Sunday, March 29, 2015

Book Outlet Haul

Recently, thanks to a couple $5 off coupons, I made a few cheeky purchases on Book Outlet. They're one of my favorite sites to buy books, because the prices are cheap, the books are good quality, and there are always promos and coupons to be had. I tend to use Book Outlet to buy books that I know I want to add to my personal library - old favorites, installments in series, replacement copies. Also, I appreciate that shipping is quick and you can track your order (take note, Book Depository). Without further ado, here's my Book Outlet Haul!

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski. I really enjoyed this when I first borrowed it from my library last year, and with its sequel The Winner's Crime released in March, I knew I wanted to have my own copy. Marie Rutkoski is one of the most enchanting writers I've ever encountered, and I recently reviewed The Winner's Crime here.

The Kiss of Betrayal by Mary Pearson. I read and adored this book last year (again, from my library), and when I saw just a few copies come up on Book Outlet there was an order confirmation in my inbox in less than five minutes. Not only is this book beautiful to look at, but it weaves such an intricate story that even I didn't see the twist (and I am notorious for such things). Its sequel, The Heart of Betrayal, is out in July.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. This is an instance of needing a replacement copy. Sarah Dessen is one of my all-time favorite authors, because so much of my teen years were spent reading her books. She is one of two authors (hey Stephanie Perkins) who make me actually enjoy contemporary YA. I pride myself on the fact that I own all of her books and am literally counting down the days to Saint Anything (37, just fyi). So you can imagine my shock when I realized that after nearly a decade of moving dormitories, countries, and houses, I lost my copy of Just Listen somewhere along the way. Book Outlet to the rescue.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. I recently purchased Fairest, and am in crazy anticipation for Winter this November. And while Cinder isn't my favorite book in this series, I plan to reread the first three books before Winter's release, and want my own copies. Scarlet and Cress will eventually be mine.

The Sword and the Crown by Robin McKinley. This is a throwback like none other. I vividly remember reading this book and its successor The Blue Sword when I was in middle school. These books sparked my love of fantasy, and I haven't stopped reading since. I can't wait to return to this story one day soon.

What books have you purchased lately? Let me know if you have any recommendations!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: The Winner's Crime

Sequel to The Winner's Curse, Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Crime is even more intense and heart wrenching than its predecessor. If you've read Rutkoski's first installment in this trilogy, you know that's really saying something. As this is a sequel, there are obviously some spoilers for the first book in this review.

The end of The Winner's Curse saw Kestrel broker an alliance between Valoria and Herran. In The Winner's Crime, Kestrel must deal with the repercussions of her actions - most pressingly, her impending marriage to the prince. Kestrel still manages to remain herself and act autonomously despite the restraints of palace life and expectations. She may have given herself up as a means to achieve peace, but Kestrel refuses to be powerless, and begins to spy for Herran.

The Winner's Crime is, in one word, devastating. This novel is equal parts beautiful and painful, and Rutkoski's writing is inspired. Her words as as resplendent as the delicate sugar sculptures Kestrel eats. The moments between Kestrel and Arin are so fraught with tension and things unsaid (well, things Kestrel won't allow to be said). There is so much back and forth with these characters - when they speak, they never quite manage to align perfectly. Kestrel keeps the truth of the alliance from Arin, and that secret divides them at first emotionally, and then physically. The court intrigue and clandestine rendezvous (and an ingenious method of passing along secret messages) were brilliant, and more successful than many other a YA novel...just saying. This is obviously due to the fact that Marie Rutkoski breathes life into every word on the page, and makes sure to stab you right in the heart whilst she does.

And then, the ending. I was struck dumb by it, and spent roughly ten minutes staring at my book, mouth agape. No betrayal cuts as deep as when it's done by someone you love.

Goodreads: 4.5 / 5 stars

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: Sorceress

Sorceress is the third and final book in Claudia Gray's Spellcaster trilogy. This continues the story of one small town on the brink of the apocalypse, and the group of friends trying to save it. Nadia is a witch, working with the evil Elizabeth to undermine her plans. Mateo, a boy whose family is cursed to predict the future and go insane because of it, is in love with Nadia. Silver haired Verlaine is cursed to never be loved, but she commits herself to her friends and their fight. Since this is the last book, there will be some spoilers, be forewarned!

I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy, Spellcaster and Steadfast, but Sorceress is by far the best installment. There is so much that happens in this final book: Nadia learning from Elizabeth, lots of betrayal, and two simultaneously final battles. All the while, Captive's Sound is falling apart as Elizabeth builds her bridge to the One Beneath.

I appreciated the (what felt like to me) more traditional representation of witchcraft - only women, books of spells, intense secrecy. I especially enjoyed how spells are performed through memories, a very nice world building touch. Elizabeth was an amazing villain, with her eerie nature and cruel disposition. My favorite character, however, was Verlaine. I might be in the minority here, but I prefer Verlaine to Nadia, whom at times I found vexing. But Verlaine, with her vintage clothes and journalistic aspirations, brought so much depth and brilliance to this series. My heart broke for her at times, and there was no pairing I shipped harder in this trilogy than Verlaine and Asa. Yep, even more than Nadia and Mateo! The demon Asa could truly see Verlaine, immune to the curse, and their relationship was honestly the high point of this book for me.

My issues with Sorceress, besides some character things I never really got into, dealt with this "final battle." I was surprised at how quickly it was over. Their goal is to defeat the devil, so one would expect it to not be handled quite so...easily? It felt a bit anticlimactic. That being said, I still enjoyed Sorceress and would recommend the Spellcaster trilogy to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy that features witches.

If you've read this trilogy or are interested in picking it up, here are some recommendations for similar series to check out:

  • The Lynburn Legacy trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The Mara Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin
  • Shades of London trilogy by Maureen Johnson
Goodreads rating: 3.5 / 5

What are some of your favorite books about witches? Let me know in the comments!

A copy of this book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

"No London is truly without magic."

Published February 24, A Darker Shade of Magic is the second novel from V.E. Schwab. The author, who also writes YA fiction (hello The Archived and The Unbound!) as Victoria Schwab, has once again proven her ability to craft rich, fantastical stories regardless of intended audience age. A Darker Shade of Magic brings to life a world in which there are four parallel Londons, and a man named Kell who can travel between them. As one of the last Antari, Kell serves as ambassador for his home London, but gets ensnared in a plot that puts all four worlds into peril.

Let it be said that Schwab is a master of world building. The setting itself was such a presence in this novel. The very concept of four parallel Londons, each named a color that represents its relationship with magic, demands to be read. I felt inspired as a reader just by this very premise. Red London is full of magic and prospers from it. In White London, magic is scarce and fought over in a kingdom ruled by malevolent twins. Grey London is ordinary, a world dull with barely even the memory of magic. Black London, where people allowed themselves to be consumed by magic, was closed off from the others - no one speaks of it anymore. Schwab makes magic its own character, and the way it's represented throughout the book is incredibly intricate and luscious (magic smells of flowers. flowers.) Magic is so present as an entity in ADSOM: Kell, weak and desperate, is able to travel by simply asking the magic nicely. Seriously?! I mean...yes. Yes.

Ah, this world! I'd like an entire book on each London, please. The world building, intricate on its own and then woven with a magic system tied to elements and blood, does not get bogged down in some info dump. Rather, it unfolds throughout the novel - truly one of the most successful aspects of ADSOM. It also takes up nearly the entire first half of the book, which didn't bother me as it would in other books, other world. That is simply because it was so richly done.

The first half of ADSOM introduces us to this world of Londons, and to Kell. One of the last of his kind, Kell serves as an ambassador for Red London, but also smuggles items between worlds. Kell would make a brilliant Doctor Who, just saying. A solitary traveler with a magic coat and a penchant for trinkets from other worlds - it's hard not to be enamored with Kell. Considered part of the royal family, he still feels more like a possession than person, and hides the black eye that marks him as Antari. It's not until nearly halfway that he meets Delilah Bard, the pickpocket aspiring pirate who has bigger plans for herself. The two are rapidly caught up in a ploy that takes them across each London in order to save them all.

I was a bit unsure how to feel about Lila. I love that she's tough and clever, but at times in the beginning her character came a bit close to cliche.  But as the story develops, so does your understanding (and my appreciation) of Lila. She joins Kell on this incredible journey and still remains true to who she is. I felt like the ending really solidified this for me, and I appreciated that Lila wasn't there to be Kell's love interest. There's little to no romance in this book, but that felt appropriate. And for perhaps the first time, I didn't want a romance. I was so focused on the conflict that it was relief to not have ill-paced and timed insta-love in the middle of all that action. Now, in future installments...

The ending of ADSOM was left open ended - not in a cliffhanger fashion, but rather in the sense that anything could happen in the next book. The audience wasn't presented with a new villain or threat, so who knows what ADSOM2 will bring. That's honestly a huge reason why I'm looking forward to it already. Schwab could have made this a very successful stand alone, but she's got enough up her sleeve for an entire trilogy - and that's got me intrigued.

I truly enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic, and am pleased that Schwab delivered another brilliant novel. She's become a favorite author of mine, and her versatility is apparent to anyone who reads her words. It should be clear by now that if Victoria Schwab writes it, I'm going to read it. And love it.

GoodReads rating: 4.5/5 stars

Which London would you want to live in? I like the idea of Red London, but you've got to admit there's something intriguing about Black London...