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Completely Captivating: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Welcome Back!Twizzler Bites

I’m sitting here at my dining room table munching on Twizzler Bites (YUM) and enjoying the pretty sunlight coming in through the window while I work on this post. South Carolina winters are strange. One morning it’ll be a frigid 23F and five hours later it’ll be a comfortable 64F. I have the front door open (with the doggy gate up of course) and Miles the Pup is lounging on the rug. I’m pretty pleased with today overall!

Overview

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

I adore this cover…le sigh…

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

My Thoughts

A new fantasy series?! Yes please! I tried to get my hands on The Winner’s Curse all summer and fall but the waiting list at my local library was seriously a mile long! Finally it popped up on Overdrive, so I was able to listen to the audiobook. Although this book is classified as fantasy, I’d say it has more of a political intrigue plot with some fantasy elements woven throughout. Whatever it is, The Winner’s Curse is completely captivating and I couldn’t help but lose myself in the setting, characters, and story!

The world Kestrel lives in is well thought out and seems to resemble the Roman Empire in a lot of ways. Kestrel is member of the ruling Valorians and her people are the ruthless conquerors who have enslaved the Herrani people and treat them as cattle sold at auction. Despite the similarities to the Roman Empire, however, Kestrel’s world has its own qualities that give it a unique presence on the page, not to mention the political intrigue that begins to unwind! It is a well set up world that I am excited to visit more in the following books!

The romance between Kestrel and Arin, her newly acquired slave is subtle at first. It is slow to build as every interaction between the two in wrought with cords of romantic and emotional tensions. I didn’t feel rushed with this forbidden romance like one sometimes does in popular YA fiction, but every scene did leave me wanting more.

Recommended For

Because The Winner’s Curse is a slower paced read, with not a lot of action until the later half, I’d recommend it for older middle school readers and above, especially those who love a good romantic fantasy. I question whether  younger readers would have the patience to appreciate the slowly growing heat that is The Winner’s Curse. If you are one who can appreciate the gradual building of a good story, however, then you’ll enjoy this one like I did!

Details

Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (March 4, 2014)
Format: Audiobook
Length: 8 hours and 24 minutes
Narrator: Justine Eyre (one of my faves!)
Series: First in a trilogy
YA/MG: Both

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Love and the Letdown: The Delirium Trilogy by Lauren Oliver

Howdy!

Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy had been on my TBR list for quite some time, but it wasn’t until I had about fifteen students, all in one week’s time, command that I finally read these books. So, I just do what my students tell me, mostly because these girls were a little rabid and I was honestly a bit scared Delirium by Lauren Oliverof them! haha

So, I finally read Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem by Lauren Oliver in early fall. I was on a bit of a necessarily review writing hiatus (life was crazy yo) so I decided to consider these books as a whole.

Overall, I thought the whole premise behind these books was really inventive. The idea of love as a disease that future governments would strive to eradicate is pretty interesting. I mean when you think about it, it does makes sense that love would be seen as the root of all the world’s problems. So I was impressed with the first book, Delirium and how Oliver portrayed this dystopian world where love was a thing to be feared. Overall, Oliver’s world building was pretty strong. I loved the excerpts from the Book of Shhh (Lena’s society’s holy book) and the legends and myths that were retold to fit the society’s needs. Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

The way society was set-up in Lena’s, the main character, world reminded me a bit of the society in Westerfeld’s Uglies series. When teens turn a specific age they are to undergo massive surgery to “fix” them. In the Uglies books it is to make them “pretty”, whereas in Oliver’s books the surgery is intended to cure one’s brain of the disease of love. When we meet Lena she is prepping for her soon-to-be-scheduled “cure” when someone comes into her life forcing her to rethink everything she has been told.

I really liked the first two books, Delirium and Pandemonium. In these first two books, Lena’s world slowly unfurls until the world she knew becomes a totally different creature altogether. The momentum was building just like the rebellion….and then we got to Requiem. Really, I was enjoying the book, not as much as the first two but enjoying it, and then we got to the ending. I’m not going to give anything away here, but talk about a let down! I felt like Oliver just left us with nothing and I was Requiem by Lauren Oliversuper disappointed.

All in all, this was a fun series. In the end however, I just wanted so much more than what Oliver was willing to give, I guess. I did enjoy the books however as a whole, and would recommend them to 7th grade readers and up who are fans of the dystopian genre.

Author: Lauren Oliver

Publisher: Harper Collins

Format: Audiobook

Length: Delirium (11 hours and 47 minutes), Pandemonium (10 hours and 37 minutes), Requiem (10 hours and 13 minutes)

Narrator(s): Sarah Drew

Series: The Delirium trilogy

YA/MG: MG or YA

Buy the Book: Delirium Pandemonium (Delirium) Requiem (Delirium)

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Fulfilling Fantasy: The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Hi there!

Have I told you how much I am loving my winter break? Because I totally am loving it! This morning we went to the local SodaCity Market. It was cold (yay!) but fun as usual!

In addition to fun outings my winter break has been full of blogging! I’m finally getting back on track after about two months of letting the blog lag a little. Normally, when I read a trilogy I either review the books as a whole, or each title individually. Well, I already reviewed the first book in Rae Carson’s trilogy, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but to make things a little easier on me, I’m going to combine the last two books, The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom together into one review.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old.The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone’s power. That is not all she finds.

I have to start by saying this fantasy trilogy is wonderful. I adored the first book, and the last two didn’t let me down. Elisa’s world of Joya d’Arena is so full of magic and mystery, I don’t think I could ever get enough of stories set in this world! One of my favorite thing about both The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom is that both books are centered around journeys (both physical and emotional). Because of these journeys we get to see so much more of Joya d’Arena and the surrounding nations. In general, I prefer when stories open up and the author gives us a glimpse of the world our characters live in. Also, journeys, like Elisa’s allow for more adventure and excitement to enter the plot…which of course, is awesome.

Elisa’s, like before, is an inventive character. She has already gone through so much maturation and BitterKingdomgrowth in the first book, that I was afraid Elisa would fall a little flat in the sequels. Elisa, however continues to be as interesting as before: she is strong, vulnerable, afraid of her older sister, wise, frustratingly stubborn, and massively in love with a man who doesn’t always seem to reciprocate her affections. Elisa has a lot going on! And at the start of The Crown of Embers Elisa is forced to stretch herself even further as she now has the weight of a nation on the brink of war on her shoulders.

Also, I have to add that my favorite character by far is Storm, the enemy defector. He is completely sassy, suspect, grumbly, and all around hilarious. His presence adds just the right amount of sarcasm and intrigue to the already strong story.

And we cannot forget that there is some major, major swoon-worthy romantic tension going on in these second and third books! The back and forth between Elisa and her man (you’ll have to read to find out who…although it’s pretty obvious from the get-go) due to some heavy power and gender issues. But all this pent-up passion makes for amazing romance scenes! I think I swooned a thousand times. Yes. It is true.

So, in the end The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom are a fulfilling final two books to Rae Carson’s trilogy. If you’re a lover of fantasy, whether you’re in high school or older, this trilogy is completely recommended to you! You will not be sorry!

Author: Rae Carson

Publisher: Harper Collins, Recorded Books (September 18, 2012 & August 27, 2013)

Format: audiobook

Length: The Crown of Embers (11 hours and 41 minutes), The Bitter Kingdom (12 hours and 58 minutes)

Narrator(s): Jennifer Ikeda, Luis Moreno (The Bitter Kingdom)

Series: Fire and Thorns trilogy, books 2 and 3

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book:  The Crown of Embers (Girl of Fire and Thorns) The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns)

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Waiting on Wednesday: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Welcome!

It’s Wednesday which means that it’s time for another Waiting on Wednesday. Waiting on Wednesday was created to provide space to highlight those soon-to-be released books that we just can’t wait for!Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

This week I’m eagerly anticipating Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins! (She’s going to be at YALL Fest this weekend! WHOOT!)

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever. Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

Stephanie Perkins’ contemporary romances are just perfection. If you haven’t read them yet, you totally need to make sure they’re in your TBR pile. I finished Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door years ago so I feel like I’ve been waiting for this one FOREVER and I still have to wait until May 13, 2014.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Racing Savannah

Hey there!

It’s time to talk about an soon-to-be released book that I’m excited for.  Don’t forget that Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine every week and those of us who like talking about these “coming soon” reads can link up and talk about what else…? Books!

This particular week I’m really interested in Miranda Kenneally’s Racing Savannah.

Racing Savannah by Miranda KenneallyThey’re from two different worlds. He lives in the estate house, and she spends most of her time in the stables helping her father train horses. In fact, Savannah has always been much more comfortable around horses than boys. Especially boys like Jack Goodwin—cocky, popular and completely out of her league. She knows the rules: no mixing between the staff and the Goodwin family. But Jack has no such boundaries. With her dream of becoming a horse jockey, Savannah isn’t exactly one to follow the rules either. She’s not going to let someone tell her a girl isn’t tough enough to race. Sure, it’s dangerous. Then again, so is dating Jack…

Isn’t this such an adorable bright cheery cover?!

I actually haven’t yet had the chance to read any of Kenneally’s other books like Stealing Parker or Catching Jordan and I’ve totally wanted to but just haven’t yet. For some reason though, Racing Savannah just sounds way more interesting to me than the others do. Maybe it’s the class difference struggles in this one. Like maybe it reminds me or a more upstairs-downstairs thing? Kind of a Branson and Lady Sybil romance?! That just might be it, but whatever it is Racing Savannah sounds like a really fun read, so I’ll definitely be on the lookout for December 3rd, when it’s scheduled to be released!

What do you think about this one? Are you anticipating it’s release as well?

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The Courage to Hope: One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt

Hello!

What is it with me and crying books recently?!

Do I usually like books that make me want to cry?

No.

Well, I recently picked up One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt because it is on the 2013-2014 Florida Sunshine State list despite the fact that it is a crying book. In the end it was a pretty good read!

Twelve-year-old Carley ConnorOne for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunts can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she’s placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she’s blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It’s easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she’s there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determined to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bully and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she’s feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.

Yes, I may even have teared up once or twice.

One for the Murphys is a sweet and at times heart wrenching story of courage forged out of an incredibly difficult situation.

Carley, the main character is a storm of emotions. She misses her mother, but is hurt and angry by her. She wants to love the Murphys but resents their happiness. She desires love, but struggles with believing she deserves it. I completely understand Carley’s push/pull emotions. She wants so badly to be loved the right way but it’s so unfamiliar to her that it scares her and she pushes attention away.

The story of a child in the foster system is so often untold that it is nice to read Carley’s (although fictional) perspective. I also appreciate the insight into not only the experience of the foster child, but also the experience of the fostering family. You have Daniel who is resentful of Carley’s presence and Mr. Murphy who is unsure about his wife’s choice to invite this unknown girl into their home.

Without getting spoilery, I really love how the ending is open. One for the Murphys is all about hope when you feel like none is left. Throughout each chapter we see Carley learning to hope, finding the courage to hope and then ultimately fighting for it. In the end, although we do not know what happens exactly, we’re left with an abundance of hope.

This was such a quick read! The chapters are short and poignant, which will appeal to middle grade students (especially mine!). All in all, I think One for the Murphys is a great addition to the Sunshine State list and I recommend it to middle grade readers and up, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction.

Author: Linda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Group for Young Readers (May 10, 2012)

Format: Paperback

Length: 224 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:  One for the Murphys

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Waiting on Wednesday: OCD Love Story

Hi there everyone!

I hope you’ve been having a wonderful week so far! I can’t believe it’s already July 3!

With that said:

Happy Birthday to my awesome Husband! For your birthday I got you an:

invisible-prezint

Haha I kid I kid!

Okay, so let’s get back to talking about books!

This week I’m interested in the soon to be released OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu.

When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands hOCD Love Story by Corey Ann Hayduer like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.
But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic… and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a ton about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.
Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control, but this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down… and she might end up breaking her own heart.

I’m not sure how I feel about this summary other than the fact that it interests me. It totally doesn’t sound at all like a book I’d normally be into, but I think that’s what makes me curious about it!  Also, the “I will not stalk this boy” scrawled across the cover makes me laugh a little. Well, we don’t have to wait long because OCD Love Story is due to be released on July 23!

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This Happened: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Welcome Back!

I try to stay away from books that want to make me cry. We’ve talked about this before. I don’t like to cry when I’m reading, that’s not a fun part of the reading experience for me. Sometimes though…just sometimes…I hear such wonderful things about a book that crying or not I have to read it (no matter how much it intimidates me!). So, I read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysLina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

I really am speechless and have no idea what to say about this book that will do it justice. Between Shades of Gray is haunting. The story itself is incredibly intense and horrific.

Guys. This happened.

I had no idea that the Soviets went into the Baltic states and just took people from their homes and shipped them off to Siberia to die. I mean I knew a little, but the happenings of World War II often get eclipsed by the Jewish Holocaust, Hitler and the Nazis, so I had no idea to what extent Stalin’s damage had on the people of countries such as Lithuania. Interestingly enough, now that I’ve read this book, I’m remembering my mom telling me about one of the priests at the church I grew up in. Father Palis was born in Lithuania, was in seminary when the Soviet’s invaded and had to escape to Germany in secret. Personally knowing someone who went through parts of what Lina experienced makes the story in Between Shades of Gray that much more tangible.

Ruta Sepetys’ writing is beautiful. The horrors that Lina and her family witness and experience take on an almost lyrical quality, which made me continue turning the pages even though my heart hurt so much. You want to know what happens to this remarkable, vulnerable, bitter, kind and brave teenage girl. You want to know that she gets to go home and be a normal teenager who goes to school, flirts with boys and imagines her future as an artist. Sepetys’ writing just makes you get completely caught up in these characters.

It is interesting to see how the others in Lina’s group of deportees respond to the harsh circumstances. Some, like Lina’s mother, show amazing courage and kindness, while others are so broken that they become hard and bitter. Lina touches on these reactions throughout the story, and Lina herself struggles with alternating feelings of hatred and anger versus love and grace.

If you haven’t read Between Shades of Gray yet, you need to add it to your TBR list as soon as possible. It is so well done (and the audiobook narrator is fabulous). The story of what Lina and her people are forced to bear with will cause you to wonder why our history textbooks don’t teach us more about what happened in the Baltic states during Stalin’s rule. As an educator, I believe this book could be (and should be) taught as a supplement to any history or language arts curriculum at the middle school level and up (if it’s not already…but it probably is). Parents note that there are very disturbing scenes of death and violence and you should read it along with your middle schooler.

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books (March 22, 2011), Penguin Audio

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hours and 47 mins

Narrator(s): Emily Klein

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book: Between Shades of Gray

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Distance Between Us

Howdy!

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time for another Waiting on Wednesday! This weekly event is hosted by Breaking the Spine.

So, today I’m particularly excited about The Distance Between Us by Kasie West.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers studies the rich like her own personal science experiment, and after years of observation she’s pretty sure they’re only good for one thing—spending money on useless stuff, like the porcelain dolls in her The Distance Between Us by Kasie Westmother’s shop.

So when Xander Spence walks into the store to pick up a doll for his grandmother, it only takes one glance for Caymen to figure out he’s oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and that he’s one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But Xander keeps coming around, despite her best efforts to scare him off. And much to her dismay, she’s beginning to enjoy his company.

She knows her mom can’t find out—she wouldn’t approve. She’d much rather Caymen hang out with the local rocker who hasn’t been raised by money. But just when Xander’s attention and loyalty are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. And that Xander’s not the only one she should’ve been worried about.

Summertime is always the best time for a quality contemporary romance and I think I’ve found a good one for this summer! This summary makes me think of a John Hughes movie like Pretty in Pink, which I love so I have high hopes for The Distance Between Us. The release date for this one is July 2, so there isn’t much longer to wait until we can get our little paws on it! Yay!

Are there any particular titles you’re waiting on this week?

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Burning Sky

Welcome back everyone!

Most of you know that Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event that I like to participate in and is hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine. The goal is to showcase an upcoming new release that we just can’t wait to get our hands on.

The Burning Sky by Sherry ThomasThis week I’m all about The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas.

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

I’m pretty much always in the mood for some good fantasy! And throw in a little bit of love and romance and I’m most likely hooked! It sounds kind of like it has Kristin Cashore-like qualities, which if it does I’m sure I’ll be in love with this book by the end of the first page!

Sadly, we do have a little while to wait before The Burning Sky is released since it’s scheduled for September 17. What do you think? Are you waiting patiently for this one or another title today?