and goes on to join with resistance fighters who give her the mission to kill Adolf Hitler.

Now, this is the point where my knowledge of the book stopped and my assumptions began; if you want to go into this story blind like I did then I suggest you stop reading immediately.

Otherwise, I want to talk about my assumptions, which based upon the book’s title had me thinking that the experiments performed on Yael had given her the ability to turn into a wolf. Imagine it, if you will: girl gets the mission to kill Hitler, and she attacks him: as a wolf! This is not what came to pass, but how wonderful could that have been?

I digress, however, that Yael’s experimentation gives her the ability to skinshift, and she uses this talent (for lack of a better word) to masquerade as an Aryan girl who has been within close proximity to Hilter before. In order for Yael to be close enough to complete her mission, she will have to take Adele Wolfe’s place on the Axis Tour, which is a motorcycle race from Germany to Japan taken by the strongest teenagers in both superpowers. The book becomes a high-action-paced story with betrayals, and lies, and strength, and the will to do whatever it takes to survive. Even more interesting is the underlying struggle of Yael as she must pretend to be another while coming to terms with the loss of her own identity so many years ago because of what was done to her people and so many others.

I would recommend this book for the premise alone; it really is unlike anything I have come across in YA fiction before, and it did deliver in terms of interest. All the other factors that come with the premise are also strong, particularly the ending with the way it concludes this chapter of the story (yes, this is a series) while setting-up another interesting story to come.