The Winner’s Curse Review

The Winners Curse

Warning***Minor Spilers***

Title: The Winner’s Curse

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Publisher:  Farrar Straus Giroux (BYFR) (Macmillan)

Flap copy:

“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.”

Sometimes, there are books that reach and grab you, and you know these books will be big. I knew instantly with The Princess Diaries, Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I know it again with The Winner’s Curse. I originally read this book last year, but with the second book coming out March 3rd, I figured I would do a re-read.

First off, the flap copy totally does not do justice to this book. For the most part, it is right, but on the whole, it really doesn’t do the story justice.

In their world, Kestrel’s people are the conquerors. Arin’s are the conquered slaves. That is the world you are walking into. The thing that makes you love Kestrel is that she is extremely intelligent. She doesn’t have any fighting skills, and she is beautiful (it’s YA, it is rare not to find an attractive female protagonist) but her defining feature is her brilliant mind.  In a culture of military might, Kestrel is a brilliant strategic genius who will win at all costs, and this makes for a formidable will.

On the opposing side, there is Arin. I am not going to delve too much into his character since it is major factor in the plot, and everyone should read this book without spoilers. Just know that Arin is more than a match for our formidable heroine.

Side note: I love the climax of books; the heartbreak, the feelings, I love it all. This book is one big heartbreak. One impossible situation after another, and I loved every second of it.

It is refreshing to step away from a dystopian world, and enter a fantasy. I am tiring of dystopian.

If there is one YA book to read this year (pssh, would can read only 1?), let it be this one.

Final Question: Would I have acquired this book? I would have done anything in my power to get this book. I would have paid as much as I could. I LOVE this book.


What is YA?

Recently, a co-worker tried to convince me that the book she is reading is a young adult book. I took one look at it and was like, nope. “But it has the teenage protagonists, and a coming of age story.” Still not YA. And then she asked me, “So what makes something YA?”

And like that, I was stumped. I could instantly tell her book wasn’t a YA book, but my feeble attempts to explain it to her were met with resistance. I googled, and discovered this (though I do not agree with all the points).

So without further ado, I give what YA is and how to tell if a book is YA.

  1. YA is not a genre.

YA is not a genre. It is a category, and a recommended reading level within the realm of children’s books. In this category, there are genres, but let’s be straight: if I hear you say the “Young Adult Genre”, I might need to send you a glitter bomb

This could be you. SOURCE:
  1. Just because a protagonist is a teen/young adult does not make the book a young adult book.

One of my favorite writers, Maria V. Snyder, wrote her debut book, Poison Study, with a younger protagonist. I imagined an 18-20 year old (years later, I discovered it was more like 25). Reading that book, it reminded me of several YA books. Was it YA? No. Does YA often feature a teen protagonist? Every dang time. Do Adult books feature teen protagonists? Yes. Catcher in the Rye does. But in no way does having a teen protagonist equal being YA.

  1. Coming of age does not equal young adult.

Say it with me: coming of Age does NOT equal young adult. Sometimes I feel like telling the people who tell me coming of age equals young adult that they need to read more. In undergrad I took a class called “Coming of Age”, we did not read a single young adult book. I read Adventures of a Simpleton by Hans Jacob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Shockers, both are adult titles. Coming of age is a thing you do when you are a teen, but it is by no means exclusive to being a teen. Hell, I am still “coming of age” and I am well passed legal drinking age.

  1. There is something to the cover.

Remember my post on book covers? Well, I will remind you again that book covers are invaluable. Young Adult books advertise they are young adult books on the cover. The next time you go to a bookstore (please do for this exercise; it does not work as well on Amazon), take a minute and look at the covers of different genres. Romances almost always have a man and a woman in an intimate embrace; biographies always feature their subject; thrillers and mysteries are usually dark. So when I say the cover can tell you different genres, I mean it.

  1. When in doubt, look at the imprint.

There are people in the world who don’t know which publishing house, and imprint at that house, a book comes from. You’re not expected to. As a publishing professional, I always look because I need to know. If Atria (Simon & Schuster) published a book, it is not young adult. If I see Simon Pulse (also, Simon & Schuster), then I know it’s YA. There are some gray areas here, but this is a 99% guarantee of a book’s status.

But the problem was still nagging at me. And because I am a bit obsessive about YA, I decided to dig further. Luckily, I take detailed notes in class and hoard information sheets from my past internships for these very reasons.

When I got home, I closed my door and saw the most beautiful sight: this chart that breaks down YA. I saw this chart at one of my internships, and I wanted it. The chart breaks down the differences between younger YA and older YAs in regards to age ranges, binding styles (hardcover or paperback) and what to expect from the covers, and some notes on the general rules of content.20150213_204921

But I am still left wondering, what makes a book YA and others not?

So I dived into these bad boys:

My grad school notes, y’all.

As I am refreshing my memory see that the marketing and sales channels are different. Then I read the line that is the truth of the matter.

The Number One Way to Tell YA: the situations and how the characters react.

There are some situations we all go through as teens. Sure, I might have never have volunteered to be in the Hunger Games, but everyone has had to figure out the complexities of love. Even in adult books, these situations happen, but teens react differently.

You can say it is because their brains aren’t done developing; you can say they lack the hard won experience as the rest of us. But teens feel things more strongly: what made me cry for an hour after a middle school dance would not faze me now, but for a blimp of annoyance.

This is what makes YA. You can look at all the stats of the book, the cover, but the STORY and how the characters REACT is how you can tell a YA.

And if those fail you, then …

Snapshot From My Life

Certain things in life don’t come easy. And there may be this little voice inside you questioning everything. Or a voice outside of you telling you to gice up. In case you can’t tell, this week has been particularly rough for me. With the weather in New York and the way work has been lately, I need a reminder. A reminder of the good things. And I found this gem and felt maybe other people could use a pearl of wisdom from one of my favorite guest lecturers: Arthur A. Levine. I know I certainly needed the reminder today.

Mr. Levine was the 2013 David Pecker Distinguished Visiting Professor at my graduate school and during one of his lecturers, I connected with this quote:


Recently, I did a post on why I read YA. And I have to say, this quote, this amazingly powerful quote, perfectly captures what a young adult book is all about. More importantly, it reminds me that the path I am on is the one I am meant to be on.

The things worth most having don’t always come easy. As my mom is fond of saying, “It builds character.”

So take this second, no matter what is going on your life and the difficulties you face, to remember that “having second thoughts and feeling like you are struggling doesn’t mean you are not meant to be here.”

Throwback Thursday: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Morris Lessmore

I was interning at Simon & Schuster when this book published and my manager recommended it. The art pulled me in and I read it at work, and promptly teared up. This book made me sad.  When I watched the Academy Award winning short film right after, it made it worse. Don’t get me wrong, this book is gorgeous and I love it. Written by William Joyce and illustrated by Joe Bluhm, this is a book about books.


Flap Copy:

Morris Lessmore loved words.
He loved stories.
He loved books.
But every story has its upsets.
Everything in Morris Lessmore’s life, including his own story, is scattered to the winds.
But the power of story will save the day.”

Besides just being a wonderfully illustrated book, this book will hit all book lovers in the feels. Mr. Morris Lessmore takes care of the books, and as humans do, he gets old and the books take care of him. I am choking up just thinking of this book.

It might just the fact that I am an adult reader and can see the metaphors, but I am not sure if a younger child would enjoy this. Really, when I think about it, this book is more of an art piece than a book I would give to a young kid.

Note: it is hard to write reviews about picture books without majorly spoiling it. So please forgive me if this post leaves you feeling uninformed; I don’t want to ruin it for you.

However, I will share with you the short film.

Why I Read YA

I had the displeasure to read this article from the Guardian this morning.

While the author ultimately ended up on a happy note about YA books and why adults read them, it was not without offending those who read YA and the books in general.

First, let me just say, I feel insulted that someone would think adults who read YA only read them because they are “those who just refuse to grow up and embrace their boring, often excitement-free adult lives.” Adult life is hella more exciting than being a teen. For starters, I can legally drink. And there is that whole between the sheets action that I can legally do without fearing repercussions from my parents. (My blog manager (who works for guacamole) wished to chime in with this: Not to mention, not being in school, having independence, and basically being able to do what whatever you want  (within the law)). Eh, so thanks, but no thanks, I am not buying what you are trying to sell.

Try again, sweetie.

But why do I read YA? I could say the simple answer: that I want to work with young adult books and that is why I read them, but let’s be honest, that would not be the whole truth.

I read YA because I love it. I don’t read it to the exclusion of other books. I happen to like reading romance, women’s fiction, chick lit, and biographies about royals and dictators (yes, that is a topic for another day). But ultimately, I find the YA books to be better because the emotions are heightened, the writing does not pander to the age group, and the covers are GROGEOUS. The authors (most, anyways) are way more connected to their audiences.

The Young Adult Book Industry is filled with amazing people, from authors to readers, marketers and editors.

Yes, sometimes the books are silly. Yes, sometimes I get frustrated with the writer, but on the whole: YA books are just great.

SO if you are an adult who reads YA, never feel ashamed and don’t let anyone ever make you feel ashamed of what you are reading. It is not a competition. Read what you like!


The Importance of Being a Book Cover

Recently, while surfing LinkedIn (it’s Facebook for working professionals), I stumbled upon this article about 7 Book Marketing Predictions in 2015.

What caught my eye and inspired today’s industry thought of the day was this little gem: “The best way to sell a self-published book is to not make it look like it was self-published.” The quote above mentions self-published books, but this is applicable to every book. I know I briefly touched on my love of a beautiful book in a previous post, but today, let’s focus on the cover.

Did your mom ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover? Yeah? Well, that was bad advice. Hear me out. The book cover is HOW TO GET YOUR BOOK NOTICED. A good book cover should tell the reader something about the book but also intrigue them to pick it up in the first place. A bad cover can send the wrong message about your book.

Secret: publishers put more money into book covers than you think. Book not selling well? They will redesign the cover. On top of that fact, the books the publishers have designated will be the bestsellers (yes, the system is slightly rigged) get more money for better covers.

So, you ask, can we see some examples?

Below are two books: one cover I hate and one I like.

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I can see you scratching you head wondering which one I liked. The first one, The Beautiful Cursed, is the one I don’t like. It is a historical/fantasy book with gargoyles. When I first got the book, I was like, “Is this self published?” For a major publisher, I was thought it looked cheap. SHE IS FAINTING ON THE COVER. The second, Mothership, is a truly hilarious book. Think Juno meets Alien.

But here’s the deal: Motherhsip didn’t sell well. Librarians said the colors  and illustrated cover attracted younger readers. So it got a redesign. The Beautiful Cursed must have done moderately well, because the second book has a cover in a similar design. Both of these covers are, in my opinion, bad covers. One I just don’t like, and one that underserved the book.

But what about GOOD covers?

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There are many examples of good covers (most covers are fine, it is just the great and terrible ones you remember). Red Queen is a great cover. It recently published, but when you look at the cover (and I am talking look at it, i.e. feel it as well) you can tell the publisher wants this to do well. The cover tells you a bit about the story: princess, blood, meant to do well in the marketplace. The Mara Dyer books are the same.  The cover compels you to pick it up.

This has been an especially long post, so I am going to wrap this up.

A book cover is a selling tool. You are meant to judge the book by it. Sometimes the book is better than you expect. But sometimes the cover shows it’s not. Go forth and judge away!

Tonya Harding Meets Bunheads

So several factors played a key part in bringing this topic to my mind. As readers will know, I recently reviewed Bunheads by Sophie Flack. If you missed it, please pop over to it and familiarize yourself with my thoughts. A while back, my roommate and I were watching 30 for 30: The Price of Gold on Netflix, about Tonya Harding and “the whack heard around the world”. I highly recommend the documentary.

While reading Bunheads, I kept flashing back to this story. One of the things that made the Tonya Harding scandal so juicy was that it felt like it was made for the movies. And I realized that it would also make a great young adult book.

First, let me say, I am sure there are some legal issues to developing a book about this. I am not a lawyer nor do I have access to one to ask, so let’s just assume a fictionalized version of this story would be out (aka not allowed).

But when I was reading Bunheads, I realized it wasn’t the ballet book I really wanted to read. There are rivalries in the book to be sure, but nothing that was as drastic as the events of 20 or so years ago.

The ballet book I want is a bit more dramatic.

Picture this:

On the night of one of the biggest performances of the year, the soloist is brutally attacked (but not like murdered-attacked, more like broken legs (still gruesome, but you know)). Shock reverberates among the company’s dancers. Who could have done such a thing? Only young corps dancer, What’s Her Name, suspects the culprit is one of their own. Now she must figure out who broke the soloist legs before the next dancer is taken out.

Ballerinas are scary, man. Black Swan anyone?