Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Sketch: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

By: Marie Rutkoski
Published By: Farrar Strauss Giroux
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Series: The Winner's Curse
Pages: 416
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Library
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: Warning--May contain spoilers for The Winner's Curse.

Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

First Thought After Finishing: I’m so glad I don’t have to wait another year for the final book of this trilogy!

Everything that made me love the story in The Winner’s Curse is back in full force in The Winner’s Curse. This book raises the stakes with more trials and tribulations for Kestrel and Arin, more (potentially deadly) scheming, and more of their fatal attraction. There was no second-book slump here!

In a desperate attempt to save the Herrani people from certain death at the hands of the Valorian general, Kestrel made a bargain with the emperor of Valoria: She would marry his son the prince and one day become empress. To prepare for her fate, Kestrel moves to the mainland palace, where she is pulled into the emperor’s schemes and thrown together with her betrothed. But as always, Kestrel has schemes of her own. With the truth of her love buried deep in her heart, Kestrel continues to plot for a better future. Meanwhile, Arin has to find a way to protect his people from the inevitable war that was only delayed, no matter how far he has to travel or how much he has to sacrifice. Will their paths bring them back together, or will they be torn apart forever?

Most fantasy books have kick-butt heroines fighting in armor, but The Winner’s Curse diverged from this norm. In this book as well, Kestrel is every bit a warrior with her intelligence, and she does so while in a ball gown. Everything I loved about Kestrel in the first book made me love her in this one as well, especially her inner strength and musical talent. As a pawn in the emperor’s schemes, Kestrel is forced to make brutal choices that weigh heavily on her conscience and only serve to drive a further wedge between her and Arin. The emperor would make Machiavelli proud, but his son is a different man entirely. Verex befriends Kestrel, though he has no real desire to marry her. I was quite thankful that this did not become a love triangle.

All budding romance took a backseat in this book, though Kestrel and Arin’s feelings are certainly forefront in both of their minds. Arin was rather stubborn in his determination to erase his feelings, even going so far as to make questionable decisions in foreign countries. Still, despite all of the struggles, there was a faint thread of hope. Every time that Arin and Kestrel were brought together, no matter how dire the circumstances, the undercurrent of romantic tension was palpable.

This book introduced new, interesting characters, especially in Arin’s travels, as well as raised the stakes for all political and royal parties. I can’t wait to see how everything comes together in the final book of this trilogy. There is so much more I could say about this book, but really, you just need to read it for yourself.

If you haven’t picked up The Winner’s Curse trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, what are you waiting for? This is one trilogy you won’t want to miss!

Most Memorable Aspect: All of the political scheming by Kestrel.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Sketch: Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

By: Tricia Levenseller
Published By: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King
Pages: 341
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: Warning--May contain spoilers for Daughter of the Pirate King.

Alosa's mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he's under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father's justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

First Thought After Finishing: I’m going to miss all of the adventures of Alosa and Riden!

I picked up Daughter of the Pirate King in April, and I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to read it! It was such a fun escape, especially right at the beginning of the Covid-19 quarantine, and their rollicking adventures kept me turning page after page. Daughter of the Siren Queen picks up right not long after the first book ends, and there are more hijinks, heists, and heated moments filling every page!

Alosa is a woman on a mission to fulfill her pirate dreams: Find the hidden treasure, take her rightful place as the new pirate queen, and exact revenge on her enemies. But while making her plans back at the Keep, she realizes that she doesn’t know her father quite as well as she thought. Suspicion leads her to investigate and uncover long-held secrets that will change her life forever. Before she can finish plotting and planning, Alosa is once again racing across the ocean with her crew and Riden by her side. This may be her most dangerous adventure yet, but she’s not the daughter of the Pirate King and Siren Queen for nothing. She’ll make her dreams come true, or die trying.

The fierce and feisty heroine is back for another round of adventures in Daughter of the Siren Queen. While the first book was nonstop adventure, this book has more introspection and soul-searching from Alosa. After uncovering her father’s secrets, she has to come to terms with her childhood and everything she thought to be true. But that is not to say this book isn’t full of action. There are plenty of high-stakes battles from feuding pirates, not to mention page-turning tension. Alosa also has to confront the siren half of her nature if she wants to find the treasure and keep her crew safe. Once again, this is a battle of inner strength, and I could really appreciate the transformation that Alosa goes through in this story.

One of the best parts of this book was getting to see more of Alosa’s crew and the bonds between all the members. The crew epitomizes squad goals that takes sisterhood to new levels with their quick wit, fierce loyalty, and mutual respect. I’m sure there won’t be more books written in this world, but I can imagine all of the female pirates having the most interesting backstories with such exciting futures.

Finally, there is the relationship between Alosa and Riden. The tension isn’t quite as high as the first book, but there are definitely more intimate moments. We finally get to learn about Riden’s past, and it made him even more endearing. These two complement each other so well, and I couldn’t help cheering for them as they found happiness with each other.

With this duology, Tricia Levenseller has made it onto my auto-buy author list. I can’t wait to read more of her books!

Most Memorable Aspect: The bonds between the female pirate crew.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Book Sketch: American Panda by Gloria Chao

By: Gloria Chao
Published By: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Series: None
Pages: 311
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

First Thought After Finishing: Such a sweet romance story, and I loved learning about Chinese/Taiwanese culture!

I’ve had American Panda on my shelves for a while, and when I was looking for a humorous book for a readathon, this one jumped out as an obvious choice! It was a perfect palate cleanser after reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books, and I loved the added elements that made it more than a contemporary YA romance!

Mei is a seventeen-year-old freshman at MIT, one step close to fulfilling her parents’ dream of her becoming a doctor. There’s only one problem—she doesn’t think she can handle being a doctor. Biology doesn’t interest her, and she’s more than a little squeamish about medical issues. She’s also not ready to be paired for marriage with the boy of her mother’s choosing. But after everything her parents have sacrificed for her, how could she ever tell her parents the truth? Instead, she keeps hiding pieces of herself—her hobbies, her crush, even her reunion with her estranged brother. But secrets always have a way of coming out, and what will happen when her parents finally discover the truth?

I love books with a college setting, especially ones that make me feel like I’m right there on the campus. American Panda has so many great details about MIT, including special vocabulary, great descriptions of their special buildings, and more. It made me remember my own college days, where we used acronyms for everything and had our own special traditions involving clock towers and fountains. I also found myself identifying with Mei more than I expected, despite the cultural differences. She wanted to please her parents, but she also wanted to follow her own artistic path; my parents had hopes of me going to medical school, but I was a music major instead. The difference is that Mei had generations of cultural tradition and responsibilities heaped onto her shoulders. Her mother especially was overinvolved in her life, always trying to care for her daughter but smothering her with guilt at the same time. The voice mails and “horror” stories her mother told were quite comical to an outsider but were certainly a lot for any teenager to handle.

Mei’s romantic adventure was also entangled with her journey to independence. As much as she liked Darren, she always worried about what her parents would think about the fact that he wasn’t Chinese. Still, the attraction was undeniable. They had such a sweet courtship—Darren was just the kind of guy that anyone would want for a first boyfriend. Still, Mei had to work through years of emotional baggage to be able to find her own happiness. Her brother ended up coming through for her in this respect, just like a big brother should. Unlike some books, where the side characters don’t seem to fit in or aren’t that likeable, all the characters here were integrated into the story and helped it come to life.

I always appreciate “heavier” contemporary books, and this one certainly delivered. All the heartache was also balanced with laughter and smiles. I look forward to reading more from Gloria Chao!

Most Memorable Aspect: All of the references to Chinese culture and the MIT descriptions.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Book Sketch: Beach Read by Emily Henry

By: Emily Henry
Published By: Berkley
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 361
Genre: Romance
Reading Level: Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They're polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She'll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he'll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

First Thought After Finishing: I wish this book had more pages!

I love reading contemporary romances in the summer, and when I started seeing Beach Read all over Instagram, I knew this had to be on my TBR this summer. So many people loved this book, and after reading it, I can see why. This isn’t a lighthearted, cute read, but it was absolutely the perfect book for the last week of summer.

January Andrews loves romance, loves love, and loves happily ever afters. At least, she did. That was all before. Before she realized that her carefully cultivated life had been a lie. Now she wants nothing to do with happy endings. There’s only one problem—she’s a romance writer, her next book is due, and she’s broke. So she’s going to spend the summer in her father’s beach house overcoming her writer’s block. But she never expected that her college nemesis-slash-crush, Augustus Everett, would be living in the house next door. After a disastrous book club event, they make a deal: They’ll trade genres. January will write the next great American novel, and Gus will exchange killing the cast for pairing them up instead. But this is just writing. Everything will be purely professional. Nothing could possibly go wrong…right?

As an aspiring author, I really enjoy reading books with authors as characters. It’s like doing research while also having a fantastic story—the best of both worlds. This book gave me not one author but two, which made it twice as good. I loved seeing both of these authors’ perspectives, their different methods of researching and writing, and their motives behind their stories. It was like a story within a story, and I was just as intrigued by the books January and Gus were writing (please, someone actually write them!) as I was by the romance developing between January and Gus. After finishing this book, I wanted to dive back into my own story and work through my own writer’s block!

Both January and Gus are vivid characters, and both of them made me want to reach through the pages to give them a hug. January’s disillusionment with happy endings, and Gus’s realistic-bordering-on-pessimistic life attitude were both very relatable. To me, romance novels are always better when there is a clear reason for the characters to be together beyond physical attraction, and Gus and January definitely have that. They both have their baggage, but it is this baggage and a touch of “opposites attract” that helped to bring these two together. As Gus’s backstory was revealed, it became more and more clear why January and Gus just belonged together. Add to this palpable chemistry, sizzling banter, and sweet (or sexy) moments between the characters, and I was more than a little bit swoony for their romance. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a Gus of my own.

The setting and small-town vibes play an important role in this book. I could almost imagine myself on the Michigan coast, sitting on a porch with a cup of coffee and looking out on the waves. I also loved the other characters sprinkled throughout the story—Pete, Maggie, and Shadi. There was wonderful friendship, and despite all of the issues with biological family, Pete and Maggie definitely filled that void. I also enjoyed reading the texts, notes, and letters that were included throughout the story. The letters especially added so much, and that ended up being one of the most touching scenes in the book.

Beach Read may not have been an upbeat lighthearted read, but it ended up being so much better. It was the perfect summer read that I wanted to last far longer than it did. I hope that Emily Henry writes more books like this, because every single one will go on my TBR. If you are looking for a romance with great depth to the story and a wide emotional range, look no further than Beach Read.

Most Memorable Aspect: The story-within-a-story aspect, the setting, and Gus.

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