Thursday, June 26, 2014

My unexpected love for THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski


Annnnnnd that's my acknowledgment that, when I first saw this book at ALA in January, I didn't even flip it over to read the back because I'm just so. damn. tired. of the passive fancy dress covers, no matter how pretty the title font. (Do I know better? Of course. But when surrounded by literally hundreds of books ... covers are a make-or-break factor.)

Yes, the cover is technically somewhat representative of the book because she DOES wear dresses and there is the tiny bit of intrigue with her holding a dagger (also accurate, THOUGH YOU BARELY NOTICE THE DAGGER) ... but whyyyyyy?


Despite the cover, four people convinced me to read this book:
- Heather, at Children's Book World, who can always be counted on for great recommendations
- Wendy Darling at The Midnight Garden, one of the toughest reviewers I follow, who gave it 4.5/5 stars
- Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, who has nearly identical tastes as mine with this genre of YA
- Kristin Cashore, whose blurb alone will convince me to try out a book 95% of the time

And now I'm going to convince you to read it, too, because IT IS EXCELLENT.

The official summary:
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.

First off, if you love Kristin Cashore's books and/or Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars novels, stop reading right now and go buy THE WINNER'S CURSE. You will love it, without question.

THE WINNER'S CURSE has a semi-fantasy, semi-historical feel, and as a reader, I was slowly enveloped in Kestrel's world. So much of this book centers on power struggles — who has it, who doesn't, emotional vs physical power, etc. — and it sets up so many interesting situations.

For example, Kestrel's people have enslaved Arin's people, and though she has bought and literally owns him, she doesn't have emotional power over him. At the same time, her father has almost complete power over her, but she makes small choices every day to subvert that power. Kestrel's admitted to not being a fighter, but her power and value come through an excellent ability to strategize ... but she chooses not to use that ability, thus further defying her father's wishes.

These dynamics come to a head when Arin's people stage a rebellion, and Kestrel's developing relationship with Arin makes her feel sympathy for the enemy. She must finally come to terms with her discomfort with her empire's enslavement of conquered nations. For much of the book she's unsure of who she is, where she stands, and what she wants, but the uprising forces her to choose a side, with dramatic consequences.

Overall, I loved the worldbuilding, which had so many small details that stood out so realistically. I enjoyed the way Kestrel developed as a character, and though I sometimes wanted her to be more decisive, I understood how conflicted she felt. I was very happy with how the book ended, and it left me looking forward to the sequel. Definitely recommend!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BEA 2014 Recap — in tweets (and retweets)!

WEDNESDAY: Arrival in NYC and Book Blogger Con

After a 4am wakeup, I met Sara at the train station!

(Maureen was hilarious.)

And my theme for BEA emerged: Restraint! I ended up with a goal of no more than 20 books total ... which I repeated ad nauseam during the rest of BEA, to hold myself to it.

(Never was a truer tweet posted.)

This was the most worthwhile panel of Book Blogger Con, and it was great to hear from Smart Bitches, one of my favorite blogs!

Afterward, we checked into our apartment (2 blocks from Javits FOR THE WIN), ate dinner, and headed to the Houndstooth Pub for some drinks with other kidlit folks!

As a rule, I don't get in the forever long celebrity author signing lines ... but I made an exception for NPH. And his book (Choose Your Own Autobiography) looks hilarious!

Afterward, Sara and I headed to Housing Works Books (pretty much the coolest bookstore/cafe ever) for a Rainbow Rowell reading.

(AKA the day of BookCon ... dun dun dunnnnnnn)

So happy to support a lovely Philly writer friend (and BEA roomie!) I.W. Gregorio as she moderated this excellent panel!

BookCon was INSANE. Total chaos, and most BEA-goers wanted no part of it.

I tried three times to go into the BookCon area to meet authors doing signings, and each time I gave up and battled my way out of the madness. It reminded me of Black Friday sales, or what I imagine Black Friday sales to be, if I ever attempted one.

I also attended a BookCon panel with Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Maggie Stiefvater.

To sum up Saturday.
I ended my four days in NYC with 19 books and a seat on an Amtrak Quiet Car train. Heaven!
Final thoughts:
THE BOOKS AND AUTHORS - I was so happy to focus my BEA time on only getting books I really wanted, with a mix of debut and longtime favorite authors. I loved being able to enthuse to authors how excited I was to read their books ... and my shoulders hurt a lot less. Also, no need to check a rolling suitcase! Woo!

THE PEOPLE - It sounds crazy, but I love waiting in lines at BEA because of all the amazing book lovers you meet and bond with as you sit or stand with each other for up to an hour (and sometimes more, but I kept away from those lines!). Hello, new friends! I also got a chance to speak with super-friendly reps from HarperCollins and Quirk, which is wonderful, because who better to introduce you to great books than the people who help bring them into the world?

BLOGGER CON - As a first-timer but long-time blogger, I honestly didn't learn all that much, but Book Blogger Con did exactly what I wanted it to do — it renewed my enthusiasm for blogging, which honestly has been waning a bit. It inspired a couple new ideas that you'll all be seeing soon enough!

BOOKCON - Though you couldn't pay me to enter the exhibit area, I did enjoy the two smaller panels I was able to attend. But hopefully next year will run more smoothly, because I'm sure I'm not the only BEA-goer who was running scared.

OVERALL - This was my first full, four-day BEA experience, and as a third-year BEA veteran, I definitely subscribed to the less-is-more mantra. It really helped to keep me refreshed and happy and able to enjoy all that BEA has to offer! But next year, I want a lanyard for my nametag, dammit.
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