Book Reviews

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Everyone knows the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

And it’s true. Sometimes the best, most memorable stories you read are the ones that did not necessarily have an eye-catching, or aesthetically pleasing cover.

So, in light of this, I feel that I must confess that I do, on occasion, judge a book (and make my decision whether to read it or not) based on its cover.

One such example is The Winner’s Curse. The cover immediately caught my attention, and so I felt I had no choice but to read it.

Kestrel is the daughter of a general in the vast Valorian Empire. Living in a war driven society, Kestrel knows that the law requires her to choose one of two life options: join the military like her father, or get married. Neither idea appeals to Kestrel, whose passion lies in playing the piano – a skill normally only permitted to be practiced by the Herrani slaves of the region.

One day, while in the city, Kestrel finds herself attending a slave auction. Kestrel senses something of herself in Arin, the Herrani slave for sale, and against her better judgement and common sense, Kestrel purchases him for an exorbitant sum. Kestrel starts developing feelings for Arin, and she finds this growing love strange and unnerving. However, Arin has secrets of his own and Kestrel soon discovers that a split second decision at a slave auction may cost her everything she has ever known and loved.

I love the idea behind this book, that of the winner’s curse phenomenon. It is an economic theory that basically states that at an auction, the winner, although having won the item for sale, has also lost because they have paid more for the item than what the majority of bidders have felt it was truly worth. Ultimately though, you never know what value the item may hold in the future, so the idea of the winner’s curse is about that very moment of winning.

I feel like I may have been a victim of the winner’s curse with this book.

While the idea behind this novel was great, the novel itself is a run of the mill young adult (YA) fantasy novel – think, a cross between A Game of Thrones and The Jewel, except less medieval and less dystopian. This book, for me, was okay. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible – it was just an average read. There was nothing different, nothing to distinguish it from every other YA fantasy/romance novel around at the moment. It’s a familiar formula that I have seen over and over again in one form or another – rich, elite girl falls for handsome, rogue slave. Their love makes them question their preconceived beliefs of society and the status quo. An uprising occurs which tests their love and their beliefs, and cue book two 12 months later.

I felt it difficult to connect with either Kestrel or Arin. Throughout the course of the novel, they both made decisions that were completely illogical, and made no sense whatsoever, and this is what made it so hard for me to relate to them in any way. Kestrel in particular was a rather frustrating character. She claims to want freedom and to defy social norms when it comes to her own life. However, as soon as anyone else – primarily Arin – wants things to be different, and actually starts to do something about it, Kestrel says it’s wrong, that it goes against societal values, and starts defending the way things are. I felt like yelling at her “You can’t have it both ways!”

In saying all that, the second half of the book was much more interesting than the first, as this is when things really start to kick off. The first half of the novel tended to plod along, and was cluttered with Kestrel’s inner turmoil, and Arin’s brutishness, whereas the second half of the novel is when the action starts to take place as the rebellion begins to get in to full swing.

I think that YA readers 14+ who enjoy this kind of novel will love it, but I felt for me, it just wasn’t as good as it had the potential to be.

Rating: 5/10

Book Reviews

Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The hottest book at the moment is definitely The Girl On The Train. It has been in the top 10 selling books in my store for the past few weeks. People are constantly asking for it, and we are constantly selling out of it.

Touted as “the next Gone Girl”, I knew I just had to give this latest offering in the psychological thriller genre a go.

The Girl On The Train is told from three different points of view; Rachel, an alcoholic who is hung up on her ex-husband, Megan, an artistic woman behind whose seemingly perfect life lies a big secret, and Anna, a new mother and current wife of Rachel’s ex.

Despite the different points of view, Rachel is the central character in this novel. She rides the train into London CBD every day, and every morning it stops at the same rail signal that overlooks the same row of back gardens. Depressed with her own life, Rachel starts to take an interest in a young couple – ‘Jess and Jason’ – who live in one of the houses. From her perspective, Rachel observes that they are the perfect couple; they have the perfect house, the perfect marriage, the perfect life. They encapsulate everything her life should have been.

Then one day, while stopped at the same signal, Rachel sees something in that familiar row of back gardens that shocks her. It doesn’t last long, but it is enough to make Rachel think not everything is as it should be. From that moment on, things begin to change. Rachel is given the unique opportunity to be a part of those lives she has wistfully watched from afar. The more involved Rachel gets, the more she uncovers, the more she begins to realise that not everything she has been led to believe is always true.

Being a psychological thriller, The Girl On The Train is dark, gritty, and has a great twist at the end. However, it’s not as dark, nor as twisty as Gone Girl. At the start of the novel I kept wondering where everything was leading, especially all the smaller, seemingly insignificant details and incidents. Because when it comes to crime novels, almost everything that happens does so for a reason. I loved trying to guess why certain things were included and mentioned.

While Gone Girl surprised and shocked everyone with the complete 180 towards the end of the novel, by the time the revelations started happening in The Girl On The Train, I had pretty much figured out what was going on. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment, but I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of a surprise in there for me.

One of the things I really did enjoyed most about this novel, was that none of the characters were perfect; each one had their own flaws and their own shortcomings. So, despite the extraordinary nature of the overarching storyline, it made the whole novel that much more relatable to the reader. After all, in real life, no one is without his or her imperfections.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book. It was suitable creepy and suspenseful, and the characters were really intriguing. I would recommend it to any one who enjoyed books such as Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep.

Rating: 8/10

Things Customers Say In Book Stores

Where Do I Live Again?

Me: *answers ringing phone* Good afternoon, XYZ Bookstore. How can I help you?

Customer: I got a message from you guys that my books are in, so I’ve called up to give you the address to mail them to.

Me: Certainly. What’s the address?

Customer: … umm…err….hmm… I wrote it down and now I can’t find it. I’ll call you back. *hangs up*

Book Reviews

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

“I’m still playing games. This is just the deadliest yet.”

The tag line for Golden Son bodes extremely well for those who, like myself, got completely hooked on Red Rising (you can read my review here). I thought the toughest, deadliest, trickiest and most harrowing part of Darrow’s mission was over.

Apparently not.

Golden Son opens two years after the events that took place at the end of Red Rising. Darrow is now at the Academy where he is learning the art of war. He has fully ingratiated himself into Augustus’ retinue and into Gold society. He has made friends and enemies, as any good Gold does, and is well on his way to bringing down everything from the inside. Darrow soon finds himself heading up a full-scale rebellion against the Sovereign and the Society. It’s Gold against Gold, with constantly shifting allegiances. Darrow thinks he knows who he can trust, but they are all Golds – can he truly trust any of them? And with so many people from of colours becoming collateral damage along the way, is Darrow really willing to do what it takes to bring about change?

As Golden Son unfolds, we realise more and more that the Institute was child’s play – it was nothing compared to the Golds, war and alliances of the real world. Darrow not only has to be a good fighter, he also has to out-think, out-manoeuvre and out-politicise his enemies. And this makes for an excellent novel. It is a suspenseful, enthralling story that you enjoy reading, but also makes you think about what is happening. Personally, I kept thinking about how many of the seemingly isolated interactions and incidents may fit into the bigger picture, because, in the end, they all do, and it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out how.

Red Rising was as much about Darrow learning how to navigate the Institute and the world as a Gold as it was about him completing his mission and getting justice. Similarly, Golden Son is as much about bringing down the Sovereign – Octavia au Lune – and the Society, as it is about Darrow questioning his own motives, his morality and whether or not he is the person Eo would have wanted him to become. Yes, this novel has a lot of action, death and destruction, but it also is about the internal struggle Darrow is experiencing.

As in Red Rising, the characters in this novel continue to be extremely well crafted and well defined. Those characters we encountered in the last book, and that reappear in Golden Son have a wonderful new depth to them, especially Darrow as he questions himself in a way that the other characters do not seem to.

And what an ending!

I have read a lot of books in my lifetime (so far…) and this is the most dramatic ending I have come across – the cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers! I’m pretty sure I held my breath for the last 6 pages of the book, and that my heart stopped beating for the final 2 paragraphs. How am I supposed to be expected to wait until 2016 to find out what happens?!

Definitely recommended for those who loved Red Rising. For those who haven’t read either of Pierce Brown’s wonderful works, I would definitely recommend reading Red Rising first otherwise you will find yourself a bit lost with what is going on in Golden Son.

Rating: 10/10