The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (The Winner’s Curse #2)

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“The Winner’s Crime” by Marie Rutkoski

5 out of 5 stars.

 The wedding of Kestrel Trajan to Verex, the Valorian Emperor’s son, is a dark cloud over Kestrel’s heart. The sacrifices she has had to make, the lies she has so skillfully woven, are strangling her. She feels as if she is trapped in an immaculately decorated cage that is of her own making. For all of her cunning plans, Kestrel has never been able to find a way to save Arin while still keeping her freedom and securing her own happiness. She has been dealt a treacherous hand of playing cards, and now she must finish the game she started that fateful day in the slave market.

But Kestrel soon discovers that all of her carefully planted lies could be for nothing when the governor of Harran, Arin, comes to the emperor’s palace. It would have been foolish of Arin not to have come at the emperor’s bidding, but it was also stupid of him to be so exposed to the cunning of such a ruthless ruler. What can she, the soon to be bride of Verex, do to protect Arin from danger? How can she save him when she has no other cards to play?

As the game wears on, Kestrel and Arin realize just how easily the emperor is playing them against one another. One wrong move and the two of them, and all of Herran, will be dead. Each player must keep their cards close to their chests, but that means hiding what they most want to share with one another: their hearts. Danger surrounds them and their countries on all sides, and no one connected to them is safe. Can Kestrel really protect Arin by keeping him in the dark about her secret identity, or will her carefully planted lies be what destroys him and all of Herran in the end?

I have the hardest time trying to write reviews for books I REALLY love. It’s as if I don’t know how to put into words everything that those books do to my heart; they break me and heal me all at the same time! Marie’s books are those kinds of books, and they leave me (almost) speechless. Now that you understand my occasional difficulty in wielding the written word, please forgive the shoddy review.

Winning an ARC of “The Winner’s Crime” might have been the highlight of my month; it was incredibly special to receive something that was, and is, extremely precious and close to my heart, and I am so grateful for it. But even without having won it and being included in such a fantastic chat with the author on twitter, this book would have still been insanely enjoyable. In lieu of that, I just want to say a HUGE thanks to Macmillan Teen, Fierce Reads, and Marie Rutkoski for the ARC copy and the gorgeous map of Kestrel’s world! In no way has this affected my review of “The Winner’s Crime.”

“The Winner’s Curse” books are an abusive relationship. They treat you right for the first hundred pages of each book, and then they stab you in the heart. After the first wound has healed, you think you’re home free, but then the second half of the book comes and Marie Rutkoski uses the written word to hurt you again. This happens over and over, but I keep coming back for more, and Marie never fails as an author to deliver an amazing story that seems to shatter my heart. “The Winner’s Crime” was no exception to the heartbreaking rule; let’s just say that it was an elegantly written form of emotional torture. “The Winner’s Crime” was completely magical like “The Winner’s Curse,” and even now it’s calling to me from its resting place on my bookshelf, and it’s saying,

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Okay, you get the point. “The Winner’s Crime” was beautiful torment, but now it’s time for some examples.

Kestrel was a fabulous heroine. The more I got to know this girl, the more I liked her. She was intelligent, cunning, and despite her flaws, she had a good heart. Kestrel was so clever in “The Winner’s Curse” and she was even more so in “The Winner’s Crime”; court life was a dangerous thing, and it was all about survival and protecting those she loves in this book. Another aspect of Kestrel’s personality that I really liked was how brave she was, and she had to make some very hard decisions concerning things that I would not have had the guts to face. But difficult choices also meant consequences, and Kestrel paid dearly for what she did and who she protected.

I think that might have been the most painful thing about “The Winner’s Crime”: the fact that I knew as a reader why Kestrel made certain choices, yet no one else in the book really understood. They didn’t know all that she had done for them, so they blamed and accused her for the errors that they saw on the surface. It was pure torture reading and wishing that the other characters could just see all that Kestrel had chosen to sacrifice to keep them safe, but they never did! An aspect of this book I was surprised about was that I did not end up being too frustrated with all of the secrecy. Oh, it hurt, but Marie wrote it in such a way that I could accept it while remaining hopeful that a time would come for those miscommunications to be resolved. What also made it easier to keep forging ahead was that I understood why Kestrel made those choices and decided to keep those secrets, and even though I wasn’t a fan of them, they didn’t ruin the book for me. Normally I HATE miscommunications in book to the point of it ruining the story, but Marie did a good job of tearing out my heart while making me want to read more. Another aspect of Kestrel’s character that I was really proud of was how strong and determined she was to protect her friends, family, and loved ones.

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 Speaking of loved ones…

If you’ve read my review of “The Winner’s Curse,” then you know that Arin grew on me the longer I read that book. I didn’t want to fall in love with his and Kestrel’s relationship, but I did. I wanted to not care about Arin, but I ended up loving him and wanting him and Kestrel to have a happy ending. “The Winner’s Curse” did not have a happy ending in store for Kestrel and Arin, and it tore me to pieces, yet I remained hopeful and kept rooting for a good end to their love story. Throughout the first half of “The Winner’s Crime” I remained firm in my desire for them to talk things through, communicate their feelings before either of them went off of the deep end.

In the first half of “The Winner’s Crime” I really liked Arin. I liked the fact that he felt a bit destroyed by Kestrel’s decision in “The Winner’s Curse,” but that he was willing to fight for her. *Sighs* And that moment on the balcony?

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I’ve waited nine months for a moment like that to happen between them, and it was so good! Thank you, Marie! So, yeah, I liked Arin in that moment and for another fifty pages, especially when something quite surprising happened. I’ll be honest, I did not expect that from Marie.

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There was also one other really notable moment between Kestrel and Arin that made me loved them as a couple all the more. It was such a great scene for readers to see their two personalities, and how they were both at war with their lives and current circumstances. Both of them wanted to be together, but everything seemed to be leading them down two very different paths in life, paths that would never cross again. Just the way Marie led up to that moment was so good!!

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After that scene, as good as it was, I started to get irritated with Arin. I get his frustration with Kestrel’s and his circumstances, but I felt like that didn’t justify what he began to think about Kestrel. He lost faith in her for a time, and I did not like that, no matter how logical it may have seemed. Reading Kestrel’s point of view and understanding that she had given up everything to protect Arin and her friends, and then him thinking of her in that way was unacceptable!

In the end I kind of forgave Arin a bit, but I was still frustrated with choices of his. He made things even harder for Kestrel than they already were, and that saddened me greatly. I also wish that I would have gotten a few more moments of Kestrel and Arin being around each other before you-know-what hit the proverbial fan, but I get what Marie was doing; the title of the book is “The Winner’s Crime” after all. Beside my irritation with Arin, though, I really did love this book.

Another great aspect of “The Winner’s Crime” was the addition of Verex, the emperor’s son, and Tensen, a Harrani man and Arin’s friend. These two men were great characters and I loved what each of them added to this story. Tensen was a very cool older male figure, and Verex was a character that I hope to get to know a bit more in book three. I liked Verex because, unlike Kestrel, he was not shrewd and cunning. Instead he was kind and smart and clever in his own way. I really liked him and Kestrel, and how sometimes he acted as her conscience, and how he kept her from doing anything too rash. Kestrel was very smart and clever, but she was also desperate, so she would occasionally error when it came to the emperor. Verex had suffered greatly at the hand of his father, but he still seemed to have  good heart, and he wanted to do good in the world.

I think my one real complaint about the characters in The Winner’s Crime” was not Arin, but that Ronan and Jess were not really in the book. Jess had a few scenes, but when she was present, she was quite cruel to Kestrel. It saddened me to see Jess do that to her friend and I don’t know where Marie Rutkoski is going with their relationship. Ronan hurt my heart even more than Jess, though. He was only in one scene with Kestrel, and he was not the kind and jovial Ronan I knew and loved from book one. I missed him and wished that he had played more of a role in this book than he actually did. Although I was disappointed about Ronan, him not being in the book was far less painful than what happened at the end of “The Winner’s Crime.”

There are not really words that I can use to describe the full torment that the final four chapters of this book put me through. Since I don’t have the rights words to describe it, I’ll just substitute them with pictures.

Arrow adc438e869ee987fbef6245e9aec9997My initial reaction to realizing that I was on the last hundred pages, and that Marie had only set up more dominoes to fall at the end of this book.

New Girl 0aefe0d756d689b166f68e684f3f9bf7How could so much go wrong in such a short amount of time?

Arrow 867bf7eb9e84826203a0f90fe74a8b62 ArrowThe last three chapters were traumatizing, and I did not want that to happen…

Arrow 6f9d6576497ebb9511e164351f4c906dyup, Marie decided to go there!

Arrow 7fee628550157846474fdbf50561445eI was too shocked at that point to do anything but internally scream/cry…

Arrow 24f723edb19cb5eb10c8a10f5cf040d2and then I closed the book and realized that I have to wait a year for the last book to come out.

“The Winner’s Crime” by Marie Rutkoski was an impressive second book. It mended and broke my heart repeatedly, and I am anxious to see how  Marie is going to solve everything that imploded at the end of this book. I think that “The Winner’s Curse” is still my favorite because, well, it started it all, and I fell in love with Arin’s and Kestrel’s relationship in that book. But “The Winner’s Crime” was amazing, and I loved where Marie took Kestrel as a character. Kestrel showed phenomenal growth, and she was such a strong and intelligent character that I can’t help but root for her! Overall, a fabulous book!

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski Is Here!

Last night something very, very magical happened: “The Winner’s Crime” by Marie Rutkoski came via UPS.

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I went full-on squealing fangirl from the front door, down the hall, and into my sister’s room. Once I reached her room, we fangirled together.

100 % fangirl once upon a timeAlright, now that you know how I responded and understand how precious Marie’s books are to me and my sister, here’s a peek at what they look like.

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The new paperback of “The Winner’s Curse” is so amazing looking, and it has the same map that’s behind it inside the book. “The Winner Crime” ARC…*sighs*… is gorgeous, and I already started reading it. Alright, I betting get back to reading so I can review it!

Miles From Nowhere by Amy Clipston

 22574139 Amy Clipston Miles From Nowhere

“Miles From Nowhere” by Amy Clipston

Quality of writing: 3 1/2-4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads Summary:

“Chelsea Morris has always been responsible, dependable, and focused on her dreams of fashion design, a dream that will officially begin come fall, when she leaves for college in New York City. As she settles into her role as the lead designer for the local summer stock theater group, she decides to make the most of her last summer in North Carolina. But with her best friend Emily busy working late and spending time with Zander, and tensions with Chelsea’s boyfriend, Todd, running high, the summer she envisioned seems to be falling flat.

Then Dylan joins the latest summer production. There’s something about the college boy that makes her feel free and alive, and soon she’s broken up with Todd, and is sneaking out late to meet Dylan at parties and breaking rules at the playhouse. But before she knows it, her exciting nights are interfering with her job, her role on the play, as well as her relationship with Emily and with her parents. Worse, Chelsea finds herself feeling more and more estranged from God.

As the summer becomes wilder than she ever dreamed, Chelsea must decide if her heart is leading her in the right direction after all.”

Thank you Zondervan Publishing for the ARC. This in no ways has affected my review.

“Miles from Nowhere” by Amy Clipston was an pretty good book. It wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but it had a good moral at the end, and Chelsea’s issues were solved or in the process of being fixed when the book finished. I got what the author was getting at, and she did a good job of writing, but I just never connected to any of the characters and that made me feel very distant from the story. It was a good book, just not for me.

I would definitely recommend it to younger readers (middle school to early high school age) because it had a good moral, it was shorter and paced pretty well, and it was a clean read. There was some alcohol use but the author addressed that issue well, so I don’t think that would be a problem for younger kids and teens.

The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

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“The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest” by Melanie Dickerson

Quality of writing: 4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads Summary:

‘”Swan Lake” meets Robin Hood when the beautiful niece of a wealthy merchant by day becomes the region’s most notorious poacher by night, and falls in love with the forester.

Jorgen is the forester for the wealthy margrave, and must find and capture the poacher who has been killing and stealing the margrave’s game. When he meets the lovely and refined Odette at the festival and shares a connection during a dance, he has no idea she is the one who has been poaching the margrave’s game.

Odette justifies her crime of poaching because she thinks the game is going to feed the poor, who are all but starving, both in the city and just outside its walls. But will the discovery of a local poaching ring reveal a terrible secret? Has the meat she thought she was providing for the poor actually been sold on the black market, profiting no one except the ring of black market sellers?

The one person Odette knows can help her could also find out her own secret and turn her over to the margrave, but she has no choice. Jorgen and Odette will band together to stop the dangerous poaching ring. ..and fall in love. But what will the margrave do when he discovers his forester is protecting a notorious poacher?”

Thank you Thomas Nelson and Kerri Potts for the ARC copy. This in no way has affected my review.

“The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest” was a cute young adult read. It appeared to be a bit more mature than Melanie Dickerson’s other fairytale stories, and so that was nice. I also liked Odette a lot more than Melanie’s other female characters because she was more self-sufficient, and her life did not initially revolve around just getting married.

The more intelligent writing and the independent female character were great, but I don’t feel that “The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest” was for me. I am a sap when it comes to certain romantic cliches, but this book’s “sappiness” just did not do it for me. It wasn’t bad, I just have different tastes and so it was not my favorite. On the other hand, I can see a lot of different girls liking it, and that they would enjoy the guy character too. There’s also a dash of mystery surrounding the forest, so that was a good addition.

All in all, “The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest” by Melanie Dickerson was a cute, enjoyable read even though it was not my favorite. I would recommend it to young girls looking for a clean, light, and adventurous read.

An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

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“An Uncertain Choice” by Jody Hedlund

Quality of writing: 3 1/2-4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads Summary:

“Due to her parents’ promise at her birth, Lady Rosemarie has been prepared to become a nun on the day she turns eighteen. Then, a month before her birthday, a friend of her father’s enters the kingdom and proclaims her parents’ will left a second choice. If Rosemarie can marry before the eve of her eighteenth year, she will be exempt from the ancient vow.

Before long, Rosemarie is presented with the three most handsome and brave knights in the land. But when the competition for her heart seemingly results in a knight playing foul, she begins to wonder if the cloister is the best place after all. If only one of the knights the one who appears the most guilty had not already captured her heart.”

Thank you Zondervan Publishing for the ARC copy. In no way has this affected my review.

“An Uncertain Choice” was a well written story for the crowd it was aiming for, and I would’ve really liked to have read this book back when I was in middle school. It is a cute story for young readers and fans of Melanie Dickerson’s fairytale series. Although it was not necessarily my “cup of tea,” I think that the author accomplished her goal of creating a medieval fantasy story that a lot of teenagers would enjoy.

My only real issue is that I feel like most Christian books base the majority of their stories off of the romance (at least that’s how it comes across to me) rather than the main characters’ individual worth and calling in life. Some try to combine romance with personal calling, but a lot of times it feels like a second thought or a last minute edit. I have found this to be quite widespread in the Christian genre, so I’ve gotten used to it whenever I get an ARC, but I do wish that authors would try to break free of that mold more often. Because of the general predictability of these kinds of books, I can usually peg what’s going to happen (who’s bad and who ends up with who). Jody Hedlund did a good job of writing , but I am just not a huge fan of these kind of books due to that fact. Despite this, though, I can see a lot of young and adult readers enjoying this books, so don’t write it off because of my review. “An Uncertain Choice” was a cute , clean read that could be fun for new and experienced readers alike.

Best Day Ever!

Today was a very, very good day for me! This morning I woke up to twitter and found that I had won a signed copy of “All Fall Down” by Ally Carter for participating in the #AllyAmbassador movement. It was crazy exciting because I did not even realize I had been entered to win. Cue my reaction to the amazing news:

cris pratt what!

I was quite surprised and excited to say the least! Crazy as it may seem, my day got even better from there. Low and behold, Mari Rutkoski, author of “The Winner’s Curse Trilogy,” was doing a twitter chat. Since I was already on twitter when it began, I thought that I might as well participate. MOTHER OF MOSES I am so glad that I did! After an hour of having a blast tweeting questions and learning some tidbits about “The Winner’s Crime,” Fierce Reads and Marie Rutkoski chose a few tweeters to give prizes to. I didn’t think it possible, but I won. It was crazy cool and shocking as well, and I was kind of like,

lokiHoly….

tom hiddleston2 lokiand a little bit of this…

psychand this…

psych3and this…

monsterand last, but not least, like this.

And to make a great day even better, my favorite roast of coffee was on sale!

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Alright, keep your eyes peeled for a review of “The Winner’s Crime” in the next couple of weeks!

A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd (The Madman’s Daughter #3)

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“A Cold Legacy” by Megan Shepherd

5 out of 5 stars.

Juliet, Montgomery, Lucy, Edward, and Balthazar are on the run. The police are after Juliet and her friends because of what she did at The Kings’ Club. She hadn’t acted alone that night, but she was the mastermind, and because of it, all of her friends are paying the price for that choice. But there is a small beacon of hope despite Edward’s worsening condition and Scotland Yard chasing them, and it is in the form of a manor in the Scottish Highlands. The moors are the perfect place to rest their weary heads, but Juliet soon discovers that their supposed haven is not quite what it appears to be.

Mystery and secrets surround Juliet and her friends at every corner in Elizabeth von Stein’s house, but they have nowhere else to run. Lightning, creaking floors, and a strange boy who hides in the walls are the least of Juliet’s worries. Edward’s health is rapidly declines, and her and Montgomery’s relationship seems to be deteriorating because of the weight of secrets. Can Juliet and Montgomery mend their relationship so they work together again and save the Elizabeth’s household in time? And can she save Edward before it is too late, or were both he and Juliet destined to destroy themselves from the start?

This book was such a stunning and satisfying end to a beloved trilogy. “The Madman’s Daughter” had surprised me back a year and a half ago, and the “Her Dark Curiosity” had shocked, horrified, and made me love this trilogy all the more; these books are all about the battle between the light and the darkness, right and wrong,  hope and despair, love and hate. It was a tug of war throughout this trilogy of whether good or evil would win out, and to be honest, I was scared of where and how Megan was going to end Juliet’s story. Megan, however, proved herself to be a capable and talented writer who resolved all of this trilogy’s loose ends in her final installment; I did not think it would happen, but Megan Shepherd did it and some more!

Juliet was a very tormented and broken individual. It was a steady decline for her from “The Madman’s Daughter” to “Her Dark Curiosity,” and the second book really hurt because of the choices she made when she decided to follow, relatively, in her father’s footsteps. She was desperate, lonely, and afraid, and I got why she did it, but her actions saddened me because I wanted her to break free of her supposed genetic “inheritance” or “curse.” “A Cold Legacy” picks up soon after the second book, and so not much has changed for Juliet in that realm; her whole world has been shaken and then taken away except what her father had “given” her: madness.

  It was really interesting to see her personal growth and decline throughout this trilogy, and I was cheering for her all through “A Cold Legacy.” I wanted her to hear and understand that she could make her own choices, choose her own path in life, but she had a long journey until she could discover that for herself. In the end, though, I was very happy with where Megan took Juliet’s character, and all of the pain that I had experienced as a reader over the course of these books was worth the destination. Juliet wasn’t the only person who went through a lot of changes during this trilogy, though, and I want to talk about some other characters and their growth.

Montgomery James…

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Yeah, I’m still in love with Montgomery.  I loved him so much because he was always such a present character, even when he was not in a scene. He was a strong person in “The Madman’s Daughter Trilogy,” but he was never pushy or domineering, and he did not boss everyone around like some macho-man. He was a strong male lead without ever having to resort to being a jerk; people followed him because he was kind and brave and selfless, and it wasn’t due to people feeling threatened by him. Oh, have I already mention that I love him?

scott caan I heart you

Montgomery, despite all of his attributes, was not perfect. He lied to Juliet about some very important things because he thought by keeping them from her, he could protect her. But lies cut as deep or deeper than the truth, and such was the case in “A Cold Legacy.” It was interesting seeing his and Juliet’s relationship shift and evolve as this trilogy progressed, and sometimes it broke my heart when they hurt each other, even if was by accident. Obviously, some of these things drive a story, but in the case of “A Cold Legacy,” I never felt like that was all there ever was, that if the miscommunications had been taken away the story would have fallen apart. Megan Shepherd wrote a strong story and added miscommunication to show the growth and changes that had occurred in their relationship.

Lies and secrets aside, Montgomery was such a good character. He had changed quite a bit since “The Madman’s Daughter,” but I loved that the things that made him Montgomery were still intact. He was still kind, courageous, strong, wise, and most importantly, he still had a good heart. My favorite scene was towards the end when he was talking to Juliet about choosing to be different from her father, that she had the right to choose to do good and live life well despite her parentage. There was also another part with him concerning the whole “eternal life” issue, and again, he said something profound. Those two parts really hit me hard and I was a bit like, “What you just said was beautiful. You’re beautiful!”

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What Montgomery said in those last fifty pages in “A Cold Legacy” was what this trilogy was all about: that you have the right and the duty in life to choose what is good, and it is not for others to choose for you. Megan put it so beautifully, and I loved that!

Lucy was also another good characters. I thought that Megan Shepherd did a great job of taking a character that seemed like just a rich, entitled girl and making her into a woman who was kind and smart. She didn’t always make the wisest of choices, but she had a good heart and it was surprising to have a character change so much for the better in a trilogy. Okay, so the last character I want to talk about is Edward!

Edward was such an intriguing character. Throughout this trilogy, he has been a sort of enigma that I wanted to understand. He was a broken person who needed a lot of love and kindness, and it was interesting to see him change as these books progressed. I will always like this character, but I wish that I had gotten more time with him in “A Cold Legacy.” “Her Dark Curiosity” was Edward’s book, in a sense, but “A Cold Legacy,” for good reason, was Juliet’s book. As necessary as that was, I felt that both Edward and Montgomery got a little short-changed. They didn’t get as much time in this book even though they deserved it, and I wish that “A Cold Legacy” had been forty to fifty pages longer so that these leading men could’ve been in it more! I think that the lack of my boys was the only real disappointment I experienced while reading this book; I just missed the sweet, funny Edward that I knew from the first two books! But other than missing out on some time with Edward, I was fairly happy with where he went as a character despite some emotional trauma I experienced at the stuff he was put through.

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Megan really kicked it up a notch, even from “Her Dark Curiosity,” on pacing, and don’t even get me started on the death toll! No one is safe in this book, and I was quite shocked by some of the characters who were killed. The stakes were really high in this book, so I guess that goes along with it!

All that aside, “A Cold Legacy” was such a well-rounded finale that I feel completely satisfied. Yeah, some parts were sad because I was hoping for a happier end for some characters, but I am quite content, and it was a beautiful book. I also loved how all of her characters, main and secondary, played significant roles in “A Cold Legacy.” Balthazar, one of my favorite characters, was such a great character to see more of and so was Lucy. There were also characters who lived in the von Stein home that really added a lot to the story. I loved how she dealt with the secrets between the people in this book, and I adored how each of these characters changed and grew as individuals while having stayed true to themselves. But most of all, I loved the end and the route Megan Shepherd chose to take with the issues of immortality and the social aspects of female independence.”The Madman’s Daughter” will forever be my favorite, but I loved “A Cold Legacy.” It was an amazing conclusion to a great trilogy!