The Winner’s Trilogy, books 1 & 2

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
AND

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary of The Winner’s Curse (from Goodreads)

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.

Book 2, The Winner’s Crime follows Lady Kestrel and Arin as they continue to decipher if they can trust each other, and if they can trust themselves. Their skills in deceit both help and hurt as they try to uncover a shocking secret affecting both their countries.

My Review

I haven’t been so wrapped up in a series since the Hunger Games. I did not want to put these books down. Only necessities like feeding myself or my children could tear me away. It’s just a good thing that I had the sequel on hand and could start it immediately after finishing book 1. But I have now finished book 2, and book 3 hasn’t been released yet!!! Goodreads shows the expected publication date as March 1st. I HATE waiting.

The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime are part of the Winner’s Trilogy. They are the perfect combination of action, intrigue, romance, and engaging prose. I enjoy the excitement, and fairly “clean” and innocent romances of YA fiction, especially when I am looking to just get lost in a story for awhile, but these books surpassed that basic entertainment value and became enthralling. They have all of the thrill of forbidden love, and palpable chemistry between the main characters; then add to that a unique world, and thought-provoking moral and philosophical situations and you get a captivating story.

The setting for these books is NOT a dystopian future, as is so popular in YA fiction these days. The world is completely a fictional one, but there are similarities to our world’s history, particularly to the days of Roman conquerings and enslavements. It is original and refreshing, and presented and described well. It feels as if it could be real.

But let’s get to what really sets these books apart for me. Never have I read a story with so much deceit, lies, half-truths, conspiracy, and stratagem on the parts of both the “bad guys” and the “good guys.” These are smart characters that have had to learn the ways of war, secrecy, stealth, disguise, in order to survive their world. Now they have to face situations that challenge everything they thought they knew and everything they thought they were committed to. I loved the believability of their reasoning, thought-processes as they were forced to examine themselves and their world. And even as the plot becomes more and more intricate the conclusions of the characters stay completely plausible and consistent within the characters motivations and knowledge.

The Winner’s world is one of “grays.” You see multiple sides to every issue and watch as characters try to do the best they can to make choices they can live with amidst a culture and civilization that makes it impossible for all sides to live the way they want. Even when unpleasant events occur because of the choice of one of the “good guys” you can completely see the logic and reasoning behind that choice and why they are still a “good guy” despite the bad things that happened. Definitely makes me glad I am not in the business of politics, war, or revolutions. Though I hope the leaders in those fields in our world are as careful and considerate with their decisions as the characters in these books.

I enjoyed the writing as well. It’s easy and fast to read, just as I like it when I’m completely caught up in a book, but there is also depth and beauty to the ideas and presentation that goes beyond your average entertainment read. These are not literary classics, by any means. This is simply a YA romance series, but it’s one that I am totally loving.

So, I say, “Well done Marie Rutkoski. Now hurry up and finish the third book!!!!”

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Age Recommendation: The are intricacies in the plot as well as moral implications that make these books for 15 and older in my opinion.

Appropriateness: There is deceit, war, murder, torture, and romance described, but none in gory detail so I wasn’t grossed out or disturbed. These could be interesting book club reads as they would give much to discuss about the choices of the characters, whether they are good or bad, justified or not, and whether you would act the same way. The state of the world also provides great discussion material – how is our world the same and different? How do we avoid the problems they are facing? How have we overcome some of these struggles? Are we heading for more?

Book Recommendations: If you like The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime you should read The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen, The Books of Bayern Series by Shannon Hale, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, and Graceling by Kristin Cashore

 

Rebecca

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

finished this book for the umpteenth time over 4 months ago, and I loved it just as much as every other time that I’ve read it. So you’d think a review would have been easy, but this is a complicated book to talk about without giving too much away. I tried getting my thoughts in order right after finishing it but with moving into a new house about the same time, taking care of 4 kids, and training for a marathon I just ran out of time and brain power for awhile. Now the marathon is over and there seems to be a brief calm in the storm of house and yard projects so I think I might have enough focus for a review. I’m sure the package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Oreos I just finished off will help me focus too.

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A young and inexperienced lady’s maid is quickly and surprisingly swept of her feet by the wealthy and charming widower, Maxim de Winter. They are married quickly and return to his estate where the new Mrs. de Winter tries to find her place in a way of life she knows nothing about, and where the memory of Max’s first wife seems to overshadow every room, conversation, and event.  Rebecca’s power from beyond the grave haunts the new, timid bride until all hope for the marriage seems lost. But when the past resurfaces assumptions are questioned and hard choices have to be made.

My Review

This time reading Rebecca I noticed much more how little action there really is in the plot and yet I still consider this one of the greatest and suspense books of all time. So I have to ask myself, what is it that rivets me? What really makes it so great?

Well to start the writing is a work of art. Such intelligent and insightful description without being pompous or overdone. On the first page we read, “Nature had come into her own again and little by little in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers.” Describing an overgrown driveway like this gives not only a visual, but also a feeling. Giving nature a persona, making it a character, continues throughout the book. The descriptions truly give nature power and influence in not just the setting but in the events as well. Nature also plays the role of clairvoyant; it provides omens of the events to come, good or bad.

The method of plot development is also very unique. As I said, not that much actually happens in the book. There are a few events that occur, but the true conflict in the story is rooted in something that happened in the characters’ pasts. To reveal that past and to develop how it affects the present there is so much storytelling that happens within the head of the first-person narrator. Her own misconceptions provide the plot base for pretty much the whole first half of the book and then a major revelation and her having to realign her misconceptions is essentially the plot for the second half. That could sound pretty boring – a story happening inside a character’s mind much of the time – but Du Maurier masterfully builds tension through description that makes the pages come alive and characterizations that resurrect ghosts.

Some of the most intriguing characterization comes from the contrast in the narrator and Rebecca. Just their names give insight – the first name of our plain, quiet, unassuming narrator is never given. After she and Max are married she is Mrs. de Winter and we are given no other title with which to identify her. She is the narrator and main character, but the title of the book is “Rebecca.” Rebecca is the name we all know and love, or dread depending on the perspective. Just this little detail in the use of character names reveals so much about the characters themselves as well as the book’s themes.

Ah, and the themes in this book! This is where it becomes difficult to not give too much away. My previous post discussed one theme – choices and consequences and how misconceptions affect both. Mrs. De Winter spends so much time living out “what if’s” in her mind, playing out elaborate scenarios which have such detail that we as readers and the narrator take them to be reality.

The theme that makes this book unique and, so I’ve been told, even controversial in some book clubs, is determining the morality of the character’s actions. Do their motivations matter? Should the choices of others be taken into consideration? Is justice served at the end? Not only do we analyze the character’s choices and the resulting consequences, but we get to ask ourselves how we feel about them. We know what is wrong and right according to law and our conscience. Do the events of this book go against that knowledge? Is your heart reacting differently than you think it should? I have spoken with some who were uncomfortable confronting these kind of “greys” in the moral spectrum, but they are what take this book beyond being just a beautifully written and suspenseful romance and into the realm of a Classic.

Age Recommendation: High School age and older. Definitely for mature readers. I wouldn’t say the writing is difficult to read, but it is more “old-fashioned” and intelligent than your average work of fiction. The themes and events of the book also need a discerning mind.

Appropriateness: I would recommend it for any book club or high school and college English class, but as I said, there are some who have found it more controversial. But that just gives even more material for great discussion! No offensive or off-color language that I remember. No detailed sexual content, just married couple kissing and some reference that indicates a married couple were intimate.

Book Recommendations: If you like Rebecca I recommend Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel both by Daphme Du Maurier. You may also like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak,  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Eruption by Adrienne Quintana.

If you have already read the book….

Here some of the ingenious aspects and insights that I loved reading Rebecca this time:

  1. On page 36 The narrator talks about wanting to bottle memory and I could so relate! There are just those perfect moments that you wish you could somehow keep forever just the way they are. How would it be to uncork the memory at some later date and have it to relive all over again? But isn’t that the irony?  Those moments are so perfect because we are completely IN them.  We are present, not worried about the past or future, just there. I can relate to the narrator’s melancholy that comes afterward as well, when you realize you can’t bottle the memory and it will fade. The joy and sadness combined make the moment that much more powerful.
  2. On page 44 the narrator describes how traveling changes you.  You leave something behind whenever you a leave a place while at the same time part of that place comes with you and makes you a different person than you were before.  I love that about traveling.  And I love that reading books can have the same effect.
  3. In Chapter 15 Mrs. De Winter goes to visit Maxim’s grandmother.  She compares the elderly to children. They can both be a hassle and tiring, but we try to be polite anyway. She points out though, that we can remember being children and so can better understand them; maybe that gives us more patience.  We have not been old yet and so may not be able to relate as well. But as Mrs. De Winter thinks about how the grandmother may have been as a young lady, it gives her more sympathy.  My grandmother is declining with alzheimer’s and I could completely relate to the thoughts and feelings expressed.
  4. It’s fascinating how reading the book for the first time you can get caught up in the idea that Maxim must still be in love with Rebecca. The way Mrs. De Winter perceives all the events, descriptions, and interactions sure makes it seem that way.  And Rebecca played her deception well. But when you read it again know the truth there are so many hints and clues to the true nature of Rebecca and Maxim’s relationship.
  5. I have always been amazed at the clear picture of Rebecca that is painted for us and for Mrs. De Winter. She is dead from the start of the book and yet we learn more about her than we do of the narrator.  Of course because she is dead, all we know about Rebecca comes from people’s descriptions of her beauty and talents, and from the things she left behind. Her handwriting, her clothes, her coat, her smell, her habits as described by the staff, and her style still left at Manderley give Rebecca presence and influence even beyond the grave.  However, none of these things reveal her character and so we can be misled just like Mrs. De Winter.

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Rebecca – just a little taste

Rhododendron – you’ll never look at them the same after reading this book.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  These words are like an old friend. They set the stage for the beautiful mystery that is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

We moved to a new house a few weeks ago so reading has been a luxury I’ve given up the last month or so in order to do packing and unpacking. But tonight I wanted to escape into a story for awhile.  Maybe because my focus has been on our house recently I was drawn to a story in which a house plays such a significant role. You could say that the Manderley estate is one of the characters in Rebecca.  It’s the first thing we are introduced to; it’s the first chapter and the first line.

I was only able to read a chapter and a half tonight, but the beauty of the prose and the genius description in just those few pages completely pulled me in. “Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers.” Talk about perfection in verb and adjective usage. Du Maurier was an artist; she knew how to paint a picture with words.

This book makes it into my top 5 favorites. I have read it so many times I’ve lost count, and I can’t wait to get lost in its pages again. I’m looking forward to having a forum this time in which I can share the greatness of Rebecca with others, so I will keep my actual book review for after I finish, but this book is just SO GOOD right from the start that I had to share some love now. If you haven’t read Rebecca pick it up and let’s journey through it’s intricate characterization and haunting beauty together.

Blackmoore

BlackmooreBlackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was in the mood for something on the lighter side when I picked up Blackmoore at the library. I read Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson a few years ago and enjoyed the romance and twists and turns of the story. It was clean but with plenty of passion and the writing was not annoyingly cliche or dumbed-down. In fact it was quite good for this genre. So I had high hopes for Blackmoore.

All of the same positive elements of Edenbrooke were there and I liked the book overall, but there were some aspects that I struggled with. My biggest issue – pacing. The characters were likable and the plot felt unique which is a pretty remarkable feat in the regency/romance genre, but the rate at which the plot was revealed and the conflict resolved was completely skewed. It’s pretty obvious from the start that there is romantic attachment between Kate Worthington and Henry Delafield and it’s also clear that some kind of drama has occurred to keep Kate from being open to her love for Henry. The author has created the suspense in the plot by gradually revealing the secrets behind these impediments. Unfortunately, the timing of the revelations were so frustrating!

For 150 pages we get tiny glimpses into the issues; there was some kind of scandal involving Kate’s sister, her mother is shameful and completely inappropriate in her behavior, and Henry’s mother disapproves of an attachment for these reasons and others that are barely hinted at. We know something major happened to Kate years ago that triggered some major changes in her feelings about herself, her future, and her relationship with Henry. But for 150 pages that’s all we know. We are teased over and over with minuscule references to these major and crucial plot developments, but nothing is actually developed. I guess that’s not completely true – we do get some insight into how Kate and Henry’s relationship has developed, but then we hit a brick wall as soon as we approach any point where the conflict began.

I get that pacing and suspense are desired story elements. I get that revealing details slowly is a good writing technique, but after reading this book I know there is such a thing as too little and too slow. I wasn’t really into the book until about 125 pages in because there were too many secrets and I wasn’t being let in on any of them. It was like being on the outside of an inside joke. Annoying. At one point there is mention that the woodlark is meaningful in Kate and Henry’s relationship, but then that meaning isn’t explained for almost 50 pages. It would have been so much more engaging and less annoying to have just given that explanation at the first reference.

Which leads into the next pacing problem. Once the revelations start at page 149 they come pretty much all at once. After the famine of information through the first half of the book we get 88 pages of flood. There are 7 flashbacks comprising 38 pages. A lot of that could have been revealed in the first half of the book and the plot development would have been more balanced and more engaging. The suspense would have still been there but even more effective. I also wasn’t sold on the whole idea of flashbacks for revealing the information because they all happened at once. If they had been spread more equally throughout the book they would have been more effective and less weird.

Not only was the lack of detail frustrating for me through the first half of the book but it was also a bit confusing. I couldn’t grasp the “vibe” of the book. It was classified as a regency romance so I was expecting romance (obviously) and some drama keeping it from blooming, but without some details surrounding the drama I couldn’t nail down what to expect. There was all this allusion to family drama so I wondered is this going about dysfunctional family? Like ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeanette Wells but in regency times? Then there was all the description of smuggling, haunted moors and estates, and even a naturalist connecting with birding so I thought maybe it was supposed to be channeling more of a ‘Bronte’ vibe. The feel of the book felt incongruous at first without plot details to help.

Once the secretiveness let up things really picked up and I was much more engaged with the characters and engrossed in their developing romance. The writing really is enjoyable for this kind of book. There was some repetitiveness in the name of romantic gestures and observations, but pretty intelligent overall.

I have one more complaint though. After all the time and effort to finally get all of the secrets out, after pages and pages of flashbacks, it ends with a measly half page epilogue. Grrrr! With all of the description of the past and the details about how the relationship began and progressed there should have been more details about the future.

So with all of that in mind I still stay I liked the book. If you are looking for something romantic and light but not so light that it’s a waste of time pick this one up. But maybe pick up Edenbrooke first.

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Age Recommendation: 16 and older. An understanding of regency era culture and social norms definitely helps in understanding the conflict.

Appropriateness: Nothing morally wrong here. No swearing, no sex. It would be a fun book club read. I thought the book club discussion questions in the back were actually quite good as well.

Other Book Recommendations: Of course Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson would be a good choice if you like this one. There are also several books by Sarah M. Eden that you might enjoy. They are a little cheesier, but still fun. I believe her first book is The Kiss of a Stranger. If you are ready to go straight to the source you should give the original Jane Austen books a try.  My favorites are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. I would also recommend Princess Academy and The Goose Girl both by Shannon Hale.