Book Review: The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy #2) by Marie Rutkoski

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.
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Age Group: YA
Source: NetGalley
Reviewed By: Kelli
I loved everything about The Winner's Curse and have been anxiously awaiting the release of its sequel.  I felt like The Winner's Curse ended on a cliffhanger---the story just sort of stopped, and I was dying to know what would happen next. 

I often re-read novels before reading their sequels, and I so wish I would have taken the time to do that with this series.  Rutkoski's world is so complex, so richly layered with so many characters, that I found myself a little lost from time to time.  I wished I would have read the two books back to back so that I could have enjoyed The Winner's Crime even more. 

With that said, I did love this book.  Rutkoski's writing style is unique: it's got a weighted depth to it that makes each sentence, each word, even, important to the story.  There is no fluff to her writing, no extraneous scenes.  Each paragraph serves to further the plot, and what an intense plot it was!  I found myself on pins and needles many times reading The Winner's Crime.  The stakes were so high for Kestrel and Arin---and it made for such a thrilling read.

Everything is a game in Kestrel's world...her life is full of subtle machinations and she never knows who to trust.  It's like she's a chess piece and the emperor is moving her, and the other characters, around, all to his benefit.  Kestrel and Arin are constantly trying to figure things out, and sometimes their realizations about what is true come too late. 

I read this book during a busy, stressful week and therefore couldn't read it in one sitting as I would have liked to.  So, I found myself having to sort of catch up on things every time I sat down to read.  What I'm trying to say is that I had to work at reading The Winner's Crime, not because it's a hard read, but just because there is so much going on in the plot.  I highly recommend reading it when you have time to sit and read it through over a weekend, because you'll enjoy it more that way.  I really love this series, and cannot wait for book three!

Book-to-Movie Review: The DUFF

I haven’t read the book and had only watched the trailer and learned the definition “Designated Ugly Fat Friend”.

It was HILARIOUS! About 5 minutes into it, I had already decided three things:
  1. I would buy it.
  2. I could compare its inappropriate, yet hilarious, humor to Pitch Perfect, which is the highest compliment I can give. #accabelieveit
  3. And that I am reading that book.
Sweet Stuff was cracking up throughout and I was doing the ugly laugh and had to cover my mouth with my jacket in an attempt to muffle myself. Our walk to the car and drive home included all our favorite one-liners and then trying to decide when we were DUFFs and who were the DUFFs in school.
If you need a good laugh and a reminder of how lame high school really was, see The DUFF!

Side note: I don’t think the first “F” is always correct when identifying a DUFF, I was a stick and didn’t need a bra for most of high school (not that I wear one now, TMI?) So I was just a DUF.

Book Review: No More Red by Bonnie Ferrante

Amy is having a very bad day because of red. When Amy wishes she would never see red again, she learns that life is not as enjoyable without it. Readers will enjoy discovering the 98 red things featured in the book.
Release Date: August 20, 2014
Age Group: Children's
Source: Review copy from author
Reviewed By: Kelli & Kaitlyn
This book was a fun read!  Kaitlyn, my 3 year old, saw it on the counter and wanted to read it right away.  She loved that the crayon on the cover is crossed out and that premise really intrigued her.
Kaitlyn loved the cover and immediately interpreted the crossed out crayon to mean that she needed to color in the book.  Usually, this would give me so much stress: to have her 'ruin' a book by coloring in it.  But, I've been practicing letting go lately, and I was happy that the cover inspired her and excited her enough to engage with the book.  Plus she colored only on the inside title page, so that made it a little better (for me).
The story was engaging and simple enough for Kaitlyn to follow: Amy is having things go wrong in her life and they all have to do with the color red.  Amy wishes to never see red again, but then realizes that she's missing out on things when her wish comes true.
The hand-drawn illustrations are such a nice touch, and I like that they make this book unique.  The story was fun to read and Kaitlyn liked it so much that she requested I read No More Red again right away, which is rare for her.  I liked that this book is fun but also has a subtle message.
We've read and enjoyed Bonnie Ferrante's books before and look forward to her next story!

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Some Fine Day by Kat Ross

We are partnering with author Kat Ross on the release of her new book, Some Fine Day.  Keep reading for the chance to win a Kindle Paperwhite!

Some Fine Day Launch Giveaway

Grand Prize: Kindle Paperwhite with custom cover, preloaded with Some Fine Day

Second Prize (2): Signed copy of Some Fine Day
Third Prize (2): CD audiobook of Some Fine Day

This contest runs from February 7 to March 7.

A generation ago, continent-sized storms called hypercanes caused the Earth to flood. The survivors were forced to retreat deep underground and build a new society.

This is the story that sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist has heard all of her life.

Jansin grew up in a civilization far below the Earth’s surface. She’s spent the last eight years in military intelligence training. So when her parents surprise her with a coveted yet treacherous trip above ground, she’s prepared for anything. She’s especially thrilled to feel the fresh air, see the sun, and view the wide-open skies and the ocean for herself.

But when raiders attack Jansin’s camp and take her prisoner, she is forced to question everything she’s been taught. What do her captors want? How will she get back underground? And if she ever does, will she want to stay after learning the truth?

Some Fine Day is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find more reader reviews on Goodreads.

About the author:

Kat Ross was born and raised in New York City and worked several jobs before turning to journalism and creative writing. An avid traveler and adventurer, she now lives with her family—along with a beagle, a ginger cat, and six fish—far enough outside the city that skunks and deer wander through her backyard.

You can find Kat on Twitter and her website.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Audio Book Spotlight: Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Today we are featuring an audio clip of Brandon Sanderson's latest book: Legion: Skin Deep.  I haven't read this particular book, but I loved Steelheart (my first time reading Sanderson).  I look forward to trying the Legion series---it sounds just as intriguing and fast-paced as Steelheart was!

Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the new story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are hired by I3 (Innovative Information Incorporated) to recover a corpse stolen from the local morgue. But there’s a catch. The corpse is that of a pioneer in the field of experimental biotechnology, a man whose work concerned the use of the human body as a massive storage device. He may have embedded something in the cells of his now dead body. And that something might be dangerous…

What follows is a visionary thriller about the potential uses of technology, the mysteries of the human personality, and the ancient human need to believe that death is not the end.
Legion: Skin Deep is speculative fiction at it most highly developed. It reaffirms Sanderson’s place as one of contemporary fiction’s most intelligent—and unpredictable—voices.

Book Review: Skink: No Surrender (Skink #7) by Carl Hiaasen

The #1 New York Times bestselling author Carl Hiaasen serves up his unique brand of swamp-justice in Skink—No Surrender.

Classic Malley—to avoid being shipped off to boarding school, she takes off with some guy she met online. Poor Richard—he knows his cousin’s in trouble before she does. Wild Skink—he’s a ragged, one-eyed ex-governor of Florida, and enough of a renegade to think he can track Malley down. With Richard riding shotgun, the unlikely pair scour the state, undaunted by blinding storms, crazed pigs, flying bullets, and giant gators.

Carl Hiaasen first introduced readers to Skink more than twenty-five years ago in Double Whammy, and he quickly became Hiaasen’s most iconic and beloved character, appearing in six novels to date. Both teens and adults will be thrilled to catch sight of the elusive “captain” as he finds hilariously satisfying ways to stop internet predators, turtle-egg poachers, and lowlife litterbugs in their tracks. With Skink at the wheel, the search for a missing girl is both nail-bitingly tense and laugh-out-loud funny.

Release Date: September 23, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Evan
“I do believe that some things aren’t meant to be understood. And I also believe in karma” says Richard, a level-headed young teen searching for his rebellious and possibly kidnapped cousin, Malley.
Though Skink: No Surrender is an exciting adventure, the rescue of Malley---who falls prey to an internet predator---is not why you should read this book. Skink, the one-eyed ex-governor of Florida, turned rogue vigilante, is!
Skink has got to be one of the funniest characters I have ever encountered! His dry sense of humor and no nonsense implementation of justice, kept me reading and asking what will he do next?
Skink: No Surrender was fun, smart, and entertaining.

Just One Night (Just One Day #2.5) by Gayle Forman

After spending one life-changing day in Paris with laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter, sheltered American good girl Allyson “Lulu” Healey discovered her new lover had disappeared without a trace. Just One Day followed Allyson’s quest to reunite with Willem; Just One Year chronicled the pair’s year apart from Willem’s perspective. Now, back together at last, this delectable e-novella reveals the couple’s final chapter.
Release Date: May 19, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kelli
I have liked this series and was so thrilled to have this novella as an epilogue of sorts for Allyson and Willem. My main complaints about the first two books in the series have been with the endings.   Just One Day (read my review here) ended on such a cliffhanger, and Just One Year (read my review here) ended at the same point in time that Just One Day did.  I was not happy about that----I was expecting more of the happily ever after, not just the journey there.  

I am so happy to say that Forman completely and utterly redeemed her blunders with the endings of books one and two with Just One Night.  NOW I feel like this series is finished.  Now I feel like I can move on with my life.  Now that I know Allyson and Willem are happy, I can go back and appreciate the first two books for the great pieces of writing that they are.  

Just One Night is the perfect conclusion to Allyson and Willem's story.  It was just long enough to satisfy my every desire for their relationship---declarations and plans for the future were made---yay!  I loved seeing them together at last and really reveling in each other.  

Just One Night has a finality to it that really pulls the books in the series together.  I so wish I'd read the three books back to back because I think I would have enjoyed the first two books so much more that way.  There's not anything I would have wanted to change about this book and I highly recommend it!   

Book Review: Lark Rising (Guardians of Tarnec #1) by Sandra Waugh

Full of romance and nature magic, this debut fantasy is perfect for fans of Shannon Hale, Juliet Marillier, and Kristin Cashore.
Lark has foreseen two things—she will fall for a young man with sage green eyes,and he will kill her.

Sixteen-year-old Lark Carew is happiest close to home, tending her garden and gathering herbs for medicines. But when her Sight warns her that monsters called Troths will soon invade her village, Lark is summoned on a journey to seek help from the legendary Riders of Tarnec. Little does she suspect that one of the Riders, Gharain, is the very man who has haunted her visions. Or that the people of Tarnec have called her there for another reason: Lark is the Guardian of Life, the first of four Guardians who must awaken their powers to recover four stolen amulets. Together, the amulets—Life, Death, Dark, and Light—keep the world in Balance. To take back the Life amulet, Lark will have to discover her true inner strength and give in to a love that she swears will be her downfall.

Release Date: September 23, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Evan

This book is an easy read if you enjoy fantasy fiction. I loved her use of mythical creatures, though I would have liked to see more. Castles, trolls, warriors on horseback, swords, magic, all were exciting and fit well into her plot. Consistent action and mystery kept me wanting to know more.

I would have liked a lot more writing devoted to character development. There was an emotional connection missing. I truly feel that if the main character had died I would have not been affected.

I would give this book three stars- I liked it.

Book Review: Branded (Sinners #1) by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki

Fifty years ago The Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society.

To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.

Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.

Constant darkness.

Brutal and savage violence.

Excruciating pain.

Every day is a fight for survival.

But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.

I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

Release Date: June 2013
Age Group: YA
Source: e-book
Reviewed By:  Nat

I downloaded this book for two reasons: one) it sounded like the twisted crap I enjoy and two) I read a little about the authors and discovered one was a nurse… yes please, I judged a book by its author and I scored! Anyone who doubts the reading power of a nurse is just plain dumb. A lot of my reading gals are from the hospital that Kelli and I used to slave work for and the majority of our fellow book cronies were nurses; they know what’s going on because they see the twisted realities of healthcare. #enoughsaid 

Therefore, nurses have an unfailing muse- freaky people in freaky situations. They are from the trenches and in one night shift could probably outline an entire series plot (I know because I hear Sweet Stuffs stories and sometimes think to myself “Oh that would be a good plot twist, sad… nah).

My goal is to use as many multiple descriptive adjectives as I can, to convey my absolute love for this book! It is now one of my top favorite dystopian tales ever.  It was so TWISTED, BRILLIANT, GRITTY and wait for it ORIGINAL! When I finished chapter one I was panting and hooked! I actually stopped three pages in and checked to make sure I hadn't skipped ahead and that I was in fact in chapter 1. Ketner & Kalicicki have created a gut wrenching dystopian world. It is like The Purge meets The Capital. 

You are just thrown right into The Hole and I felt like I was right next to our leading lady Lexi Hamilton. I wanted to hide under a rock because I was shell shocked. The premise of this book takes place in in a post WWV society run by a dictator known as The General

He controls our depraved society and believes sinners make the human race unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence, nothing but an accusation.

You don’t just get sent to the hole, you get demoralized as the final blow. If the concept of The Hole isn’t twisted enough just add a branding to the sinners (residents). It’s crazy! The general premise of marking sinners with colored tattoos was cleverly planned and unique.

I just know someone would have accused me of lust just because I’m a reader... my logic- frequent book lust. Anyway, the whole branding process that takes place before being thrust into the hole was so barbaric and vivid and I might have wanted to punch someone in the face. 

Lexi was soft and a true innocent beauty but without all the damsel in distress baggage. I loved her growth and her determination to keep her dignity. She was a fighter and she really kept evolving throughout the story and it didn’t feel like someone I had read before, she was unique. The flashbacks to her life were so creepy and heart wrenching that you feel like you are suffering with her. There are so many twists and turns and if you want to know more details? Read the book. You will not be disappointed, it’s impossible.

...and then I was thinking, what’s with this guard? And in steps Cole; he is a bit of a mystery but awesomesauce. #needmorecole Cole had Dimitri-like qualities and that is the highest honor I can give a fictional man. DONE.

It is pretty impressive that in the mix of all this crazy there was a love story! #YYYEEESSSSS I am always up for a struggling love story, it’s a must really. I was so happy that there wasn't a love triangle. It seems like there is always a triangle but to be honest, ain't no body got time for that in The Hole.

In short this series is gruesome, terrifying, violent, and heart wrenching and I can’t wait for the next installment, Hunted (Sinners #2)! Which is set to release July 5th, 2015 and a teaser of chapter 1 and a giveaway are available HERE.
You can overcome anything short of death! 
Dear Ketner & Kalicicki, 
Write faster, bring it and thanks- now I want a dog... a BIG dog.