"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R Martin

Sunday, 6 April 2014

REVIEW: The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski


Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

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.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

My review of The Winner's Curse:


The Winner's Curse is an exquisite fantasy story, beautifully crafted with mesmerising characters, rich and vivid world building as well as a captivating storyline. The book was bursting with sumptuous and lyrical prose and beautiful language that appealed highly to the senses bringing the world alive. 

Its use of highly vivid imagery created an immersive reading experience where the reader can almost feel the exquisite silk dresses, hear the cacophony of music and the hammering of metal on metal; see the gleam of the marble buildings and taste the delicious mouthwatering delicacies. This use of language links in perfectly with the prosperous, luxurious world depicted in the story. 

The world depicted in this story had a historical feeling to it like a city out of antiquity; Ancient Rome or Greece perhaps. It added a sense of realism to a story seeped in fantasy and magic. At first I was a little disappointed in the lack of world building at times in the story. I seemed to know quite a bit concerning Kestrels home and the other surrounding estates of the Valorians but not much about the Herrani, the slaves and their homes and lives. It dawned on me that perhaps this was the point. The Valorians and their extravagant lives full of luxury and elegance take centre stage for most of the story and are brought clearly to the forefront. They live affluently, live lavish opulent lives in the very homes of their slaves, the Herrani they defeated years before. Their extravagant homes, clothing and livelihoods contrasted powerfully with the impoverished and destitute lives of the Herrani, who were torn from their homes, forced into servitude and treated like second class citizens in their own homes and in their own country. The Herrani are forced into a less important role in society, their previous lives a mystery and we only learn more about them as the story progresses and events unfold. I loved witnessing these little glimpses into the Herranis lives before and the rich world that they inhabited. 
  
The plot itself is an equal mix of fast paced, heart in your mouth moments and more quiet, calm scenes of raw emotion and intense drama. It is full of political intrigue, plotting, scheming and deception. It's bursting with drama and suspense - there's a constant sense of foreboding present, a feeling that something is stirring, hinting at bad things to come. There was some honestly shocking scenes that even though a little obvious - really made an impact as you were desperately hoping things wouldn't come to pass - and when they did it was agonising and painful to watch. Real nail biting stuff. Another key part of the story - the blossoming romance - was sweet and subtle and didn’t overpower the plot at all. It builds and builds as the story progresses revealing a deep connection and creating a simmering layer of tension.
 
The characterisation was probably my favourite part of The Winner's Curse. Many of the Valorians depicted - Jess and Ronan included, served only to embody the frivolous nature of society and their obsessions with luxury, extravagance and materialistic things. They lead lives with no meaning and no direction just floating aimlessly from party to party, ball to ball in frivolous dresses, drinking frivolous drinks and waiting for the next frivolous dance. I thought Jess was sweet but she was a girl of no substance happy enough to follow the rules in society and live a life of excess and extravagance.  

Characters who seemed to be at first completely selfish and frustrating aka Kestrel; moody and unlikeable aka Arin - grew on me as the story progressed. They were both complex individuals and ultimately kindred spirits - similar despite the social divide that separates them. Kestrel frustrated me at first but as she developed and matured she became more enjoyable and a character to root for.  She grew in confidence and power, possessing a determination to not settle and make her own way in life. She is intelligent therefore she makes up for being rather useless with a blade with her quick and rational mind. Kestrel is constantly fighting against her presumed role in society - her father, General Trajan wants her to join the military but she must also rebel against marriage expectations within society. She wishes for freedom - freedom to live her life as she chooses and freedom to choose her own destiny.  

Arin is a dark horse. There are many different sides to his character that became more and more apparent as the story progressed and his intentions and identity became clear. He is dark, handsome and brooding an instantly mysterious character with a foggy and questionable past. Bought in a slave auction by Kestrel he is put to work as a smithy but his behaviour and knowledge are anything but that of a slave and he quickly catches Kestrels eye. It is evident that there is more to his character than meets the eye and I loved the fact that as a reader I never quite knew his intentions whether they were good or bad. At first he seemed cold and distant, rather unlikeable but his warm and caring nature shines through at times and his blossoming relationship with Kestrel reveals an entirely different man.  

The Winner's Curse is truly an imaginative and breathtaking story in a rich and vivid fantasy world. It was an engaging read, beautifully descriptive with lyrical language and intricate imagery. The lavish world full of opulence and flamboyance jumped off the page and sucked me in to the world hardly allowing me to come up for air. It was a brilliant fantasy story full of intensity, drama and intrigue; I'd recommend it wholeheartedly to lovers of YA fantasy and anyone who admires beautiful storytelling. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

March Wrap Up: A Month in Books!

Well I must have turned into some crazy reading machine this month as I managed to finish...19 books. To be honest, 7 of those were graphic novels and 3 were Roald Dahl books but I still managed to get through alot which I'm really really happy with. So here we go! Seems so long ago now since I finished Grim. I really enjoyed some of the strange and fascinating stories in this collection. Esio Trot, The Magic Finger and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me all took me back to my childhood, and was the perfect light and fun reads that I needed. Plus it helped me get ahead in my reading challenge (so perhaps I cheated a little :P). The Winner's Curse was a wonderful new fantasy story and I really did enjoy it. The three Wonder Woman graphic novels were so much fun and she's quickly become one of my favourite super heroes. I've really been enjoying reading graphic novels lately; I love how the illustrations add that little bit extra to the story. Definitely going to get some more to devour! 

Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm were amazing. I really really enjoyed these and have already pre-ordered Ruin and Rising. The Assassin's Blade was just amazing. Brilliant novellas. Falling Kingdoms was another great fantasy series and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. I picked up Peter Pan as I wanted to have a re-cap of the story before reading Tiger Lily. Loved the re-telling and I thought Peter Pan was okay. Not great but I did enjoy it a little. Anna and the French Kiss completely surprised me. It was such a cute romance story that was really witty and relatable. The Batman New 52 volumes were sooo good and so creepy! And finally the Game of Thrones graphic novels; I knew the story but I loved seeing it through this new medium. Loved the artwork and loved the story all over again.

Favourite Book: Shadow and Bone & Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Books Read in March:
 Esio Trot - Roald Dahl (3*)
The Magic Finger - Roald Dahl (3*)
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me - Roald Dahl (3*)
Grim - ed. Christine Johnson (4*)
The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutkoski (4.5*)
Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo (4.5*)
Siege and Storm - Leigh Bardugo (5*)
Falling Kingdoms - Morgan Rhodes (4*)
Peter Pan - J M Barrie (3.5*)
Tiger Lily - Jodie Lynn Anderson (4*)
Anna and the French Kiss - Stephanie Perkins (5*)
The Assassin's Blade - Sarah J Maas (5*)

 Graphic Novels Read in March:

 
A Game of Thrones Graphic Novel: Vol 1 - George R R Martin (5*) 
Wonder Woman: Blood Vol 1 (New 52) - Brain Azzarello & Cliff Chiang (4*)
A Game of Thrones Graphic Novel: Vol 2 - George R R Martin (5*)
Batman Vol 2: The City of Owls - Scott Snyder (5*)
Wonder Woman: Guts Vol 2 (New 52) - Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang (5*)
Batman Vol 3: Death of a Family - Scott Snyder (5*)
Wonder Woman Vol 3: Iron - Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang (3.5*)

Monday, 31 March 2014

REVIEW: The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes


The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…

A terrifying and original serial-killer thriller from award-winning author, Lauren Beukes.

1930’s America: Lee Curtis Harper is a delusional, violent drifter who stumbles on a house that opens onto other times.

Driven by visions, he begins a killing spree over the next 60 years, using an undetectable MO and leaving anachronistic clues on his victims’ bodies.

But when one of his intended ‘shining girls’, Kirby Mazrachi, survives a brutal stabbing, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery behind her would-be killer. While the authorities are trying to discredit her, Kirby is getting closer to the truth, as Harper returns again and again…


My review of The Shining Girls:
 

The Shining Girls shocked me. Not because it's graphic. Not because it's bloody. No, The Shining Girls shocked me because I absolutely loved and enjoyed it from start to finish. I consumed it in just a day or two - it was a thoroughly thrilling and gripping story with an engaging storyline and captivating characters. The Shining Girls is a dramatic thriller, a completely goose-bump inducing story with nail biting, edge of your seat action and plenty of shocking moments. It's a dramatic thriller with a chilling twist - it is a sci-fi murder mystery centring on a time travelling serial killer. This premise grabbed me from the start - a murderer who travels through time (!) - it sounded amazing and so different and unique.  

The story centres on a time travelling serial killer and our protagonist, Kirby who luckily escaped his murderous clutches - the only girl to do so, ever. The characterisation in this book was top notch - so well developed, realistic and engaging. The killer, Harper - a lonely man is a clearly sadistic human being; devoid of any feeling, emotions or compassion. His only way to feel anything is to kill these "shining girls" through the ages; he stalks them throughout time, throughout their lives in order to snuff out their potential to breathe it in himself, to claim their potential as his own. His only chance to feel bliss and power is through murdering talented individuals. If he wasn't such a monster he might  be a little pitiful but sadly his actions are just too despicable to ignore. His methods of stalking, of possessing the ability to appear in different times in order to murder is so completely sinister and frightening. The fact that he keeps a souvenir, a keepsake from his travels and kills - is also spine chilling, disturbing and utterly macabre. It is all just a sick and twisted game in his eyes; going back in time to mark his potential kills and then stalking them as the years pass.  

The female protagonist Kirby, is a remarkably strong and fierce character. She is determined to catch the man, the monster who attempted to murder her. Her strength is apparent in the fact that she will not let the event define or destroy her and she is eager for closure, for answers. Her vulnerable side is also apparent throughout; she is haunted by what happened, by what could have happened. She is also determined to catch the killer before he realises his mistake and returns to finish the job. She slowly starts to notice something strange about the killer and she is forced to believe the unbelievable.  

Truly this book is amazing. It is jam packed full of drama, suspense and action. It is undoubtedly a graphic and bloody story with a heartbreaking and chilling premise that had me close to tears at times and also sick with disgust at others. The emotions of the characters just rolled powerfully off the pages; it's so gritty, so realistic. One thing I enjoyed was the change in narrator at different chapters - allowing the reader to view the story from different perspectives. It was especially interesting although quite chilling, to see through the killers eyes, catch a glimpse of his motivations, his reasons for killing. 

The Shining Girls is truly an amazing story that played out like a film before my eyes with its fast paced, intricate plot and fascinating characters. The story was like a jigsaw puzzle - confusing at times, fragmented in places - but once put together the whole picture is clear and brilliant. The science fiction elements mixed with mystery and crime worked brilliantly together creating a twisted, chilling and captivating story that will have you hanging on to every word, completely caught up in a fascinating story. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

REVIEW: Taste of Darkness - Maria V Snyder


She's fought death and won. But how can she fight her fears?

Avry knows hardship and trouble. She fought the plague and survived. She took on King Tohon and defeated him. But now her heart-mate, Kerrick, is missing, and Avry fears he's gone forever.

But there's a more immediate threat: The Skeleton King plots to claim the Fifteen Realms for his own. With armies in disarray and the dead not staying down, Avry's healing powers are needed now more than ever.

Torn between love and loyalty, Avry must choose her path carefully. For the future of her world depends on her decision.

My Review of Taste of Darkness:

Taste of Darkness was a phenomenal ending to an absolutely amazing and thrilling trilogy that I completely adored from start to finish. Maria V Snyder definitely doesn’t disappoint with this completely captivating finale with its engaging storyline, vivid world building and magical characters.

Since the last time we saw Avry she has overcome betrayal, death, deceit and loss. New enemies have arisen; friends have betrayed friends and old foes have returned to haunt Avry and her companions. The ending of Scent of Magic nearly killed me – the wait for the final book – this book – was so agonising. Snyder just adds to that agony with the heartbreaking opening of Taste of Darkness. She really knows how to wow and how to tug on the heartstrings! The opening chapter of this book completely messed with my emotions – it was just so incredibly sad. It was so heartbreaking and touching witnessing Avry’s agony at not knowing Kerrick’s fate (it was bad enough being a reader and not knowing!) Despite the sadness I loved seeing Avry’s vulnerable side (her clutching Kerrick’s shirt at night for comfort was just so heart-wrenching!); she is so strong and feisty – it was nice to see her with her guard down. I truly adored their relationship and Kerrick’s tough but loveable character. Definitely one of my favourite couples in fantasy!

The plot is full of mystery and suspense – scenes full of action, twists and turns and a whole host of surprises. Taste of Darkness picks up right where Scent of Magic ended; Estrid and her company frozen by Tohon and Sepp, Belen missing, Kerrick poisoned with Death Lily toxin and the world in turmoil after a fierce clash with the Undead. This book is even more dark and sinister than the others – full of danger and death. Other threats have arisen despite Tohon’s death; the Undead army under the command of Cellina still lurk hidden amongst the shadows. What disturbed me the most was the monstrous and macabre portrayal of the Skeleton King. It was so incredibly sinister and spine chilling that the scenes really did send a shiver down my spine and a little chill to my bones. His portrayal was so creepy – he definitely added another layer of danger and tension to an already suspense filled story. Not only does Avry have to deal with Undead armies, old grudges and new opponents but an old foe more dangerous than the rest; the plague. The plague rears its ugly head after previously terrorising the kingdom decimating the population and the land. Avry fervently attempts to search for a cure as the land is ravaged again by the deadly plague. Poison as a theme pops up again and again throughout the book; the Death and the Peace Lily toxin, the monstrous Skeleton King’s poisonous bite and the plague. Not only are Avry and her companions threatened by advancing armies but also poison, seeping in slowly surrounding them from all sides, threatening their lives. Taste of Darkness definitely piles on the tension and suspense with a story jam packed full of danger and threats to the characters’ survival.

The world portrayed is captivating, detailed and highly realistic despite its magical, fantastical setting. It is lush with detail, rich and alive; it’s easy to imagine yourself in such a world, as Snyder creates such complex and amazingly immersive landscapes. The green canopy of the forest takes central stage for the events of the novel – be it a bloody battle amongst the trees or a friendly dinner around the warmth of the fire. The forest is depicted as both a place of danger and safety. It’s so alive and enchanting full of intrigue and magic and the world just jumped off the pages. The worlds’ secrets are unfolded bit by bit – loose ends are tied up nicely. The nature and importance of the Death and Peace Lily’s – integral to the story from the very beginning and the origin of the new, deadlier plague haunting the land all become clear – the search for the answers adds another layer of suspense to a completely thrilling and gripping story.

One of my favourite things regarding this entire series was the equality depicted between men and women – be it regarding intelligence, courage or strength. Snyder creates a whole range of realistic characters – women both gentle and strong but who can fight side by side with men, be leaders and be the hero who saves mankind. Some parts in this story really screamed “Girl Power”; it was great. Avry is definitely the epitome of a strong female protagonist; so determined, loving and confident and so powerful and selfless.

Taste of Darkness was a completely satisfying ending to a wonderfully rich and compelling fantasy series. It was full of excitement, danger, intrigue and mystery. I absolutely loved it. The characters were so complex and well fleshed out; I truly loved (or hated) them before the end. One small little tinsy point – I am eager for more. The ending seemed that little bit rushed and I need more. Seriously - more. I am so sad to leave Avry, Kerrick, Flea and the gang and also sad to depart the world Snyder has expertly crafted. I’d recommend Taste of Darkness to any lovers of fast paced, vivid fantasy.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Showcase Sunday #51

It's Sunday and that means one thing; Showcase Sunday a fun weekly meme hosted by Vicky over @Books, Biscuits and Tea. It's a great way of showing off what we've bought, borrowed and received this week.


Books: 

 Falling Kindgoms - Morgan Rhodes
Rebel Spring - Morgan Rhodes

 Siege and Storm - Leigh Bardugo
Fire & Flood - Victoria Scott

 The Assassin's Blade - Sarah J Maas

Netgalley:

 Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - April Genevieve Tucholke
The Forever Song - Julie Kagawa
Under Nameless Stars - Christian Schoon
Witchfall - Victoria Lamb
Take Back the Skies - Lucy Saxon
The Diamond Thief - Sharon Gosling

Thanks to Bloomsbury, Angry Robot, Harlequin Teen, Capstone and Faber & Faber :)
 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

REVIEW: Crown of Midnight - Sarah J Maas


Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien is bold, daring and beautiful – the perfect seductress and the greatest assassin her world has ever known. But though she won the King’s contest and became his champion, Celaena has been granted neither her liberty nor the freedom to follow her heart. The slavery of the suffocating salt mines of Endovier that scarred her past is nothing compared to a life bound to her darkest enemy, a king whose rule is so dark and evil it is near impossible to defy. Celaena faces a choice that is tearing her heart to pieces: kill in cold blood for a man she hates, or risk sentencing those she loves to death. Celaena must decide what she will fight for: survival, love or the future of a kingdom. Because an assassin cannot have it all . . . And trying to may just destroy her.

Love or loathe Celaena, she will slice open your heart with her dagger and leave you bleeding long after the last page of the highly anticipated sequel in what is undeniably THE hottest new fantasy series
.

My Review of Crown of Midnight:


Crown of Midnight had me completely captivated from the first page and I thoroughly adored each and every bit of it from start to finish. After being blown away by Throne of Glass I had extremely high expectations going into this book. After finishing it I have to admit – and it surprised me – Crown of Midnight is even better than its predecessor; it was that good. The story was so beautiful and magical, full of rich vivid imagery and thrilling, action packed prose. Some scenes were so heartbreaking that Sarah J Maas might as well have ripped out my heart, thrown it on the floor and stomped on it repeatedly; some bits were that heart wrenching. In this second book, it becomes pretty obvious that fairytales are not real – there is no such thing as a happy ever after. Despite attempting to emotionally drain me, I absolutely loved its ability to convey emotions that leapt off the page. It’s action packed scenes had my heart hammering against my chest and literally had me on the edge of my seat in a state of nervous anticipation.



Crown of Midnight definitely upped the stakes since the previous novel as it is even more full of suspense, mystery and danger. No one is safe in the dark and twisted passages of the castle where secrets are rife, enemies lay in wait in the shadows and where webs of lies are spun menacingly. The story is far more gritty, bloody and graphic with its gory scenes of murder, torture, death and destruction. This edge of realism solidified Celaena’s reputation as a kickass, deadly assassin and gave the story a dark, twisted edge. Since the events of the previous book relationship dynamics have changed drastically and they continue to strengthen and weaken as the story progresses. Trust becomes a huge issue and as a web of secrets and lies weaves itself around the castle, it becomes clear that no one can fully trust one another and love and friendships definitely don’t conquer all. The opening chapter was so utterly gripping; a brilliantly nail biting beginning that keeps readers guessing with its cliff-hanger ending.



The fantasy setting was so convincingly realistic with its rich detail and vivid imagery. The castle and the surrounding city take centre stage and becomes Celaena’s playground for assassination, spying – and most importantly, shopping. The claustrophobic passages of the castle added a layer of tension and foreboding, its dark shadows hinting at bad things to come and secrets hidden, untold. Magic and mystery are encountered at every corner, at every twist and turn of the castles hidden passageways reflecting many of the characters hidden secrets. Such secrets begin to unravel as the story unfolds, as the story descends deeper into the darkness below the castle revealing magic, monsters and mystery.



Celaena was more deadly, dangerous and ruthless in this second installement. She is still the same kick ass Celaena just kicked up a few notches. After winning the tournament to become the King’s personal assassin she is sent on numerous missions to assassinate his enemies, those who oppose him and pose a threat to his reign and his life. In this book it becomes clear; Celaena is a killer with no problem getting her hands dirty – as long as there’s a good reason behind it. Her determined and protective side is evident in the fact that she will hunt down and kill those who threaten her life and more importantly, those who would threaten her loved ones. Another side of Celaena poured off the pages; a warm, loving and caring side to her tough, feisty character. Her vulnerable side contrasted with her darker side, showing that there’s much more depth to her character than at first glance. What I loved most about Celaena was not just her take no prisoners attitude but her love of the finer, more exquisite things in life; beautiful rich clothes, fine elegant dining and books, books and more books. She is still a girly girl at heart. She’s confident, cocky, fierce and determined; one of my favourite female characters out there.



Other characters were revealed in much more depth, giving a little more insight into these mysetious individuals. Chaol is as brooding and as moody as ever. He’s a wonderfully complex character torn between honour, duty and love. Throughout the course of the book another side to him is revealed as he begins to let his guard down and open up. His loving and caring side shines through. Chaol’s relationship with Celaena becomes much more serious as they grow close; it was so sweet and full of passion. Dorian is also another intriguing character who is again torn between loyalty his father and his duty to the kingdom, and his own personal morals and beliefs. Everything familiar starts to crumble around him pushing him to make a decision about his future and his loyalties. Nehemia is one of my favourite characters in the series. She is so passionate in her beliefs, loyal in spirit and courageous in her actions.



In a nutshell, Crown of Midnight is an incredibly captivating novel with an amazing cast of characters and a complex, vivid fantasy world. The ending was so earth shattering – how can it end in such a way? It was a mixture of heartbreak and excitement. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Calaena and co in the next book, Heir of Fire. This book completely blew me away and I look forward to beginning a new chapter in the story of Celaena Sardothien.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Showcase Sunday #50

It's Sunday and that means one thing; Showcase Sunday a fun weekly meme hosted by Vicky over @Books, Biscuits and Tea. It's a great way of showing off what we've bought, borrowed and received this week.

Books:
The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie 
The Gates - John Connolly
City of Lost Souls - Cassandra Clare
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
Half Bad - Sally Green
The Rogue - Trudi Canavan
The Dragon's Path - Daniel Abraham
The Finisher - David Baldacci
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures - John & Caitlin Mathews

The Winner's Curse - Marie Rutokoski

Graphic Novels:
 
Batman Vol 2: The City of Owls (The New 52) - Scott Snyder
Batman Vol 3: Death of The Family (The New 52) - Scott Snyder

Wonder Woman Vol 1: Blood (The New 52) - Brian Azzarello
Wonder Woman Vol 2: Guts (The New 52) - Brian Azzarello

 Kindle:

 Daughter of the Forest - Juliet Marillier
The Adamantine Palace - Stephen Deas
Inside Out - Maria V Snyder
Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith 
Finnikin of the Rock - Melina Marchetta