Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Recently Added To My To-Be-Read List

top ten tuesday
                recently added

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c.j.'s selections
                in order of recency

one Imagine if the Library of Alexandria hadn't been destroyed.  Imagine that it's taken over all knowledge--and those who dare possess their own books are traitors.  It looks like a bit of 1984 with some alternate Earth historical fantasy awesomeness.  I've never read Rachel Caine, but I have high hopes.  //  Goodreads 
two Charlie is dead--or so you'd think, after a catastrophic explosion.  His girlfriend mourns at his funeral.  So does his other girlfriend.  Cue other woman team-up to find their MIA ex.  I don't usually go for the whole kitschy romance thing, but the whole death mystery adds something special.  //  Goodreads
I just got an ARC and I'm psyched!  Pun somewhat intended.  When Georgia's brother dies, everyone assumes it's a tragedy.  Enter the grieving best friend whom know one's ever met.  Could the boy charming the whole town be the killer?  Georgia thinks so--but is she right, or are the voices in her head twisting her reality?  //  Goodreads
four When I first saw the link between this and The Handmaid's Tale, I was a little bit skeptical.  Since, I've seen some delightful reviews and have come around.  I'm curious to see what Simmons will do with a society of woman hidden from the men who want them as prizes.  //  Goodreads 
five I've finally decided that I should read this.  I do love books that are set up as false histories--Frankenstein, for example.  I'm very excited to see how Marie Brennan melds the memoir genre with a fantasy adventure.  I'm also geekily hoping for Darwin-style diagrams and sketches.  //  Goodreads 
six I've been dying for this book every since I encountered the German original, Silber.  It began as a Cover Love and became a personal quest--to see it translated.  Okay, less of a quest and more of a lot of waiting.  But now it's here, the story of a girl who discovers that the sinister figures in her dreams are real people.  //  Goodreads 
seven I didn't really want to read this, until I did a Book Blurb Breakdown on it.  I know it's going to be a generic NA romance, but I can't resist the thrill of the sexy bad boy artist or the intrigue of his mysterious confession.  Plus, I hear good things about Hoover, so she may surprise me.  //  Goodreads 
eight The story of Scheherazade has always fascinated me, though I've yet to undertake the whole 1,001 nights.  This reinvention seems to stick closely to the original: king kills a bride a night, then one girl manages to last.  Only this time, there are secrets surrounding the murders that may disrupt everything Shazi believes about her new husband.  I'm super intrigued.  //  Goodreads 
nine I've never read Sarah Dessen.  Go ahead, throw the tomatoes.  I've always seen her as a frothy summer read.  But Saint seems like a good place to start.  It seems a little more serious in tone, starting with Sydney's brother's drunk driving accident.  Sydney's concern for the victims leads her to a family--and boy, obviously--who give her the acceptance that her parents never had.  Sounds heartwarming, but I'm intrigued nevertheless.  //  Goodreads 
ten I couldn't be more excited.  I loved The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen.  I trust Cameron to concoct another brilliant adventure.  In this alternate Earth, Sophie finds herself embroiled in the clandestine society fighting the radical Parisian rebels.  Sophie realizes that her fiance is hiding something; so is she.  Given Cameron's track record of intricate historical mysteries, I'm sold.  //  Goodreads 


Review: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkowski


title:  The Winner's Crime

author:  Marie Rutkowski

pages: 402

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0374384708

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Incarnate by Jodi Meadows, and other rich, imaginative fantasy.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes.  I'd love to see what else she has while I'm waiting. 
will i continue the series?:  Yes!  I need The Winner's Kiss right now or I might die of suspense. 

My Ratings Explained

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.

If you're new to the series, check out my review of The Winner's Curse. 

the basics
It's a rare second novel that captures the essence of and exceeds the first.  Even now, writing this, I have chills.  The Winner's Crime has all the sweeping grandeur of its predecessor, but without the lingering, the set-up, the lightness.  There is little light or lingering in this devastating sequel.  Arin and Kestrel are apart, Kestrel betrothed to the future emperor and Arin governing a starving Herran.  Their positions teeter on a precipice; one misstep could mean the lives of thousands.  The plot is absolutely ruthless.  For Kestrel, staying true to her new-found compassion means lying to Arin, to the emperor, to her father, and sometimes to herself.  A world away, Arin is flung violently between his nation and his heart, each withering for the sake of the other.  

With a delicious cruelty, Rutkowski lays down thread upon thread of gorgeous metaphors, foreshadowing, and just enough hope.  You feel disaster like a specter, creeping slowly, cocooning you in a claustrophobic tension.  By the time you hit the book's climax, it's too late; Rutkowski has threaded you into a net of razor wire, and gives a final yank.  Viciously beautiful, perfectly balanced between plot and character, The Winner's Crime is a remarkable feat of young adult literature with wide appeal for teens and adults alike.  

plot . 5/5
If you held your breath during The Winner's Curse, beware.  The Winner's Crime is ruthless.  Every good thing about the first is magnified.  Kestrel's feelings for Arin and compassion for the Heranni were once unpopular; now, they're treasonous.  It becomes quickly clear that the emperor understands her motivations and is willing to play along--if she plays well.  But Kestrel sees her new-found power as an opportunity.  Even at this international scale, she's convinced she can control the game.  She secretly spies for the Herrani, even as she dupes Arin into believing her love is gone.  Arin is tormented by his seemingly unrequited passion and torn between protecting Kestrel and protecting Herran's fragile truce from imploding.  

Every page is tenser than the last, with new plots discovered, new alliances formed, and an accumulation of secrets so tangled that it can't last.  Woven into the main intrigue is a slew of smaller threads: Kestrel's crumbling relationship with Jess, the motivations of Kestrel's fiancee, the looming war in the east.  With a cleverness and ruthlessness eerily reminiscent of George R.R. Martin (but without the lengthy dissertations on armor), Rutkowski masterfully interweaves the proximal tales of Kestrel's and Arin's maturation with the larger story of the Valorian empire and the only nations left to oppose it.  

concept . 5/5
Crime benefits from the same rich conceptual elements as Curse:  the judicious borrowing of Roman Imperial culture, the treatment of slavery, the careful use of a forbidden romance.  Now, we're treated to an even deeper examination of not only Valoria, but its neighbors.  Suddenly, the war with the east isn't just a topic of gossip; it's a question of conscience for Kestrel, who now has the emperor's ear and the choice: play it safe and stay quiet, or save lives from her empire's rapacity.  "The east" turns out to be Dacra, a proud nation in self-induced isolation.  I also loved that we learned more of Herran's culture, in particular its pantheon and legends.  

And Valoria . . . wow.  The taste of its ruthlessness in Curse was only a shadow of its true darkness.  It's an empire built on pragmatic genocide and honor suicide, ruled by a man whose favor comes at the cost of everything dearest to you.  It's also full of lightness and good, and a future emperor with a kind heart.  The games of diplomacy, espionage, and war become very important, adding a scope to the book that grounds Kestrel and Arin in a larger reality.  There are also the exciting and tragic beginnings of modernized warfare, and whether the reward of victory is worth the soul of the world.  

characters . 5/5
The complexity of each character is truly astounding.  Rutkowski skillfully negotiates the faces each character shows and the ones that lay hidden.  The result is a multidimensional cast that is believable but not predictable.  Kestrel truly shines in this book.  As she begins to realize the enduring costs of her decision, her conflicting ideals are drawn sharply into focus.  She's brutally clever and determined, and believes that becoming ice will keep her in control.  On the other side is Arin, melting and driven by his emotions into a bind between love and loyalty.  Whereas I couldn't grasp him fully in Curse, I think I was able to truly understand and adore him.  

In our cast, we have the return of Jess and Ronan, both grappling with the aftermath of the Firstwinter Rebellion, and the inscrutable General Trajan, whose position between Kestrel and the emperor is constantly in question.  My new favorite is easily Verex, Kestrel's fiancee.  His early sullenness hides a kind, intelligent interior; the friendship between him and Kestrel is a rare spot of light in this dark book.  His father, the emperor, is a wonderfully Machiavellian sadist, who delights in entrapment and manipulation.  Roshar of Dacra is deliciously snarky, and Tensen is sweet but irritatingly protective of Arin.  Honestly, the only character I feel indifferent towards is the queen of Dacra, who is still somewhat of a black box.  

style . 5/5
If the writing in Curse was beautiful, the writing in Crime is agonizingly lovely.  It's the kind of book during which I briefly feel sad, because I fear I'll never match even a tenth of her brilliance.  Everything about her style somehow seems more intense.  Her dialogue is sharp as a dagger.  Her descriptions are brief but contain a multitude within them.  How she can paint a world in a few words, I'll never know.  What's more, she commands an atmosphere that few writers can.  It's the space between good and great, the ineffable heart-clutching fullness you feel reading it.  A sense of magic.  Finally, her metaphors are absolutely perfect.  Many authors get into trouble using a slew of mixed metaphors that come out muddy.  Throughout the book, I noticed that, particularly for the important metaphors, Rutkowski would pull something from the surrounding scenes.  It makes the book feel coherent and infused with the characters in a way that a random metaphor wouldn't.  

mechanics . 5/5
There hasn't been such dramatic irony since Shakespeare.  I exaggerate, but there's a certain fatalistic quality in Rutkowski's writing that reminds me of his.  She's sneaky and deliberate in the way she strews crumbs here and there.  Some things dawn on you slowly, pages later.  Others form a blurry picture that suddenly snaps into clarity.  There is one in particular that made me cringe away from the page; I think I shouted "No!" to my empty bedroom.  If you've read it, you'll know the one I'm talking about.  It was set up so long before, and it becomes cruelly clear.  The cruelest, perhaps, are the most obvious ones.  The alternating perspectives of Kestrel and Arin allow Rutkowski to explore the knowledge that is unique to each of them, then to switch to the poor, clueless other one.  To watch the tragedy happening, knowing it's happening, knowing that a split second or a different word would have changed it, is excruciating.  But absolutely brilliant.   

take home message
Viciously intricate, painfully beautiful, The Winner's Crime is a revelation of fantasy and romance.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  


ARC Review: The Walled City by Ryan Graudin


title:  The Walled City

author:  Ryan Graudin

pages: 432

format: Paperback 

isbn/asin: 978-0316405058

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Aladdin (I swear), Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, or The Murder Complex by Lindsey Cummings.  People looking for a non-Western setting, for once.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes, I think so. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A 

My Ratings Explained

730. That's how many days I've been trapped. 18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

the basics
Despite many delightful elements and a clever premise, The Walled City contained too many moments of dullness and disbelief to enthrall me.  However, it didn't rankle me either, so it sits firmly in the realm of "Okay."  But first with the good: the idea of a walled city, a few acres square and overrun with gangs, was not only fascinating, but also based heavily on a real walled city in China.  History nerds, come to me!  I loved Graudin's portrayal of this seedy microcosm and its unique culture, at such stark contrast with the posh and pomp just outside its walls.  I also enjoyed the skeleton of the story, the interweaving of three perspectives into a cat-and-mouse narrative.  The story builds up tension well in the first half, but drags on just a bit too long.  Honestly, it's difficult to pinpoint what changed this from a 5 to a halfhearted 4.  I think if Dai had been more believable and the pacing tighter, I'd remember this more fondly.  That said, it's still a solid read, definitely unique.  

plot . 4/5
The plot with its three threads allowed for an interesting amount of crossover and dramatic irony, but could have been utilized to better effect.  It begins auspiciously enough with Jin, street kid, scraping for food and shelter with a mangy cat and a knife.  I loved her instantly.  Her scuffle with a gang of boys leads her to Dai, a mysterious boy with a dangerous favor--help him deliver for Longwai, unspoken leader of Hak Nam.  And, incidentally, owner of the brothel that imprisons Jin's sister, Mei Yee, sold into slavery by her father and lost.  The set-up is incredibly compelling and leads into a twisted game between Jin and Dai, Dai and Mei Yee, Mei Yee and her client, becoming more convoluted and dangerous until the careful house of cards shatters.  There are plenty of near misses to keep things interesting.  Except that it goes on a bit long and, at time, is painfully slow.  And the whole plot surrounding Dai, his mysterious relationship with a government official, his duty, is just so difficult to believe.  Especially for his age.  There are also some pretty magical escapes in the works.  In the end, however, Graudin ties the threads together with a satisfying, albeit Utopian, ending.  

concept . 5/5
Have you heard of Kowloon Walled City?  I hadn't, not until I read the Author's Note.  It began life as a fort about a 0.001 miles square (think on that), and transformed into a thronged, stilted Purgatory that bowed to powerful gangs and housed over 33,000 people.  Most of them bleakly impoverished.  The strangest part: this city existed as a law unto itself smack in the middle of Hong Kong.  For decades.  Graudin reimagines Kowloon into the fictional Hak Nam, keeping the spirit of the history but injecting it with her own rich culture and atmosphere.  The portrayal provides for one of the most interesting settings I've encountered, a scene for Aladdin-esque hi-jinks and also unspeakable depravity.  This city is the very place one might expect to find a house of girls sold into sex slavery.  Graudin's treatment of human trafficking is poignant and, in a time where it still happens with shocking regularity, very important.  She doesn't soften the horror for you, but neither does she sensationalize it.  

characters . 4/5
Jin's parts were easily my favorite.  She's a swashbuckling, spunky street rat with skinny wrists and a good heart.  Her voice is full of snark and spirit, and a bittersweet understanding of the world.  Her maturity isn't surprising, given that even before she ran away to Hak Nam to find her sister, even before she spent two years living homeless, she had spent many more years drawing her father's violence to herself, to spare her mother and sister.  She's a tough cookie--but not without whimsy.  Her relationship with her cat, Chma, was insanely adorable.  I also liked Mei Yee.  She's sweet, but also as sharp as broken glass.  Her slavery has hardened her but not stolen her compassion; she can be utterly ruthless, but allow herself to melt.  Dai . . . was okay.  I found him more cliched than the girls, especially given the rather unbelievable nature of his back story.  He's kind of your typical bad boy seeking redemption, with unbelievable skills.  He's not bad, just not as interesting.  Don't expect much from the side characters.  If they seem flat, it's because they are, but not in a bad way.  They're allegories as much as people: the evil Longwai, the squirrelly government agent, the kind and forgiving father.  They serve their purposes.  

style . 4/5
Graudin's style has a few kinks.  She doesn't go for poetic much.  She over explains a bit.  There are enough long descriptions that I just groaned after a while.  She doesn't differentiate the three voices as much as she could.  That said, I found her writing to be, if not exceptional, at least enjoyable.  It's often interesting and frequently funny, especially during Jin's scenes.  There are very raw moments that hit like a knife point.  Her dialogue is stilted sometimes, but not enough to severely pull me out of the story.  

mechanics . 4/5
Three narratives is a lot to handle.  Graudin does a pretty bang up job.  She uses the length of the chapters to her advantage, switching quickly when she needs to add tension or letting one voice linger when she wants to obscure the others.  It's a clever trick for maintaining tension, and for the most part it works.  Except, you know, I wasn't crazy about Dai.  That said, I thought she could have amped up the dramatic irony.  I can't help think of The Winner's Crime, which is split between two perspectives.  In that book, Rutkowski is pretty deliberate about drawing your attention to things that character 1 knows but character 2 doesn't, and you're waiting, cringing, for pages because you know that what character 2 doesn't know is going to be disastrous.  I wanted more of that.  

take home message
The Walled City draws upon some common character types and is slow at times, difficult to believe at others.  Despite this, it spins a truly compelling story of deception and sacrifice within a setting both unique and richly portrayed.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  


Book Blurb Breakdown: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

book blurb breakdown

Book Blurb Breakdown is a Sarcasm & Lemons feature where your anal English degree-holding author (gently) rips apart jacket blurbs to pin down what makes her want to pick up the book instantly--and what makes her want to throw it at the wall.  See the original post for more detail.  


At the suggestion of the delightful Aimee of Deadly Darlings, I've decided to make this a meme.  Starting this week and continuing now on from 12:10 am EST on Thursdays, you too can shred a blurb and post for the world to see!  Just link back with this fancy little button and add your name to the linky at the bottom.  I'm so excited to see others' thoughts!  

You can choose to shred the same blurb, or pick your own!  

today's blurb

Status:  Unread

the blurb: as is 
from Goodreads

For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire. 

the blurb:  shredded 

For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight (Alright, so as sick as I am of the comparison game, at least this one suggests that readers who liked those books will like these.  It implies the comparison, of course, but at least it isn't obvious about it.) is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.  (I'm interested so far.  I liked those two books.  I like ancient wars.)

Beneath the streets of New York City (Of course, because this is the only freaking city on Earth where things happen. #ChicagoBitterness) live the Avicen (Not a bad name.), an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. (This is pretty good.  Succinct, keeps up the mystery but gives you enough to hold onto.) Age-old (This doesn't really say "ancient wards" so much as "putting eggs on your hair to avoid hair loss") enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. (This is super confusing. I thought it meant "all but one Avicen is hidden" versus "they're hidden from all but one human") Echo (So I do love this name, but do people always have to have something unusual?) is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market (I'm curious how a teenager has black market connections.  I can understand pawning stolen items, but the black market isn't just something you wander into. It just stretches my credulity. And I've a sinking feeling she's a strangely amazing thief for her age, too.), and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.  (Despite my whining, this is a good first paragraph.  You get a sense of the set-up quickly and efficiently.  Except I want to know: why the heck do these magical bird-people live under NYC?  If they're so magical, why don't they live in some distant mountain where they don't have to hang out with sewer rats?) 

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash (Why is this parenthetical important?), but above all else she's fiercely loyal. (This description tells me nothing about Echo, not really.  You could have said "Echo is a YA heroine."  Don't tell me what she's like.  Show me!)  So when a centuries-old war crests (Like a wave...?) on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.  (This is pretty anticlimactic.  Also, why does she act?  Are others acting?  Is this something only she can do?)  

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen (I want to murder the phrase "the likes of which the world has never seen" and then resurrect it and then murder it again.). It will be no easy task, (I'm assuming Echo is going to do the task, but we're told nothing about why.  I'm left wondering why they wouldn't send someone actually magical.) but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.  (The last half of this sentence is great, from "but" on.  It ties Echo's life to why she might be a good choice, and it's pithy.) 

But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem.  (Eh, kind of a throwaway sentence, but it gets the point across.  It's too vague, though.)  And this one might just set the world on fire.  (Literally?  Because that would be badass.)  

the verdict 
3.5/5 stars

would i read it?:  yes

Even though I ripped the throat out of this one, I liked it enough that I'm going to read the book.  Although, I'm also drawn to hype on this one.  Would I feel the same if there weren't dozens of bloggers already raving about this months ago?  Probably not.  The blurb itself is pretty typical urban fantasy.  It gives a great idea of the set-up but very little idea of what happens.  So, she decides to find the Firebird.  And then . . . ?  Not to mention, I have no clue who the Avicen are at war with, why they're at war, or why Echo is the one who has to find the Firebird.  I also really hate when people give me a laundry list of character traits, expecting me to like and understand the person.  Give me feelings, give me thoughts, but don't give me generic descriptions that I could slap onto any other character.  Despite these annoyances, I'm intrigued enough by these unique bird-characters and their world to crack it open.  

your thoughts

Does this blurb grab you?  
Do you agree with my thoughts?  If not, how so?  
Do you have any recommendations for blurbs I should shred?  


Cover Love: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

cover love 

click the cover to learn more

This might be a surprising choice, given my usual selection of busy, vibrant covers.  But I adore this.  To me, the book cover's most important job is to express the feeling of the book.  For a novel about the last days before an asteroid destroys Earth, this sparse, dark, cover is perfect.  The tiny teenagers and title surrounded by black lend an atmosphere of hopelessness, smallness, helplessness.  People overwhelmed by something larger.  My main critique is the photo.  I love the bare, realistic edge, but the lack of filter makes the cover look cheaper than it could.  It just needs an overlay to unify the image.  And that bright blanketed couple steals too much of the show.

x . x . x

with every book cover comes a music cover 

Fun fact: I'm a Marilyn Manson fan.  The casual kind--can't say I have the same obsession as with Nirvana--but I adore his raspy, horror movie aesthetic.  One of his iconic songs is "Personal Jesus".  And it's a cover.  The original, which is good but lacks Manson's throaty creepiness, is by Depeche Mode.  It's a fitting song to pair with a book about the end of days, no?    


ARC Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge


title:  Crimson Bound

author:  Rosamund Hodge

pages: 448

format: Paperback 

isbn/asin: 978-0062224767

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 2.5/5 [in the genre] or 4.5/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of fairy tales of all kinds.  People who enjoyed The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, or the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. 

will i read this author again?:  Yes, because I still love her. 
will i continue the series?:  N/A

My Ratings Explained

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.

the basics
Read my review of Cruel Beauty and you'll understand how much I admire Rosamund Hodge and adore her writing.   I still do; for that reason, perhaps, Crimson Bound was a disappointing read for me.  It contained so many delightful elements that attest to Hodge's creativity and flair:  an original and thoughtful mythology, a feisty female lead, a multi-layered plot.  However, these elements existed in Cruel Beauty within a tightly plotted scaffold.  The rambling and unfocused plot of Crimson Bound prevented me from truly latching onto the brilliant parts.  After a promising start, the book seemed to move alternately too slowly or too quickly, jerking forward in leaps that tested my credulity and confused my sense of coherence.  Frankly, I often felt bored.  Only for moments could I peer beyond my unenthusiasm and appreciate the unique characters, clever twists, and beautifully atmospheric writing.  I'll hope for Hodge's third to wow me again, but Crimson Bound will stick in my mind as a frustrating knot of unmet potential.  

As with Graceling, I can only wonder if I missed something.  Lucky for you, reader, I appear to be rather alone in my assessment, since Goodreads is aglow with praise.  So check it out--but if you too find yourself bored, turn your sights to Cruel Beauty.  

plot . 3/5
The plot was a clever undertaking suffering from inelegant execution.  So I'll rate the content highly, but it's the mechanics, the craft, of it that ruined it for me.  All of the fascinating elements are there.  We begin with a young girl hopeful to save her world at any price.  Her fervor lands her in the clutches of a devious forest creature.  A time jump later, that girl is Rachelle, supernatural creature in service to the king as penance for her mistake.  When Rachelle's forest-bound maker warns her that the apocalyptic forest deity is returning, Rachelle knows that her only chance to stop the world's end is an ancient sword.  Her plans to find it are frustrated when the king orders her to guard Armand, the handless saint who tangled with the forestborn demons--and lived.  Rachelle must navigate her distaste for Armand, a web of court intrigue, a devastating coup, and invisible enemies to find the sword and destroy the evil Devourer god.  

Great, right?  It would have been, except that it wasn't.  It just felt so incoherent.  Bits seemed to be thrown in at unexpected times for no apparent reason; seemingly important parts were glossed over.  Some of the motivations felt thin or inadequately explained.  While there are plenty of great twists near the end, they're sadly overshadowed by what precedes them.  The episodic feel of the plot would have made an interesting television show.  In book form, it was a confusing string of events wrapped around a lackluster romance.  

concept . 5/5
I adored this concept, which is perhaps why my thoughts about the plot are so harsh.  The comparison to Red Riding Hood could have been downplayed a little in marketing, considering it's largely worn out after the first chapter, but it was a delightful twist on the wolf and the forest.  The reimagining of The Girl with No Hands was more pervasive, and more interesting.  Armand was known as a saint to the people.  He'd been marked by a forest demon and forced to the choice:  kill or die.  He chose death, but survived anyway--except for his hands, the forestborn's price for disappointment.  His sainthood reminded me of Alina's in the Grisha series, except that it was underplayed so much here.  What Hodge did execute fabulously was her mythology.  She invents for us a medieval Frankish nation in the shadow of the Great Forest, a placeless, primitive otherworld existing parallel to our world--and trying to force its way in.  This is the home of the supernatural forestborn demons.  Of the Devourer, a Cthulu-like old creature who once plunged the world into darkness.  Of Zisa and Tyr, mythical figures with bone swords who ruthlessly brought the world back into the light.  I'd read a book on the mythology alone.  The parts concerning this mythology were the best in the book, and definitely redeemed some of the slow plotting.  

characters . 4/5
I loved the characters in a way, but many of them felt like shells.  Rachelle was given the most space to grow, of course.  Despite her constant whining and self-pitying, I liked her.  She truly regretted her past and hoped for penance.  She struggled with her past in a way that becomes poignant and complex as the story goes on.  She was also bold, brash, and confident in a way I admired.  As usual, I loved the rakish Erec, and particularly the way his character grew over the book.  I also adored La Fontaine, Armand's coquettish cousin.  She's lovely and fascinating.  She's openly the king's mistress.  She lives in a half-believed fantasy world of her own making.  She's catty and delightful.  Much more than her cousin, Armand.  For a love interest, he felt thin.  I would get glimpses of his personality--long suffering, trapped, secretly sharp--and then lose him a second later.  I never quite understood his motivations until it was too late.  Amelie, too, felt thrown in.  Why was she so bubbly?  Why did she think she'd be allowed to come to the castle?  Give me more!  

style . 4/5
Perhaps it was Rachelle's voice distracting me, but I didn't like the writing style in this book as much as in Cruel Beauty.  Not on the whole, anyway.  There were plenty of parts that were truly gorgeous, as only Hodge can do.  She has a way of telling a story in simple language that becomes ornate over time, like an old-world master storyteller.  Truly, you get the feel of a fairy tale from her language.  Her dialogue is also generally sharp.  There was one amazing scene in La Fontaine's garden that reminded me so much of Oscar Wilde.  It was full of quick, irreverent banter and it did more to characterize the main players than most scenes before or after.  However, there were also less pretty bits, and I think I'd have thrown the book at the wall if I had to read one more variation of, "This was happening, but she couldn't think about that, because she needed to focus on Joyeux."  Yes, we get it!  You need to get the freaking sword!  Thanks for the 35th reminder!  That said, Hodge can turn a pretty phrase, and she shows it well here.  

mechanics . 1/5
Pacing is key to keep up the tension and interest in a book, and it just flopped here.  Most of the scenes felt like a jumble, and the spaces between them either raced or dragged.  It was jerky and confusing.  The first half dragged along, more full of Rachelle's musings than actual happenings.  Her resolution to find the sword was so quick that I almost missed it, and then there are a few chapters of spats with her partner Erec and fights with dangerous woodspawn creatures.  Then she's ordered to the castle where, luckily, the sword might be found.  Then she's saddled with Armand.  You know, the "person she hates most"?  Except she's never met him before!  Really, it's more that she comes to dislike him for a bit--except that then suddenly she wants him, then an instant later she loves him, then another nanosecond later he loves her too.  Then there's a coup suddenly with the barest foreshadowing, except it goes away almost instantly and everything's fine again.  But it's not fine!  Time to find the sword again.  And have a few fancy parties.  Then we get to the best part of the book, where loyalties are revealed and there's all sorts of lovely deception, fighting, and mythology.  Then it ends, sort of, after a while of C.J. checking her watch.  

take home message
Crimson Bound has the trappings of a classic fairy tale, with a sweet love story, dangerous intrigue, and a richly portrayed mythology.  Unfortunately, loose plotting and poor pacing derail an otherwise clever premise.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.  


Book Blurb Breakdown: Confess by Colleen Hoover

book blurb breakdown

Book Blurb Breakdown is a Sarcasm & Lemons feature where your anal English degree-holding author (gently) rips apart jacket blurbs to pin down what makes her want to pick up the book instantly--and what makes her want to throw it at the wall.  See the original post for more detail.  

today's blurb

Status:  Unread

the blurb: as is 
from Goodreads

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover, a new novel about risking everything for love—and finding your heart somewhere between the truth and lies. 

Auburn Reed has her entire life mapped out. Her goals are in sight and there’s no room for mistakes. But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn’t expect to find a deep attraction to the enigmatic artist who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a risk and puts her heart in control, only to discover Owen is keeping major secrets from coming out. The magnitude of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn, and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it.

The last thing Owen wants is to lose Auburn, but he can’t seem to convince her that truth is sometimes as subjective as art. All he would have to do to save their relationship is confess. But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin…

the blurb:  shredded 

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover, a new (Duh.) novel about risking everything for love—and finding your heart somewhere between the truth and lies (Hm, this confuses me.  What exactly is "finding your heart"?)

Auburn Reed has her entire life mapped out. Her goals are in sight and there’s no room for mistakes. (Okay, interesting.  We have a clear potential for conflict, some hint of her personality.) But when she walks into a Dallas art studio in search of a job, she doesn't expect to find a deep attraction ("Find" is weird here.  How do you "find" an attraction?) to the enigmatic (Ugh. Of course he is.) artist (Mm, okay, I love artsy boys. You've got me.) who works there, Owen Gentry.

For once, Auburn takes a risk and puts her heart in control, only to discover (that) Owen is keeping major secrets from coming out (This phrasing is awkward.  From coming out?  So they're not his secrets?  Whose are they?  Why not just say he's keeping secrets?  Besides the grammar, this is pretty intriguing, although I wish for something more evocative than "major".). The magnitude (Weird word, again.  He has a big past?) of his past threatens to destroy everything important to Auburn (Hm, cool.  This really makes me wonder how his past could be connected to Auburn.  I also imagine that controlled, driven Auburn must really be reeling.), and the only way to get her life back on track is to cut Owen out of it. (Conflict!  Girl taking control of her life!  Yay!)

The last thing Owen wants is to lose Auburn (Oh dear, split narrative.  Oh well.), but he can’t seem to convince her that truth is sometimes as subjective as art (Okay, this is a really great line.  Creates an atmosphere, a mystery.). All he would have to do to save their relationship is confess (Nice!  "Confess" is so evocative here.  It's much more interesting than "tell the truth" and really hooks me.). But in this case, the confession could be much more destructive than the actual sin… (Oooooooh.) 

the verdict 
4.5/5 stars

would i read it?:  yes

Despite a few grammar hitches that really irritate me, this is a great blurb.  It succinctly lays out the nature of the characters and the main conflict.  It creates tension and mystery without giving too much away.  In particular, it sets up Auburn as a rather inhibited girl who takes a risk, only to be burned for it.  I like this, because so often girls in romances take risks and it's all amazing and dandy--but sometimes it's dangerous!  The blurb also dances around the nature of Owen's secrets in an infuriatingly intriguing way that makes me want to read, if only to figure out the truth.  And that word, "Confess."  It evokes crime, sin, corruption.  It makes me wonder what could be seen as "subjective."  I'm not a huge straight-romance fan, but I'm sold.   

your thoughts

Does this blurb grab you?  
Do you agree with my thoughts?  If not, how so?  
Do you have any recommendations for blurbs I should shred?  

some previous breakdowns 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Dangerous by Shannon Hale
She's Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick
Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine