Friday, February 28, 2014

Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

by J. Nelle Patrick
Read: January 9 - 11, 2014
February 27, 2014 by Razorbill
Source: Gift from publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
Category: historical fantasy, Russian revolution, YA

Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Goodreads Summary: 

Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.

Note: Infinite thanks to Wendy Darling for encouraging me to pick up this book. Historical fantasy has become my new go-to genre, and Tsarina is definitely a favorite within that category. 


When I was in tenth grade, my best friend and her mom and went to see the exhibit: Nicholas and Alexandra, The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia. I remember the carriage and the clothing, the eggs, opulence and even the abdication letter. But mostly, I remember an overwhelming feeling of wonder coupled with an extraordinary sadness surrounding the family and entire exhibition. Through the power of storytelling, Tsarina has brought it all to life for me again. 

Sixteen year old Lady Natalya Kutepova is the daughter of a Russian military leader, and unashamedly a White - a supporter of the crown. She is used to lavish parties and grand living. But most importantly, she is in love with emperor Nicholas' oldest son Alexei, and he very much with her. Both of them also love their country completely and desperately. That is why Natalya cannot fathom the angry Revolution trying to wage outside. 

One evening at a party, while the Reds protest at the gates of the Winter Palace, Alexei shows Natalya a secret Faberge egg. The egg has been imbued with the magic of the mystics and has the power to keep Alexei healthy from his dangerous Hemophilia and protect the Romanov family and those they love from harm. It is what has allowed them to continue to secure their power amidst so much unrest. 

But then the egg vanishes after the Red's raid the palace, and the Romanov family is captured. Natalya must enlist the unlikely help of a palace worker named Leo to get it back. Together, with Natalya's Countess friend Emilia (possibly an even more unlikely companion for a rescue mission), they journey through St. Petersburg and across Russia to find the egg. As Natalya watches her beloved country fall into revolution, she realizes that nothing is as perfectly Red or White as she'd first imagined. 

Tsarnia is not an attempt to re-write history. But the wonder of historical fantasy for me, is its ability to capture the spirit of a time, and bring it to life in vivid detail while also presenting a story that is fresh and entertaining. This book is a success on all accounts. It is not a history lesson. But in many ways it is better than that, because of the way these words seek to capture the complex imagery and emotions of the time, and enable readers to live them as well. It doesn't hurt that the words in this book are so beautiful it's painful at times. 

Natalya's tale made me desperate to see Russia for myself or at least take a class on its history. It was impossible not to fall in love with this country through her eyes, because, in many ways, that is what drives her and the relationships she develops. Reading this book, I felt both incredible heartbreak about the Romanov family and destruction of so much of the Russian culture, but also, an understanding of why the people of the country sought for change at the time that they did. That struggle is what defines Natalya's journey throughout this book. Tsarina came out yesterday and I recommend you pick it up today. 

Two Wishes:

1) I wish we'd gotten to spend a little more time with Alexei in the beginning of the book before the Winter Palace raid. I think it might have helped me connect a bit more to Natalya's personal emotions later in the story. However, I do love him so, even if Tsarina's version of him is 3 years older than his true historical incarnation. 

2) I wish the end was a bit less rushed. A lot happens at the last 40 pages of this story, and some things left me a little bit confused and definitely wanting more. I also wasn't as interested in the mystic Maria storyline throughout the book, though it definitely picks up by the end. However, I was also pleasantly surprised about how the book concluded as well. It was more hopeful than I imagined, especially considering the sadness that surrounds this period in history. 

Love Triangle Factor: It's complicated/Mild - This is one of those times that I wish I didn't rate these. I don't want to share too much and spoil this story, but I enjoyed how the romance plays out. 
Cliffhanger Scale: As far as I know, this is a standalone, though the end leaves some open questions and the possibility for more

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green
A review discussion with Jen @ YA Romantics

You all know that one of my favorite things is discussing books with people. Jen from YA Romantics and I had such a lively conversation about Half Bad, that we decided to share our thoughts with you in interview form. 

We've split our discussion between our blogs. On her site we talk about our general reactions, thoughts on the world building and literary comparisons. You can see that portion HERE

Below, Jen and I discuss the characters, romance and of course, love triangles. If you scroll all the way to the bottom, we've also included some predictions and hopes for book two. As they're spoilers, they've been whited out for those who want to avoid them. Just highlight the text with your cursor and you should be able to read those parts. 

Half Bad
by Sally Green
Read: February 10 - 11, 2014
Published: March 4, 2014 by Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
Source: ALA
Category: Fantasy, witches, boy protagonist, YA
Series: Half Bad #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

A stunning, magical debut. An international sensation.

In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

Half Bad Joint Review Part 2 
Main character: Nathan

JEN: What I liked about Nathan is that he isn't the typical fantasy hero: clever and brave and resourceful. He's illiterate. His only talent – thus far  is drawing and having a stubbornness of personality that helps him survive all the horrors that his half-blood status forces him to endure. I rooted for him, but at the same time, I found some of his motives and decisions hard to understand.

LAUREN: I agree with your assessment. I enjoyed being inside Nathan’s head. It was hard for me to watch him suffer as much as he did, though certainly character building for him. I definitely felt a sense of protectiveness about him and a strong desire to see him succeed and figure out his path (though we aren’t even sure of that at this point). The sleeping outside thing I found to be really interesting, especially the way it's a bit of a vulnerability. But, like you, it was hard for me to connect to his unflappable devotion to certain characters.

The Romance

LAUREN: Speaking of Nathan’s unwavering devotion to certain characters, almost as soon as we met her, I had very strong negative feelings for Annalise. It’s not too much to say that I loathed her. 

JEN: Me too. Well, at first I thought that I was supposed to loathe her. I thought she'd be a villain, a female Draco Malfoy. So I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about that. But I was also disappointed that she didn't seem to have much of a personality.

LAUREN: Her being a villain would have been interesting, at least. Or it would have defined her more. At first I thought Annalise was supposed to be a Hermione – because she’s good at school. But NO.  She’s both a weakness for Nathan and rather weak willed herself. I do get that she’s the first girl/person outside of Nathan’s family who was nice to him, and he had no one else for his fantasies when he was stuck in the cage. But I don’t get how his devotion and blind faith is still going YEARS later. It just made me cringe. 

JEN: Their relationship didn't make sense to me. Their attachment to each other and the risks they took for one other weren’t supported in this part of the story.  The only people I felt that Nathan had an emotional connection to were his grandmother and his brother, (highlight for spoiler>>) and to my disappointment, both of them were pretty much eliminated from the story by the end of the first book.(end spoiler)

LAUREN: I’m not even convinced at this point that Annalise is reciprocating Nathan’s devotion. I was sad that we didn’t get more of his grandmother.

Secondary Characters

JEN: I think we both felt that the secondary characters were sometimes more vivid and compelling than the primary ones. Celia, Clay, Mary, Trev, Nikita -- all of them were unique, well-drawn characters. 

LAUREN: YES to all the characters you mentioned. The secondaries stood out so strongly in this book, even the ones that Nathan only interacts with briefly. My favorites were Gabriel and Arran. But even Bob was memorable. Too bad Nikita is so young. She’s a much better match for Nathan and had a far stronger interaction with him than any of Annalise’s. 

JEN: Agree! I loved her and I thought they had great chemistry, even just as friends.

LAUREN: In each of the sections of this book we meet new characters, but left most of them behind as the story continued. I was hoping that they’d link back to each other a little more, especially, Mary and Celia. But hopefully, we’ll see that happen throughout the series.

Love Triangle Factor

LAUREN: Let’s talk about my favorite topic: the love triangle factor.  On the positive side, this book has a rating of NONE for love triangles. Nathan decides who he wants very early in the story, and sticks to that decision like glue. On the negative side, we’ve established a mutual dislike of his love interest, and not understanding why he stays so devoted to her. Annalise either needs to do something amazing to wow us, which seems unlikely. Or I’m hoping for a Linear Love Progression, so that Nathan will move on to someone else.

JEN: I agree with your assessment. I’m not always opposed to triangles, but adding a third character to the mix would just make the situation worse. Nathan moving on to someone else seems like a good idea. Or maybe he’s too busy for romance right now…

LAUREN: That’s a wise thought. The romance portion was possibly our least favorite part of this book. Maybe the story will back away from that element in the next installment and focus on Nathan’s friendships with some of the fabulous secondary characters. I’d like that.  

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low - Medium - Definitely some set up for the next book. But no immediate danger. This conclusion didn't feel stressful to me. 


Predictions and Hopes
Jen and I also spent quite a bit of time discussing our future predictions and hopes for the next book in the Half Bad series. These comments are SPOILERS for the first book. Please read ahead with caution. We've also split this section between our blogs, don't miss Jen's portion HERE

Please be careful to label any comments that directly relate to the spoilers!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fire & Flood by Victoria Scott

Fire & Flood 
by Victoria Scott
Read: February 22 - 23, 2014
February 25, 2014 by Scholastic
Source: NetGalley
Category: Fantasy races, sci-fi, YA

Series: Fire & Flood #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

A modern day thrill ride, where a teen girl and her animal companion must participate in a breathtaking race to save her brother's life—and her own. 

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?

Fire & Flood is an entertaining, fast moving trek through jungles and deserts with a heroine who has no natural survival talent at all. The adventure contains lots of high stakes moments, as well as bugs, rain and all sorts of elemental, wilderness disasters. Any time a large group of people is competing for a coveted prize, there's sure to be high drama and plenty of backstabbing and warring personalities. Especially throwing in at least one psychopath. But I was also happy to discover camaraderie and common goals among the character cast as well. 

I struggled a great deal with the set up of this story, but if you're able to work past that issue, can find Tella (the MC) endearing and are able to place the story into the "fun" and "entrainment" category in your head, you will likely enjoy in this book. 

Let's talk about my concessions to enjoying this story. 

1) If world building is most important to you, this book might not be for you. But if you can handle a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, you may love this. 

I almost didn't make it very far into this book because of the very little set up it provides. Fire & Flood is much more focused on the action/game experience than creating a believable context for the story. Or at least, that's what it seems at first. Because of this, not much world building given at the start. I had so many questions about what was happening that I really wanted to slow down and figure out. But all of a sudden Tella is starting this competition called the Brimstone Bleed and off we go. It was too fast and too unbelievable. 

I also personally struggle in current books when the parents have banned all forms of technology to "protect" their children. When the book begins, Tella is living in nowhere Montana with her parents and brother. They moved there and got rid of all technology, because they thought their life in Boston was too much for Cody's mysterious illnesss. That's not a huge part of the overall story, but it affects Tella's initial information flow. The "strict parents banning the outside world" plot always feels like an unrealistic crutch to me in modern books.  It was a little too much like a set up for an installment of The Adventures of the Wilderness Family (has anyone else seen that movie?).  

As for time period context, this story seems to be taking place in present day, but that's mostly a guess. In reality, it's not completely clear. I even saw a tweet where a Scholastic publisher called it "dystopian" which further confused me. By the end of this book more details come out about what is going on in this competition, and it become a lot clearer, but I still struggled with buying it as anything other than pure fantasy. which it is, I guess. 

2) If you think you are Katniss incarnate, this book probably isn't for you. But if you think you might be a survivalist failure, you'll probably enjoy this story. 

Tella is a typical girl and she wants you to know it. She likes make-up and nail polish and doesn't like to be dirty. She has no natural survival skills, and besides her determination, is pretty helpless at the start for the majority of the story. Some of her inner "I'm a typical teen girl" thoughts got on my nerves, but I could also relate to her far more than a Katniss Everdeen. Let's face it, I'd be an utter failure if I was thrust into the middle of a jungle too. Tella definitely grew on me throughout this book, and I found her to be endearing and amusing overall. Also, by the end of this installment she starts to really show her inner strength, and I think she could bring big things in the rest of the series. 

3) If you don't mind your damsels in distress, this romance is going to work for you. 

I always like a romance, no matter where a book is set. Fire & Flood has one too. I completely understand why Tella latched onto her fellow Contender Guy (yes, that's his name!). It's clear early in the book that he has a natural talent for adapting to high stress wilderness situations, and she does not. Her attachment to him is a simple case of survivor of the fittest. I don't blame her for following him and seeking his protection, or for thinking he's hot. 

What was much less clear to me for most of the story, was where Guy's mutual interest and affection came from. Unless he likes those damsel types, which clearly he does. Tella didn't have much going for her in the beginning, and he rescues her a fair bit throughout the course of this entire story. She literally wouldn't have survived without him. Even so, as Tella began to exhibit more determination and will to make it, I started to believe in their connection. And she does fight some of her own battles by the end of this book. Maybe one of Guy's many talents is locating the proverbial diamond in the rough in girl form. 

4) If you like animal companions, you will love the pandoras.  

One of my favorite elements of this story, was also the one that tipped it completely into the fantasy category. The pandoras were definitely a highlight of the book, but I just couldn't buy into the reality of their creation. Still, they made this book more exciting and surprising. Everyone competing in the Brimstone Bleed gets their own animal pandora to help them survive. Tella chooses Madox, who is adorable and fierce as well as one of the best parts of this story. His abilities are also what get her attention from other Contenders, some of it unwanted. Sadly, some characters in this book are not as kind to their companions as Tella is, and that was one of the hardest parts for me to read. But I think Tella's love and support of animals is one of her strongest attributes, and it pays off in this book. 

I realize that my thoughts on Fire & Flood are silly in places, and I did struggle with several aspects of the plot, especially the world building and romance. Still, I was entertained by the story and by the inside of Tella's head.

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - definitely a midpoint of the story. But a low stress moment. As far as I know, this series is planned as a trilogy

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Shadow Throne
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Read: September 20 - 21, 2013
February 25, 2014 by Scholastic Press
Source: NetGalley
Category: Fantasy, Male POV, YA (or older MG)

Series: The False Prince #3
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

NOTE: The Shadow Throne is the third book in a series. My review contains some spoilers for the first two books. See my thoughts on The False Prince and The Runaway King

Goodreads summary: One war.
Too many deadly battles.
Can a king save his kingdom, when his own survival seems unlikely?

War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?

Rousing and affecting, Jaron's adventures have thrilled and moved readers in The False Prince and The Runaway King. Journey once again with the Ascendant King of Carthya, as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen brings his story to a stunning conclusion with The Shadow Throne.

The Shadow Throne is the final book in Jennifer A. Nielsen's Ascendence trilogy. Carthya is at war, Imogen has been kidnapped and things are looking pretty bleak for Jaron and his country. Thankfully, our young king works well under pressure. 

Jaron continues to be my favorite thing about this series. He's apt to complain loudly if it serves his purposes and he can seem reckless and impulsive. He outsmarts everyone around him, but still puts those he loves above any of his own needs, which tends to place him in extremely stressful situations. His ability to look at a problem from a different direction from everyone else is one of my favorite of his characteristics. In this book Jaron gains confidence, wisdom, and learns about love and sacrifice. 

One element that stands out to me about the third book in this series is how much Jaron matures in his relationships with others. Especially, how his interactions with Ronan and Tobias have grown since the first book. I also continue to love his connection to Mott. It's fun to see how Jaron is able to continually rile up his mentor, but also how their connection and mutual respect has deepened through the series. 

As these characters are at war, there is a lot more fighting going on in this story, and Jaron faces some tough situations. This book has some really intense and exciting parts throughout. I thought the book slowed down a bit in the middle, but I was on the edge of my seat for the first half and also the end. I couldn't always figure out what Jaron was up to, and I like that he still surprises me at times. Although this series is told in Jaron's first person male perspective, I appreciated how much the author worked to add women into the book. They aren't doing much of the actual fighting, but it is very clear how much Jaron values the women in his life and kingdom and how much they are integral to the war. 

This entire series has been fairly low on romance, although it has been clear from the beginning which way it was headed (I've always approved of this direction). Though there is slightly more love story in this final installment, the low amount in this book fits in with the rest of the series. Thankfully there is still no relationship angst, though there is a fair bit of anguish. No triangle either. Jaron begins to think about love and partnership for the first time and it's a lovely part of the book, and also speaks to his growing maturity. But it doesn't overwhelm or cripple the story. I, of course, always want more romance, and wish it had been weaved more throughout the entire story. But that is not what this series has been about and The Shadow Throne continues in that vain. 

The Shadow Throne is a strong end to a series that has focused on one boy's journey from a poor orphan to king of an entire country. I have enjoyed being inside of Jaron's head so much. It's definitely never a boring place to be. This series has done a good job at showing Jaron's growth throughout three books while also staying true to his character and the target audience. The Ascendence trilogy is a great fit for teen boys, even older middle school, but I enjoyed this series as an adult. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Series conclusion 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dangerous by Shannon Hale

by Shannon Hale
Read: January 9 - 11, 2014
March 4, 2014 by Bloomsbury
Source: NetGalley
Category: Sci-fi, YA

Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love. And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it. There's no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.

From NY Times bestselling author Shannon Hale comes a novel that asks, How far would you go to save the ones you love? And how far would you go to save everyone else?


I am a big fan of Shannon Hale. I've read several of her Middle Grade and adult novels, and really enjoyed them. Dangerous is the fourth of Hale's books that I've read. Unfortunately, this YA book wasn't really for me. 

It all starts with a box of blue cereal and only gets crazier from there. Maisie's mom comes home from the grocery store one day with a box of cereal that she's only bought because it was on sale. It doesn't turn out to be very good for eating, but on the back is an add for a contest to win a trip to space camp that instantly gets Maisie's attention. Traveling in space - or really anywhere - has always been a dream of hers, although so far she's lived a fairly sheltered life as a suburban home school student.  Maisie immediatly goes online to fill out the information. A few weeks later she gets a response….spoiler alert: she gets into space camp!

Dangerous is the type of plot that starts in one small place and builds exponentially from there. You don't really know where it's going for quite a ways into the story, so it's better not to even try to guess. I don't want to reveal a lot of the story, because the official descriptive copy is so vague. But I will say that the space camp part of the book only takes up about the first 15% of the novel. After that, it's possible you might find some allusions to space travel, alien activity and/or superheroes. 

The slowly unraveling of the full picture, coupled with lots of changing plot directions and potential bad guys, all combined to give me a sense that I was missing something through most of this book. The story didn't go in a direction that I anticipated, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it didn't fully work for me in this case. Without spoiling this book, the content just wasn't my thing. Mostly it felt confusing and chaotic, instead of exciting. A lot happens very quickly in the beginning, but it takes until about 70% to get the full big picture. 

I struggled a lot with the romance in this story. It took me a long time to figure out whether I could trust the love interest, and that greatly affected my attachment to him. I also didn't really care for him for most of the book. Plus I wanted the other guy to win Maisie's heart. However I am happy that it never turns into a love triangle, and I thought that Maisie was smart about the relationship for the most part. By the end of the book, I did feel better about the romance, but it took me a while to get there. 

I enjoyed Maisie's relationship with her parents. Hale definitely countered the absent parent YA trope in this book. Maisie's parents are included in her life and for the most part know what's going on with her throughout the story. I especially loved the way Maisie and her parents fiercely protect and support each other.  One thing I totally forgot to mention, which is a big part of Maisie's life - but also never a crutch for her - is her lack of one arm. I like that Hale made this part of Maisie, and that it isn't a big deal, but also is.

Dangerous is twisty and high on action, and I think it will appeal to a wide variety of girl and boy readers (perhaps younger YA), including reluctant readers. But it wasn't a hit for me. 

Love Triangle Factor: None - Mild
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

Death Sworn 
by Leah Cypess
Read: January 4 - 6, 2014
Published: March 4, 2014 by Greenwillow 
Source: Edelweiss (Thank You HarperCollins)
Category: Fantasy, assassins, magic, caves, YA

Series: Death Sworn #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.


Ileni is a sorceress. Or at least she used to be before her powers started to fade. In her world many children are born with an infinity towards magic, but for most of them it fades before adulthood. As a child, Ileni was tested and approved for training as a sorceress, but somehow the Elders made a mistake, because in the last year her abilities have begun to disappear. Soon they will be completely gone. 

Now Ileni has a new mission that might as well be a death sentence. Her Elders have sent her to be a tutor to a secret sect of assassins who live and train deep in a network of mountain caves. Their last two tutors died of mysterious circumstances, and part of Ileni's task is to discover what happened to them. As she does this, Ileni must work hard to keep her fading powers a secret. This task proves to be more difficult the longer she is in the caves, completely surrounded by boys who wouldn't hesitate even a second to kill her if they were ordered to do so - or if a good opportunity arose. 

Ileni is dealing with a lot in this book. Her whole way of life and future has been taken away, including the boy who easily left her behind when her fading power was discovered. Ileni's people essentially sentenced her to die by sending her on this mission, and now she's the only girl in the middle of a group of hostile killers. It's no wonder that Ileni's on edge for most of this story. Maybe that's why I never felt very emotionally connected to her. I really liked watching Ileni grown into her own person, but her character felt very narrow at times - focused solely on her fading talent and her task. 

Death Sworn features assassins that actually assassinate. This book is gritty in places, and I really appreciate that the author didn't soften their trade at all. Ileni enters the assassin's cave society believing that these boys are all killers for hire, working solely for money without conscience. But then she meets Sorin, the assassin assigned to protect her, and sees his incredible conviction for his way of life. Sorin doesn't push Ileni into his perspective but quietly challenges her preconceived notions and encourages her to begin to think for herself. 

Ileni is surprised to discover that the assassins have a well thought out belief systemAt first, she feels only fear and disgust for their way of life, but as the story continues she begins to understand that the world is not as black and white as she originally imagined. I really enjoyed this transition in Ileni's character, as well as the difficult questions this book asks about responsibility, conviction, and how much you should sacrifice for the greater good. I also loved how Sorin's character balances and counters Ileni's, and the way this leads into a subtle but lovely romance between them. 

Besides the assassins' cave network Ileni's world is made up of the Empire, a powerful society of people run by sorcerers, and the Renegai who split from the Empire 400 years ago to escape the nation's brutality. Ileni is a Renegai, a people dedicated to peace. Because the entirety of this book takes place in and around the assassin's caves, we have to be told everything about the outside world. Unfortunately, that's where this book becomes a little foggy for me. I still feel unclear on the location and set up of these outside societies. Yet, as the story continues we learn that they are very important to the overall tale. I'm hoping we're going to get more information in the next installment, but I wish the context for the world would have been more clear from the beginning. 

Death Sworn is a quick enjoyable read, that features an intriguing concept and asks some thought provoking questions. It is a book with assassins that are appropriately brutal, and a heroine who is losing her magical powers instead of gaining them. The plot and mystery is twisty and surprising. But I still wanted a more out of this book. Although I was engaged in this story, I left it wishing that I knew this world and some of the characters a little bit better. Death Sworn does a very good job at the areas on which it focuses, but it could have been better at setting those ideas into a broader, richer context. 

The end of Death Sworn is surprising and gutsy, and a great set up for book two in this duet. Everything indicates that the weaker elements will become stronger in the final installment. 

Love Triangle Factor: None in this book. 
Book Two Love Triangle Predictions: Slight possibility that Ileni's former boyfriend could revive his interest, though I think it's a very unlikely that Ileni would reciprocate. Sorin is a much better catch!
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium. No immediate danger, but a lot is still unresolved. End of book 1 is definitely the middle of the series, but not stressful place. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine 
that spotlights upcoming releases we can't wait to read

This week I can't wait for

Salt & Storm
by Kendall Kulper
Expected publish date: September 23, 2014 
by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whale men safe and prosperous at sea. But before she could learn how to control her power, her mother, the first Roe woman in centuries to turn her back on magic, stole Avery away from her grandmother. Avery must escape from her mother before her grandmother dies, taking with her the secrets of the Roes’ power.

When Avery awakens from a dream foretelling her own murder, she realizes time is running short—for her and for the people of her island, who, without the Roes, will lose their ships and the only life they know.

With the help of Tane, a tattooed harpoon boy from the Pacific Islands, Avery plots her escape from her mother and unravels the mysteries of her mother’s and grandmother’s pasts. Becoming a witch may prevent her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers it will also require a sacrifice she never expected—one she might not be able to make.

I basically want to read this book because that cover is GORGEOUS. Also, the island where this book takes place is apparently set off of New England somewhere. And there's a tattooed harpoon boy and magic. 

What are you waiting on this week? 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Winner's Curse Blog Tour + Giveaway
Interview with author Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse Blog Tour is organized by MacTeenBooks
See the full schedule HERE and below

The Winner's Curse is shivery, achingly, deliciously good. 

It is filled with political intrigue, power struggles, a slow-burn romance, and I predict lots more of all to come. This book is so good that you definitely want to read it when it releases so that you can discuss it with friends, and then read it again before book two releases.

If you need more convincing, go HERE to find my list of 5 reasons you should pre-order this book today.

Now, I'm really excited and honored to be able to interview author Marie Rutkoski. 

And don't miss the very bottom of this post for a GIVEAWAY.

Welcome to Love is not a triangle, Marie Rutkoski!

Lauren: How did the idea for the story in The Winner's Curse begin? Did it start with a moment? Did the characters or setting come first? I want to know how your brain created this brilliant book!

Marie Rutkoski: It did start with a moment! A friend of mine, an economist, told me about the economic term “winner’s curse,” which is when someone wins an auction by paying too steep a price. It was such an evocative phrase that I began brainstorming a story that could have that title, and I knew that I wanted my winner to pay a steep emotional price. I tried to think: What thing could be up for auction that would exact a steep emotional price? Then it occurred to me: What if the thing were not a thing, but a person?

When we do great harm to others, we also do it to ourselves; we violate our own humanity. So in that sense, it was clear how buying a person would exact a steep emotional price. But that’s not quite a story. Then I thought, Well, what if this slave has a secret, a certain power that the buyer can’t see?

So I suppose I began from the idea, then arrived at the characters. Setting came later, and was inspired by the ancient world after Rome conquered Greece, though most of the trappings of my made-up world seem to be from much later periods in this world.

LaurenMusic is important to both Kestrel and Arin. Do you play an instrument? If so, how did that influence your story and these characters?

Marie Rutkoski: I’ve recently begun playing the violin. “Recently” meaning as of a year ago. I’m not very good. I did play the piano when I was little—but again, not very well. Also the oboe. And I sang. And again AGAIN: not very well! But I’m passionate about the art of books, and I like to think about passions for other kinds of art.

Lauren: What’s one good quality that Kestrel brings out of Arin, and vice versa?

Marie Rutkoski: Hmm. I’d say that Arin has not allowed himself to feel tender in a very long time, to feel soft or vulnerable. This is a frightening but also pleasurable sensation. Kestrel brings this out in Arin, and he is not wholly sure it is a good thing. Arin, on the other hand, brings out Kestrel’s ability to fight for change—and this continues in the sequel.

Lauren: One of my favorite things about Kestrel is that she’s not your typically kick-butt heroine. She’s clever, and will beat most everyone in a mental fight, but she’s not as interested in physical combat. This appeals to me greatly, maybe because I wish I had her mind powers. Would you talk a bit about why you created Kestrel the way that you did?

Marie Rutkoski: When I was writing my second novel, The Celestial Globe, in which a heroine is an awesome sword fighter, I took a fencing class. I had this dream that I would be Naturally Gifted, that I would take up that foil and I would be filled with dangerous grace. And guess what? I SUCKED.

Maybe my short answer is that I’ll never win any kind of fight that involves physical skill-- unless maybe a thumb war, I’m very good at those—so I wanted to feature a heroine whom I felt personally closer to. Not that I have Kestrel’s mind powers….

Also: smart is sexy! Think of Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turner’s books. Ok, yes, he is also good at sword fighting, but I love his mind. I want to have his book babies.

Don’t tell my husband that.

Lauren: I think you're going to have to fight me for Eugenides. I'm not very good at physical combat either, so we'll be well matched. 

This blog is called “Love is Not a Triangle," and I tend to talk about the subject of love triangles fairly frequently. I even rate them in my reviews. (If you’re wondering, The Winner’s Curse has a Love Triangle Factor rating of NONE).

Marie Rutkoski: I agree with that rating.

Lauren: I also like to ask visiting authors their opinions on them. So love triangles: like them or loathe them? I won’t hold it against you if you say ‘like.’

Marie Rutkoski: Mmm…I really loved those Sunfire romances when I was a kid (every book was a love triangle). As for now…I have no objection to love triangles per se, and I think that it’s good for young readers to be reminded that there are lots of choices for them out there in the world, many people to love. But my favorite romances don’t feature love triangles. And although maybe some of my previous books have been a little more love triangly than The Winner’s Curse, I think it’s always clear to my main characters whom they want.

Lauren: Any hints on the future of The Winner’s Curse trilogy (hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask!)?

Marie Rutkoski: Are you asking me if there will be a love triangle in the second book?

Lauren: It did not escape my notice that you didn't answer that last question, but I'm hoping these two keep knowing "whom they want."

EDIT: A lot of people have been concerned about Rutkoski's "non-answer" about the question concerning love triangles in book 2. Below is what she had to say about it on twitter. It's not really a further explanation, but it's also not a confirmation one way or the other. Just an attempt to avoid spoilers, which I respect. 

LaurenI'm still going to try to get information out of you about the sequels. If you had to describe THE WINNER’S CURSE using only colors, which colors would you chose for each of the books? 

Marie Rutkoski
1. Pink
2. Red
3. Black—or blue

Lauren: Interesting. "Black" sounds a little scary. Though blue maybe not so bad. Is there anything else you can tell us about the second book in the trilogy?

Marie Rutkoski: Hints, hints, hints….I created a pinterest board for The Winner’s Curse and there are some hints about and even quotes from Book 2 up there. Go HERE to see it. 


You’ll see more of Arin’s POV in Book 2.
Smart people can make mistakes.
Prepare yourself. 

Lauren: I'm now sweating after that last statement. You're pretty great at those ends that are stressful but also enticing. 

Thank you so much for talking to me today.


About the author

Marie Rutkoski is the author of the YA novel The Shadow Society and the children's fantasy series The Kronos Chronicles, including The Cabinet of WondersThe Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash. Her next project is a YA trilogy that begins with The Winner's Curse, which is scheduled to be published in March 2014.

Marie grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), as the oldest of four children. She holds a BA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from Harvard University. Marie is currently a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance Drama, children's literature and fiction writing. She usually lives in New York City with her husband and two sons, but she and her family are living in Paris for the 2012-2013 academic year. 

Find Marie Rutkoski: Twitter | Website | Goodreads | Facebook
Become a fan of The Winner's Curse: Facebook | Website

Pre-order The Winner's Curse (releases March 4, 2014): 
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository


Follow the full blog tour

Sunday, February 9th
My Friends Are Fiction
Monday, February 10
The Midnight Garden
Tuesday, February 11
Mundie Moms
Wednesday, February 12
Supernatural Snark
Thursday, February 13
YA Bibliophile
Friday, February 14
The Book Rat
Saturday, February 15
Good Choice Reading
Sunday, February 16
Jenna Does Books
Monday, February 17
Love is Not a Triangle
Tuesday, February 18
Reading Teen
Wednesday, February 19
Miss Print
Thursday, February 20


WIN A copy of The Winner's Curse + a swag pack featuring eyeshadow, bookmarks and stickers

Thank you Macmillan for this generous giveaway!

Giveaway is for US or Canada residents only (Sorry, other international readers!)
You must be at least 13 years old to enter
See my policies HERE

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...