rutkoski_winnersA general’s daughter and a defiant slave should be worlds apart, but as Kestrel and Arin are discovering, those worlds can touch all too easily.

In Kestrel’s world, war and marriage are the only options open to her. Her father, the revered General Trajan, expects her to follow in his footsteps, conquering territories for the Valorian emperor. She would rather play music and study the people around her.

Finding herself in the slave markets one day, she encounters a Herrani slave who seems as determined to escape his fate as she is to escape hers. One rash decision later, she is reluctant the owner of Arin. She becomes the talk of the town due to the ridiculously high price she paid for him, and this price may grow steeper over time.

This is possibly the hardest review I’ve written this year. I have such conflicting feelings about The Winner’s Curse that I’ve put off writing about it for far too long. The novel is getting amazing reviews online, and they are well-deserved. The world-building is wonderful, the writing superb, and yet…

About halfway through the book there is a massive world-altering event that shifts the entire dynamic. It’s stunningly brave writing to have a shift of this calibre, and there’s no way that the story would have worked without it. The shift isn’t the problem, but it’s the way things change after the shift that kills me.

A change of atmosphere is to be expected. It’s the change in the characters that I can’t come to terms with. Arin’s character development might be a bit heavily influenced by his romantic lead status, but it is otherwise believable. Kestrel, on the other hand, becomes someone that I don’t recognise. She’s initially intelligent and alert. She is a strategist who watches the people around her until she knows their weaknesses. Her strength isn’t in combat but in her mental prowess, and she knows it. Aside from playing the piano, it’s the one area in her life that she actively tries to improve.

Despite this, the moment that her strategic side is desperately needed, she stops using it. For maybe the last quarter of the book she stagnates, becoming the opposite of the dynamic character she was at the beginning. There’s more action here than in the rest of the book, but it just crawled for me. Every page I turned I was waiting for her to do something – anything – and it didn’t happen.

Strangely enough, the thing that I expected to bother me most didn’t bother me at all. I’ve rarely seen slavery written well, unless it has been written by someone who has been a slave rather than for purposes of entertainment. I actually hiked this book right up to the top of my reading list because I was so sure that I would dislike it and wanted to get it out of the way earlier rather than later. I should have had some faith. The slavery aspect is handled with the care it deserves. Kestrel has an interest in the Herrani people and treats them respectfully, so when she meets Arin there’s already a framework for friendship.

There’s a lot happening in The Winner’s Curse, but it is a love story at heart, and this aspect of the novel is handled brilliantly. There’s no insta-love in Kestrel and Arin’s story; they have to work hard to get there. Arin is full of anger at all Valorians; he initially makes no exceptions for Kestrel. It’s only when he realises that she isn’t out to break or conquer him that things start to change. For her, it’s finding someone who can match her mentally and someone who doesn’t expect her to fit the standard Valorian model.

After having finished The Winner’s Curse I’m desperate to get my hands on the second book in the series. Not because of the cliff-hanger ending, but because I need to see if Rutkoski can recreate the magic that I felt at the beginning of the novel without resorting to the unwarranted plot-devices at the end.

Winner’s Curse – Marie Rutkoski

Bloomsbury (March 4, 2014)

ISBN: 9781408858202

I’m just popping in to let you know that I’ve written a new YA story.  It’s about how peer pressure can make things crazy, and it’s called The mother, the whip, and the burning tip of night smoke.

I’ve just sent it to a couple of magazines, so I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. Hopefully, someone wants to publish it.

When I write, I often like to look for pictures that remind me of the story I’m writing. The image below reminds me of my new short piece!

sad girl


You all remember that scene from Mean Girls, where Janis is explaining the cliques in the school cafeteria?


van wagen-popular-a-memoir-by-maya-van-wagenenMaya starts out below the bottom rung on the popularity ladder at the beginning of eighth grade.

In short, she rediscovers a book written in 1951 by a woman called Betty Cornell, and embarks on a year of experimenting with ideas from the book to see if the Teenage Popularity Guide could do the seemingly impossible–make Maya popular.

The chapters are broken into months and each one tackles a different ‘issue.’  So from top to tail ‘things’ are addressed, and Maya steadfastly battles to not cave in. She has small wins along the way, and to begin with, people react the way you would expect.

There are so many moments of snort-giggle inducing hilarity, that when Maya gets serious, it carries an impressive amount of weight. There are definitely more things going on here than learning how to wash your hair and how to have better posture.

I originally got this book hoping my daughter would read it, because she’s having difficulty connecting with the cliques at her school. Her initial thoughts were that Maya ‘changed herself for the expressed purpose of being popular’, which meant she wasn’t being her authentic self.  I’m still holding out hope she’ll change her mind and give it a chance. Maya is still Maya, but she’s just less fearful of what other people think of her.

There are some things in the book the average Aussie teen won’t be able to put into place at school like the dress code and the string of pearls. The majority of the other ideas will produce surprising results.

I believe Popular was more about blurring the lines chasms between the separate groups in a school, than it ever was about a person becoming more pleasing to the eye.

Maya is a really well spoken young woman, and I do hope she’ll continue writing, as she has a brilliant sense of humour and a fearless outlook on life.

The most important question that started it all was what does popular mean?

You’ll be astounded to read what Maya and her peers come to realise is the truth of Popularity.

I’d love to know what you consider to be the definition of Popular.


Paperback, 259 pages

Published April 15th 2014 by Penguin

ISBN 0141353252 (ISBN13: 9780141353258)


Joelene_tnJoelene and Belinda are representing The Escape Club at a Laini Taylor/Hachette event in Sydney.

With Bel doing her part to make our Sydney trip fantastically memorable, I’ve decided to pull my boots up and make sure that I have everything in order too. Not wanting Bel to show me up yet again, I considered making a video of my efforts, but I fear that watching me read is somewhat less fascinating than curling hair. And Bel’s hair-curling video really is fascinating. She’s achieved the classical vintage look with seemingly no effort – bonus for getting to watch her sing in the mirror!

So, my copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone arrived. I nearly squealed with happiness, which would have likely caused my customers some distress, but managed – just – to hold it in. Obviously, I started reading it in my break because I am dedicated to the YA bloggers’ night! All altruism here; no ulterior motive.

Joelne's dressAnd wow. If you haven’t read Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet, you should. My paltry ten minute break was more than enough time for me to fall into the pages and wish never to emerge. It was also enough to keep me glued to the pages for at least ten minutes too long and receive disapproving stares from my manager when I did emerge.

Maybe it’s just me, but something about a novel set in Prague featuring an art student with peacock-blue hair demands to be read. I put the book down just to come and write this, by the way. I am obviously so dedicated, and sort of hate my computer a little bit right now because it’s keeping me from my book. I was up to a really good part too. I tried to get to a part that wasn’t good, but it was an exercise in futility. They’re all good parts. Seriously, get this book!

Now, I’m sure that some very unkind Burn Bright readers will think that reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone is just another way of procrastinating, so I made alternative attempts to organise. And also, no. Reading great books is in no way a pleasure to me. It’s all for the cause!

I went dress shopping! I bought dresses, and skirts. Now I have too many options rather than too few so I’ll have to try everything on multiple times and demand second opinions.

I have also figured out cost-cutting measures for accessories. It’s a slightly dangerous venture but again, dedication, I have it. If I wait until late enough at night, I can raid my sister’s stash of necklaces, bangles and earrings. It will require bypassing her bad-tempered cat, but I think it can be done.

Now all that I have to do is hope that Days of Blood and Starlight arrives in store soon, so that I’m not stranded without the second book when I finish the first. Also figure out make-up. This may just require another shopping trip…


The first Fistula hospital in New York closed its doors in 1925, the year after Catherine Hamlin was born. That’s a really long time ago!

Yet in the developing nations, where there are not enough doctors, midwives, and places where women can be medically seen to in cases of difficult childbirths, this condition is extremely common. But the surgery can be out of financial reach of the women who need it badly, so they live in isolation, in disgrace and shame.

Dr. Hamlin answered an advertisement in a medical journal to head on over to Ethiopia and open a midwifery school, on a three year contract, way back in 1959. Go forward a decade and a half and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was founded by Catherine and her Husband, Dr. Reginald Hamlin. 

Jump forward to 2007 and Dr Hamlin helped open the Hamlin College of Midwives, starting with only 12 students. The college aimed to have a birth attendant for as many regional areas as possible.

Now Dr Hamlin and her team have helped save the lives of over 35,000 women and the number is climbing daily.

Catherine is highly decorated with awards from many countries over many decades, but I feel that none of that really matters to a woman with a heart of gold, a will of iron, and a steely resolve. Thank you Dr. Hamlin–for giving the lives back to so many women who would otherwise suffer, and in some cases die, from a condition that’s very treatable.

For more information on Fistula, here’s a public service announcement by Natalie Imbruglia

For more information on how you can help fund Catherine’s amazing work in Ethiopia

There’s also a book (though apparently it’s recommended to the older reader)

The Hospital by the River: A story of Hope

By Catherine Hamlin and John Little

Paperback, 308 pages

Published March 3rd 2005 by Monarch Books (first published January 1st 2001)

ISBN 0825460719 (ISBN13: 9780825460715)

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