Alanna’s May Reading List

You all know how this list starts – with one of the most anticipated Young Adult Fantasy releases of the year – A Court of Wings and Ruin by none other than the Queen of YA Fantasy herself, Sarah J Maas. I’ve got plenty of other books to read though, and with the school term (finally) done, I’ve got plenty of time to read them!

This list includes some new releases, some books that have been on my previous TBR’s (but obviously haven’t had the time to read), The YA Readers Alliance Books of the Month, and my entire book haul from the Book Outlet!

Speaking of the YA Readers Alliance, our Main Read for the month of May will be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and the Optional Read for the month of May will be A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas! You can find more information about our monthly reads here.

  1.  A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas (Released May 2nd, 2017 – this book is also The YA Readers Alliance May Optional Read!)
  2. Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh (Released May 16th, 2017)
  3. The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye (Released May 16th, 2017)
  4. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  5. The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova
  6. Wicked Like Wildfire (ARC) by Lana Popovic
  7. Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan
  8. Antigoddess by Kendare Blake
  9. Mortal Gods by Kendare Blake
  10. Ungodly by Kendare Blake
  11. Firewalker by Josephine Angelini
  12. Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige
  13. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
  14. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (This book is the YA Readers Alliance May Main Read!)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer, released in Canada on March 28th, 2017, is the first in a new epic fantasy series by National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Laini Taylor, of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. I received this book as part of the March FairyLoot box, and I am so happy that I did, because it was so much more than I expected!

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries–including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? The shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage. Welcome to Weep.

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MINI MONDAY: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Set in a world of witches, magic, and romance, Trial by Fire by internationally bestselling author Josephine Angelini is the first book of the young adult fantasy Worldwalker Trilogy.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies make it increasingly difficult to live a normal life, and after a completely humiliating incident ruins her first (and perhaps only) real party, she’s ready to disappear.Suddenly, Lily finds herself in a different Salem. One overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women-including Lillian, this world’s version of Lily. What made Lily weak at home, makes her extraordinary here. It also puts her in terrible danger. Faced with new responsibilities she can barely understand and a love she never expected, Lily is left with one question: How can she be the savior of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

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Diverse and #OwnVoices Books

If you’re active in the book community, you may have seen this hashtag kicking around – you may have even read up about it. Especially after the recent outrage from the book community surrounding racist and ableist themes in Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark. Which is good – because this is an important conversation, and it’s not one that’s going away. In fact, it seems that the discussion surround Carve the Mark spread the call for more diverse, inclusive books to the wider community, and now, more people than ever, are recognizing the need for diverse books.

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Just look at these statistics (above) – and that’s just in regards to children’s books. The #OwnVoices movement calls upon writers to respect the voices of the characters they write – to not disrespect the diversity in the world around them. We Need More Diverse Books (WNDB) defines diversity as “all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” It asks – can a white, upper-class author really write about the experiences of a minority teen living in poverty? Can a straight author write about the experiences of a LGBTQ2+ youth? And it calls upon the book community to respect #OwnVoices by respecting a diverse community of books, authors and readers, not just the one story of books they know. Respecting diversity in literature is not just a social trend; it’s critical to developing cultural literacy, and to overcoming long-held stereotypes. Susie Rodarme, of BookRiot, sums this up pretty well:

“If you don’t actually know anything about the lives of the people that you’re writing about, though–if you haven’t experienced anything like it in your real life and what you know actually does come mostly from TV and movies–it’s going to come out in cliches and stereotypes when you try to write it.”

And as white, middle-class university student from Canada, do I really have any right to be writing about this? I might not, which is why I’ll keep my judgments on the topic short, but I wanted to make my readers aware of the movement, and I wanted to challenge all of you to make yourselves more aware of the growing diversity in literature, and the need for it.

“So when we call for more diverse stories, I think this diversity must come from diverse authors. It’s not enough to have the same group of primarily white, cis, hetero, able-bodied authors writing more diversely; even with good intentions, they may not get it right. The call for diverse stories comes from groups of people who want to see themselves depicted in stories. That call isn’t answered if we read someone else’s depiction of us and we find that it isn’t true to life” – Susie Rodarme, Book Riot

Books are a type of media – like newspapers, like social media, like the 6 o’clock news, thy perpetuate stereotypes and norms to society, and they dictate our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not.

So the next time you pick up a book, try checking out a #OwnVoices book – I’ve taken the liberty of including some recognized #OwnVoices books below, and I’d love to hear what you think of them, or if you have some that should be added to this list!

And if you’re looking for more information about #Own Voices, please check out WNDB

You can also find my recent post regarding the importance of including diverse books in the classroom on my education blog, titled Miss Vosper.

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SERIES REVIEW: The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski is a stunning, fast-paced trilogy loaded with action, political intrigue and romance. Taking place in the conquered territory of the Empire, The Winner’s Trilogy follows the stories of Kestrel, the daughter of the General who conquered the Herrani people, and Arin, a Herrani slave who seeks to reinstate his once proud people as the rulers of their own lands.

The Winner's Trilogy

The Winner’s Curse

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love… They were never meant to be together. As a general’s daughter, seventeen-year-old Kestrel enjoys an extravagant and privileged life. Arin has nothing but the clothes on his back. Then Kestrel makes an impulsive decision that binds Arin to her. Though they try to fight it, they can’t help but fall in love. In order to be together, they must betray their people . . . but to be loyal to their country, they must betray each other. Set in a new world, The Winner’s Curse is a story of rebellion, duels, ballroom dances, wicked rumors, dirty secrets, and games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

The Winner’s Curse immediately caught my attention with it’s dark, complex society of slaves and rulers; especially since Kestrel immediately appeared opposed to the practice of keeping and buying slaves, despite her father’s position and her otherwise deference to the social order. She ends up buying Arin not because she needs a slave, but because of her love for music, because the slaver, Cheat, says that Arin can sing. Kestrel is a study in opposites – small defiances hidden by general submission. Kindness hidden by a cold, hard demeanor. Rebellion hidden by a stoic facade. Arin, for his part, is a dashing and dark slave with a bucket-load of secrets, the least of which is his association with the Herrani rebels. However, he and Kestrel quickly become fast friends, and are evidently leaning towards being something more when Arin becomes party to the ultimate betrayal – a rebellion that seeks to destroy Kestrel’s way of life. As Kestrel struggles to stay alive, and Arin struggles to regain her trust and prove his feelings for her, the two find themselves at impossible odds, with impossible decisions to make.

As individuals, I really enjoyed both Kestrel and Arin’s characters. However, what was even more satisfying was the fact that they didn’t simply fall in love and run away – they stayed beholden to their responsibilities, and Rutkoski made it quite clear that their was no easy way out of their predicament – forcing Kestrel to leave Arin behind, despite her own personal interests, and breaking Arin’s heart.

I also enjoyed Kestrel and Jess’ friendship – strong, female relationships are so rare in Ya Fantasy! However, I was quickly disappointed when Kestrel pushed Jess away (in favour of Arin). Rutkoski somewhat redeemed the friendship through Kestrel’s determination to save her friend, but the damage was done, and I no longer felt any real attachment to their friendship, since it is evidently as flimsy as the wind.

Overall, The Winner’s Curse was a solid start to the trilogy, introducing strong characters, significant conflicts, and drawing the battle lines quite clearly. I was quite interested to see where Rutkoski would take Kestrel and Arin, and could barely wait to  pick up The Winner’s Crime! (4/5)

 

The Winner's Curse

The Winner’s Crime

Following your heart can be a crime… A royal wedding is what most girls dream about. It means one celebration after another: balls, fireworks, and revelry until dawn. 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: that she agreed to marry the crown prince in exchange for Arin’s freedom. But can Kestrel trust Arin? Can she even trust herself? For Kestrel is becoming very good at deception. She’s working as a spy in the court. If caught, she’ll be exposed as a traitor to her country. Yet she can’t help searching for a way to change her ruthless world . . . and she is close to uncovering a shocking secret. This dazzling follow-up to The Winner’s Curse reveals the high price of dangerous lies and untrustworthy alliances. The truth will come out, and when it does, Kestrel and Arin will learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Following the events at the end of The Winner’s Curse, Kestrel finds herself tied up in the Empire’s twisted court without a friend in sight, while Arin struggles to support his people against the growing oppression of the Empire. Kestrel is unfamiliar with the games at court, but she refuses to concede defeat – even if it means sacrificing her own freedom and happiness to do so. Arin, for his part, isn’t ready to give up on Kestrel, believing that there is more to her decisions than he understands. Both quickly find themselves drowning in a game they don’t understand, up against impossible odds and daunting dangers. Then, Kestrel discovers a shocking secret that changes everything – even her own allegiance.

While I didn’t love The Winner’s Crime as much as a loved The Winner’s Curse, it was certainly a well-written book, riddled with the same political intrigue, romance and adventure as its predecessor. Unfortunately, as I had suspected, Kestrel and Jess’ friendship all but vanished in this book, with Rutkoski completing dropping the narrative of a female friendship. But Kestrel’s loss of Jess’ friendship was more than that – it symbolizes her fall from grace, her choice to turn her back on her people, who she now understands to be wrong. Kestrel and Arin’s romance/relationship was also complicated in this one – it was pretty much non-existent, pining for one another and Arin’s outbursts not included. Kestrel’s choice, and her subsequent fate at the end of this book lead me to believe there’s more to come for the two star-crossed lovers though. Finally, I just wanted to add that I was glad that Rutkoski avoided the love triangle trope here- she had the opportunity to throw it in, what with Kestrel’s imminent marriage, but instead chose to have everyone remain faithful to their existing relationships.

Overall, The Winner’s Curse was a good book; Rutkoski avoided some cliche YA tropes, while creating an engaging plot filled to the brim with intrigue and danger (3.5/5).

The Winner's Crime

The Winner’s Kiss

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it, with the East as his ally and the empire as his enemy. He’s finally managed to dismiss the memory of Kestrel, even if he can’t quite forget her. Kestrel turned into someone he could no longer recognize: someone who cared more for the empire than for the lives of innocent people-and certainly more than she cared for him. At least, that’s what he thinks. But far north lies a work camp where Kestrel is a prisoner. Can she manage to escape before she loses herself? As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover unexpected roles in battle, terrible secrets, and a fragile hope. The world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and Kestrel and Arin are caught between. In a game like this, can anybody really win? The Winner’s Kiss brings a stunning conclusion to the irresistible romance between Kestrel and Arin and the crippling war that has torn about their world in the Winner’s trilogy, by Marie Rutkoski.

Kestrel is trapped, and slowly losing herself to despair, and a drug designed to destroy her. Arin is aimless, fighting a war without any real cause, oblivious to the fact that Kestrel is slowly slipping away – soon, the rumours of her death won’t be exaggerated. After what seems like an eternity of willful ignorance, Arin realizes the truth and races to save Kestrel, only to find her mind seemingly destroyed and her memories gone. As Kestrel tries to piece together her life, and fill in the holes in her life, Arin loses himself, piece by piece, as he gives himself to the war, and to the girl who barely remembers him. It’s breathtakingly sad, even heartbreaking, to see the two finally together, but with a seemingly impossible void between them.

However, as Kestrel heals, she slowly finds her way back to Arin, who would do anything to help the girl he loves regain herself, even if it means losing her. But there are secrets – forgotten by Kestrel – that even Arin doesn’t know. Soon, the two find themselves in the heart of the war, plotting the downfall of the Empire, while all the while, Kestrel’s memory slips back into place, and she must make some difficult decisions.

I loved how sweet Kestrel and Arin’s relationship was in The Winner’s Kiss. Right from the moment he rescues her, Arin is willing to do anything Kestrel needs, even if it means giving her up. He’s primarily concerned with her well-being, pushing his feelings for her aside in order to make sure her needs are met. Then, as Kestrel’s memories start to return and the two drift together, Arin is hesitant, and sweet, but still willing to give Kestrel the time she needs to find her own way, rather than forcing his feelings upon her.

Overall, The Winner’s Kiss was, at its core, a story about love and finding oneself – the war was more of a side story in comparison. However, like its predecessors, The Winner’s Kiss did have lots of political intrigue and action, only this time, they weren’t the guiding motivations behind the plot. I enjoyed seeing these two selfless characters finally be selfish, and make decisions for themselves, rather than for the ideals of their people (5/5).

The Winner's Kiss

Overall, The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski is certainly worth the read. It’s got everything you could want – political intrigue, romance and action – all balanced quite wonderfully, and woven into a complex, but not confusing plot that will leave readers wanting to know how it all ends. So if you haven’t read it yet, it’s time to pick up The Winner’s Curse and give it a try!

MINI MONDAY: Mask of Shadows (ARC) by Linsey Miller

Set to release on September 5, 2017, Mask of Shadows is Linsey Miller’s debut novel, and the first book in a planned duology. Riddled with action and deceit, Mask of Shadows is sure to draw readers in right from the get-go. Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo, Mask of Shadows features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action (Disclaimer: I received and Advanced Reader Copy of Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller in exchange for an honest review).

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class-and the nobles who destroyed their home. When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand-the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears-Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge. But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive (Chapters.Indigo.ca).

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