Every Exquisite Thing: A Review

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew QuickNanette O’Hare has spent most of her life doing exactly what people expect of her. She gets good grades. She is the star of her high school soccer team and essentially guaranteed an athletic scholarship to the college of her choice. She works hard. She doesn’t cause any trouble.

When a favorite teacher gives Nanette a worn copy of a book called The Bubblegum Reaper she isn’t sure what to expect. Within the pages of the out-of-print cult classic, Nanette finds a character who seems to understand all of the frustration and fatigue that she has been trying to articulate for years.

An unlikely friendship with the book’s reclusive author and a turbulent relationship with a young poet and fellow fan leads Nanette to discover her inner rebel. As Nanette tries to become a truer version of herself, she realizes that rebellion rarely comes without a cost in Every Exquisite Thing (2016) by Matthew Quick.

Quick peppers the novel with references to canonical literary works of poetry and novels (all by men, almost exclusively white–this is either a glaring oversight or an intentional reference to the insular world these characters inhabit . . . or possibly both). Every Exquisite Thing is very self-aware and intentionally referential to the book within a book (The Bubblegum Reaper) which is summarized, quoted and otherwise integral to the plot of this novel.

Nanette’s character arc is intrinsically linked to her discovery of The Bubblegum Reaper. As she bonds with the author and another fan (the young poet) she learns how literature can change a person. She also learns that idols inevitably fall short of their pedestals in the real world and that fiction–however true it may seem–doesn’t always translate well into everyday life.

Parts of Every Exquisite Thing are poignant and moving–as is to be expected from a talent like Matthew Quick. Other aspects of the story, particularly in the second half, are impenetrable and mystifying. Sometimes, particularly with the one-sided representation of the majority of female characters (besides Nanette) as routinely over-sexualized and vapid. This is a high-tension, introspective novel that won’t work for everyone. Ideal for readers who don’t necessarily need to like a book to enjoy it and who want a text they can engage with on multiple levels.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, The Catcher in the Rye by Lee Salinger

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The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

This Shattered World: A Review

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerJubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac never should have met–not when they stand on opposite sides of the decades long war on Avon.

Terraforming corporations promised to make Avon livable for the countless colonists who paid for land on the fledgling planet. But that was years ago and the planet is still no closer to being more than a murky swamp.

Captain Lee Chase is part of the military force sent to Avon to tamp down rebellious colonists. No one has ever lasted on the inhospitable planet as long as Lee–no one has even tried.

Flynn has been part of the rebellion since before he can remember–before he had a choice in the matter.

After a mission to infiltrate the military base goes horribly awry, Flynn holds Lee’s life literally in his hands.

Lee is as drawn to Flynn as she is repulsed by everything he stands for. But she also knows the stalemate of the rebellion can only last so long before something has to give.

When Flynn makes a shocking choice to help Lee escape, both soldier and rebel find themselves drawn into a web of secrets and lies surrounding Avon’s origins–not to mention in the center of a conflict that could destroy everything they hold dear in This Shattered World (2014) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

This Shattered World is the second book in Kaufman and Spooner’s Starbound trilogy which begins with These Broken Stars. Although this book is chronologically a sequel it functions largely as a companion novel and stands on its own without having read book one.

Once again Kaufman and Spooner deliver a story with chapters that alternate between our two narrators while also offering a little something extra in the between chapter transitions.

This Shattered World is a thrilling story filled with action and suspense as Flynn and Jubilee work together to unravel the conspiracy surrounding Avon. Readers are able to see the war from both sides as they get to know Flynn and the other members of the rebellion–a movement with strong ties to the Irish folklore of their ancestors–and the military as seen by Jubilee.

Jubilee is a tough heroine who refuses to take any nonsense from anyone. Although headstrong she is also compassionate, particularly as she learns more about the nuances of the rebellion on Avon. Like Flynn, Jubilee also has strong ties to her past–on her side in the form of a Chinese mother and black father.

Flynn is definitely the softer of the two as he struggles to find a way to end the war without violence. He is also a charming and often cocky character who is keen to be defined by more than his past.

Together Flynn and Jubilee are an unlikely pair who somehow make perfect sense together. Like the best literary relationships, Flynn and Jubilee complement each other and prove that they are stronger together. That isn’t to say This Shattered World doesn’t have it’s fair share of arguing and banter, it does.

While This Shattered World is the second book in a trilogy, it does have a very contained storyline and offers some degree of closure for all of the characters by the final page. Kaufman and Spooner deliver another sleek sci-fi story in This Shattered World which promises to build to an explosive conclusion to the Starbound trilogy in book three.

Possible Pairings: Avalon by Mindee Arnett, The Shadows by Megan Chance, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Alienated by Melissa Landers, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at a preview event*

Red Queen: A Review

Red Queen by Victoria AveyardLife as a Red in Norta is not easy. Reds are normal in every way–forced into poverty and manual labor while Silvers, the silver-blooded elite with nearly inconceivable abilities, rule the land. Mare Barrow doesn’t like anything about the Silvers but she understands that they are unstoppable; impossible to fight.

But Mare is also almost eighteen and with no job prospects beyond petty theft in her future, she knows that she will be drafted into the military soon to fight in the decades long war against the Lakelanders. The same thing happened to all of her brothers before her.

Mare is resigned to her fate until one false step reveals that Mare, like the Silvers, has a shocking ability never before seen in a Red. Suddenly Mare is drawn into the middle of Norta’s class warfare disguised as a long-lost Silver princess. While rebellion brews and the Silver king tries to keep the unhappy masses in check, Mare will have to balance the dazzling luxury of the Silver world with everything she holds dear and everything she is willing to sacrifice for freedom for herself and her people in Red Queen (2015) by Victoria Aveyard.

Red Queen is Aveyard’s debut novel. It is also the first book in her Red Queen trilogy.

Red Queen is being marketed as Graceling meets The Selection which in many ways is very true as this book includes special abilities and romance at court. It is, however, much darker in tone than The Selection with a much stronger focus on rebellion and revolution. For that reason The Hunger Games is a comparison that makes a bit more sense.

Obviously, Red Queen has quite a few similarities to other fantasy titles. It also, however, has a very unique world as conceived by Aveyard. The dichotomy between Reds and Silvers is explained well and takes the story in interesting directions as Mare walks the line between Red and Silver throughout the story. Unfortunately the division between Reds and Silvers remains very one dimensional for most of the novel as Silvers are generally seen as ruthless and calculating while Reds are oppressed and exploited. Both are true but it felt heavy-handed to say that every Silver would follow these same ideals and ways of thinking despite class divisions among the elite.

Mare is a frank narrator but she is also often reckless to the point of harming herself and those she cares about. Her motivations throughout the story–when she chooses to join the Red rebellion or during her rather fuzzy love triangle–are murky at best. Readers learn early on why Mare wants to fight the Silvers, why she is drawn to the person who holds her affections, but it never feels quite sincere enough or believable enough to justify the risks Mare takes.

The pacing in Red Queen is not perfect either. Scenes of lavish court balls and machinations alternate with high action fights or training sequences that make the middle part of the novel choppy. The narrative loses all sense of urgency as Mare moves between learning basics of Silver protocol and planning acts of rebellion in an often aimless manner.

Red Queen is a strong debut both for Aveyard and for this trilogy. While not ideal for readers who like their fantasies to have a lot of nuance, Red Queen is ideal for anyone seeking the next big action-packed series that is sure to have everyone talking.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

The Winner’s Crime: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

“The winner knows her whole line of play. But Kestrel saw only one move, and maybe the next.”

The Winner's Crime by Marie RutkoskiKestrel knew the cost would be high when she petitioned the Emperor of Valoria in an attempt to save Herrani lives. Months later outward appearances suggest that Kestrel has everything she could want. Her gambit to offer Herran independence as a colony only serves to better help Valoria while Kestrel’s shrewd strategy brought her to the attention of the Emperor. Engaged to Valoria’s crown prince, Kestrel is privy to countless parties and celebrations while all of Valoria admires the future Empress.

To Kestrel, it feels like nothing so much as a well appointed cage.

Kestrel longs to tell Arin the truth of her engagement. But with stakes higher on both sides, Kestrel is no longer certain she can trust Arin–if she ever could.

Arin thought his problems would end when Herran won its independence and he became governor of the new color. But independence as a reality–as more than a word–is a difficult thing. Leading an entire people is harder still. Arin buries the hurt deep, wrapping it in distrust and doubt. But once Arin thought he knew the truth in Kestrel’s heart. As he learns more about the machinations at work with Valoria, he wonders if he was ever truly wrong.

Navigating the complex alliances and threats of the capital, Kestrel comes to know the ruthless nature of life at court as well as her own heart. But despite years of training and loyalty, Kestrel’s heart no longer belongs to Valoria. It may not even belong to herself as she sets herself on a treasonous path to save her both the country and the man that never should have captured her love.

As lies multiply and deceptions wear thin, both Kestrel and Arin will have to face shocking truths as they answer for their deceptions and crimes. For both Kestrel and Arin, the greatest of their crimes may be not knowing their own hearts in The Winner’s Crime (2015) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse.

This story greatly expands the fraught world of intrigue and political machinations readers explored in the first novel as Kestril and Arin move through Valoria and lands unknown. The stakes have never been higher for either Kestrel or Arin.

Although there is still abundant action, The Winner’s Crime is an often introspective story as both protagonists try to make sense of their own hearts and motivations. After years of following her father and her empire without question, Kestrel begins to wonder if there might be more to honor that doing what is expected. Arin, meanwhile, stews in an untenable combination of responsibility to the Herrani and regret at having lost Kestrel.

The Winner’s Crime is a brutal, emotional read as both Kestrel and Arin deal with the ramifications of their unlikely association in Herran. Rutkoski’s prose continues to dazzle with rich, elegant descriptions of the decadent world of the Emperor’s palace. The shifting dual perspective between Arin and Kestrel is also used to excellent effect as this book once again highlights how much can be said between two people without uttering a word.

The Winner’s Crime is another stunning installment in a series that continues to impress.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

You can also check out my post for the What’s Your Winner’s Curse blog tour starting January 30!