Book Review: The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton

the belles
Image belongs to Disney Books.

In the world of Orléans, people are born damned. Gray. Above all, they want Beauty. It is only with the help of Belles, who control Beauty, can they be made beautiful.

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. All her life, Camellia has wanted to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen to live in the palace and work with the royal family. The most talented Belle.

But at court, Camellia and her sisters learn there’s far more to this world of beauty than they ever imagined, and there’s more to their powers than they know. When the Queen asks Camellia to help the sick princess, Camellia must decide whether to help the Queen—and risk her whole world—or to continue to be the favorite Belle, the one who does everything that’s expected of her.

So, this book is more than a fairytale/fantasy epic. Orléans absolutely reminds me of the Capitol (from The Hunger Games), with over-the-top costumes and obsession with appearances and popularity. So much. But this book is really a commentary on issues we face in society today—and not just vanity—with layers and layers of reality and mystery twined together. On the surface, a book obsessed with beauty isn’t my cup of tea. But the world is richly-detailed, and the characters are complex and driven, and I can’t wait to see where the author takes them next.

Dhonielle Clayton is an author and the COO of We Need Diverse Books. Her newest novel is The Belles.

(Galley provided by Disney Books in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: The Rending and the Nest, by Kaethe Schwehn

the rending
Image belongs to Bloomsbury USA.

One moment, Mira was at the mall shopping with her little brother. The next instant, 95% of the world’s population vanished, along with sunlight, most of the animals, food, and stuff. What isn’t missing is in huge random piles. The survivors eke out a living by scavenging the Piles and banding together in haphazard communities.

Four years after the Rending, Mira spends her days scavenging for her community of Zion, hanging out with her best friend, Lana, and avoiding people she might come to love—she can’t bear to lose anyone else. Then Lana tells her she’s pregnant, the first pregnancy since the Rending. For the first time since everything changed, Mira feels hope.

But when Lana gives birth to an inanimate object—and so do other women in Zion—Mira’s world crumbles again. An outsider named Michael lures Lana away, and Mira must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice to save her friend, her community, and her own pregnancy.

I’m not going to lie:  this is an odd book. Dystopian, with no explanation for why the Rending occurred (so if you must have a “why,” you’re out of luck here). The world is both strangely familiar and oddly skewed, like everything is just a bit off-kilter. Mira and Lana—well, everyone—are hiding secrets from their before, secrets that they need to deal with before they can truly accept their now. The Babies are creepy—and weirdly fitting—and I was drawn into the story from the first page as Mira struggles to make sense of this new world while still trying to sort out just who she is. Despite the oddness, this is an enthralling book, with a vividly realized setting that’s just as intriguing as the characters.

Kaethe Schwehn is an award-winning writer of prose and poems. The Rending and the Nest is her new novel.

(Galley provided by Bloomsbury USA in exchange for an honest review.)

Current Adventures in Reading

I started reading two books this week—and stopped reading them shortly thereafter. Choosing to not finish two books back-to-back is highly unusual for me, but I found the characters in Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino to be vapid and superficial, despite the very intriguing premise of the book. (And I love YA, so that wasn’t the problem. But I like real YA, not surface-level, and I couldn’t get past that.)

Then I started A Cold Day in Hell by Lissa Marie Redmond. And only made it about 10% into that one. I felt pretty distant from the main character to start with, but stuck it out until she met with the accused killer, a teenage kid who just randomly had sex with a girl he didn’t know in her car, and then she turned up dead a few hours later, and he’s totally confused about why he’s been accused. Here’s the thing:  I don’t do stupid people. Or stupid characters. So his blasé attitude  about the whole situation was a deal-breaker for me right then and there.

Both of these might be great books for someone else. Just not for me.

Then I started reading The Rending and the Nest, by Kaethe Schwehn, and couldn’t put it down. I do love dystopians. So that was a win! Review to come soon.

the rending

 

Book Review: The Book of Pearl, by Timothee de Fombelle

the book of pearl
Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Joshua Pearl doesn’t belong in this world. He comes from the world of story, of fairy tales, where he no one knows he exists—and they certainly don’t know he’s the younger brother of their cruel and brutal king. His love keeps him alive, but he’s cursed to live in a world that doesn’t believe in magic. This world.

In Paris just before World War II, Joshua lives and works in a marshmallow shop beloved by many. He’s found a family. He has a home and a job he adores, but something is missing. As his memories of his life before start to fade, Joshua searches for objects of mystery—starting with a mermaid’s scale—that might help him prove his own story, before his memories are lost forever.

Sometimes, I’m not terribly observant when I’m picking out books. Like picking up the third book in a series, having no idea it’s part of a series. In this case, I didn’t realize The Book of Pearl was a translation. Not that that matters in the least. I found this book magical and ethereal in places, but realistic and gritty in others. The fairy tale world is not the Disney version—all sunshine and light—but much more Grimm’s brothers. The settings came alive on the page, and if the characters were a little more distant than I would have wished, this could be just a difference in style between French and English. Regardless, this was a wonderful, enchanting read.

Timothee de Fombelle is a French author who taught literature before heading to the theatre. The Book of Pearl is his newly-translated book.

(Galley provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: You Will Be Mine, by Natasha Preston

 

you will be mine
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Lylah has finally moved on from her past. She’s at college, and she has a great group of friends that she lives with. She’s doing well in class, but she looks forward to going out with her friends, too.

One evening as they’re all getting ready, the doorbell rings and they find a note. ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE. WATCH YOUR BACK, I’M COMING FOR YOU. Lylah is freaked out, but her friends laugh it off. Except Sonny never comes home from the club. And a new note arrives.

Now Lylah and her friends are the target of a mysterious killer with an agenda. A killer the cops can’t seem to find…or even figure out who they’re looking for. Incidents from Lylah’s past give them clues, and soon the group is desperate to catch the killer before any more friends are targeted.

I’ve read a couple of Preston’s books before, so the twists didn’t really surprise me…I usually decide the least likely suspect is the culprit until proven wrong (Note:  this is not always accurate, but that’s how my brain works.). The creepiness level in this book was on-point, but the characters’ actions kind of ruined it for me. Um, I’m pretty sure that if several of my friends had been lured out of the house and murdered, I would not go anywhere by myself without telling a soul. Nor would I feel like the cops protecting me were in the way of my life and try to slip away from them. Maybe that’s just me? Verdict: great premise, creepy execution, but the characters just weren’t believable enough for me to be truly riveted. (I was actually quite annoyed at several points…to the point where I didn’t actually care if they died.)

Natasha Preston is the English author of The Cellar and The Cabin. You Will Be Mine is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

 

What I Read in January (2018)

I upped my reading goal this year from 100 to 150, since I read 174 books last year. Who knows if that’ll happen, but it’s good to have goals.

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books

The Birdwoman’s Palate, by Laksmi Pamuntjak (cultural book of the month). Rather conveniently I thought, this was one of the Amazon First picks for January, so I snapped it up. This books was pretty much all about food, but I enjoyed the characters very much.

O Pioneers, by Willa Cather (classic book). I was actually very surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. I thought it would be kind of dry and boring, but there was a lot going on!

Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, by Linda Dillow (spiritual book). I enjoyed this very much.

To Review

immortalists_1

The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin. So…I have mixed feelings about this book. Or, at least, less than positive feelings about it. It’s about four kids in the 1960s who go see a Gypsy psychic, and the woman tells them the exact dates of their deaths. Then it’s an in-depth look at the lives of each sibling in turn. I found the first two sections almost annoying, because of the choices the first two siblings made. The third was moderately more interesting, but still evoked mostly head-shaking from me. The final section was the best, in my opinion, and allowed me to actually care about the final sibling.

before i let go

Before I Let Go, by Marieke Naijkamp. I still don’t know what to think about this book. The writing is good. The characters are interesting—with a side of weird in some cases—and the setting is vividly drawn. (Okay, the thought of having to live in a tiny Alaskan town gives me the heeby-jeebies on a lot of levels.) Corey and Kyra grew up as best friends, but Corey left Kyra behind when she moved away. Then Kyra dies, and Corey goes back to say goodbye, and finds her hometown has become a strange, dark place, filled with secrets and people she doesn’t understand, all of them linked—somehow—to Kyra’s death.

an eye for an eye

An Eye for an Eye, by Caroline Fardig. The second murder mystery in the Ellie Matthews series. While the book fits comfortably in the murder mystery niche–forensics, questions, running out of time—the characters make it stand out from the rest. Ellie is a very conflicted person.

What the Valley Knows, by Heather Christie (read to review, but didn’t finish). I read about 30% of this—maybe—before giving up. The characters struck me as one-dimensional and the foreshadowing was pretty…blatant, to me, so I just passed on the rest of it.

thisisnotaloveletter_comps

This is Not a Love Letter, by Kim Purcell. I’m not sure I can talk about this book yet. I picked it up on a Friday evening…and finished it around 11 p.m. Two days later, it is still fresh in my mind, and I’m still sad over the ending. And, let me tell you, I was sobbing when I finished it. True story. This is about love, race, and mental illness in a small town.

intraterrestrial

Intraterrestrial, by Nicholas Conley. This book is about traumatic brain injury, bullying, and aliens. Yes, really. When Adam is injured in a car wreck, the voice he’s been hearing in his head makes sense, as the alien asks for his help escaping the Nothing that will destroy them all. Are there really aliens, or are they part of Adam’s TBI?

wc

White Chrysanthemums. Okay. This is an emotional, sad book. It’s about the Korean women/girls who were forced to be military sex slaves in the Korean/Japanese conflict. The idea is horrifying to me, but the book is so well-done and evocative it’s well-worth reading.

the night child

The Night Child, by Anna Quinn. This was not what I thought at all, but it was a good read.

lullaby road

Lullaby Road, by James Anderson. This is the second Anderson book I’ve read, the second about Ben and the desolate stretch of highway he lives and works on. While the book doesn’t sound all that interesting—a middle-aged truck driver hauling freight from one desert ghost town to another—the book is very, very good. The characters are quirky, but so believable! Definitely read Never-Open Desert Diner first, but read this!

thehazelwood

The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert. Sheer magic. Dark magic, to be sure, but I was enthralled from the first page of the story about Alice, who has spent her 17 years on the move with her mother as bad luck plagued them. When her mother is kidnapped by the Hinterland, Alice must brave the Hazel Wood and face her own story if she is to rescue her mom. So good!

the gone world

The Gone World, by Tom Sweterlitsch. I’m not going to lie:  this was a weird book. NCIS meets time travel, with space travel and multiple futures thrown into a murder investigation.

Just Because

Ricochet Joe, by Dean Koontz. I got an email about this book on January first, and decided to read it because…I used to read everything Koontz wrote. I’m a chicken, and his books used to terrify me, but sometimes his writing was so lyrical it amazed me. (There was one sentence, in one of the Odd Thomas books, that took my breath away. Making a mental note to read all of those again this year…) I found the Kindle in Motion aspect of this tale kind of cool, but the story itself was…sub-par, in my mind. Perhaps it’s been too long since I read a Koontz book?

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit.

Book Review: The Gone World, by Tom Sweterlitsch

the gone world
Image belongs to Putnam.

Shannon Moss is a secret agent in the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. She’s part of a special unit that tracks crime though space—and time. Almost no one knows about her unit, so she can’t always explain her findings to people. Sometimes, she’s sent into the future to gather information about crimes in the present, but her departure from that future always ends that timeline, as she returns home.

In Pennsylvania 1997, Shannon is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL’s family, and to find his missing daughter. She discovers the SEAL is from the missing spaceship, Libra, presumed lost in Deep Time. As she works, Shannon also discovers anomalies that give her more questions than answers, so she travels into possible futures to gather information.

There, Shannon realizes the case has far greater implications:  it’s not just the fate of the SEAL’s family that’s at risk, but the entire human race, as the case is inextricably linked to the Terminus, the end of humanity. Now Shannon must solve a murder case, a girl’s disappearance, and stop a plot destined to end the human race, in a case that shares eerie links with Shannon’s own past.

I’m still not sure what to think about this book. The concept of Deep Time was both baffling and understandable in the narrative—although the visuals did not always coalesce for me. (Those never-ending lines of trees and the crucifixions.) Shannon is a strong, capable woman, haunted by her past and her experiences in Deep Time, and she finds herself amid events that can shatter existence into pieces. Her visits to possible futures were strangely compelling, as the people she knows in the past become startlingly different people in these futures. This reminded me of the time I read Stephen King’s Desperation and Richard Bachman’s The Regulators back-to-back (Bachman was King’s pen name.)

Tom Sweterlitsch was born in Ohio, grew up in Iowa, and worked with the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped for twelve years. The Gone World is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Putnam in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review: Lullaby Road, by James Anderson

lullaby road
Image belongs to Crown Publishing.

Ben Jones hauls freight on the lonely highway of Route 117, through the desert of Utah. The few people he meets are reclusive at best, possibly dangerous at worst. And winter is coming to 117, covering everything in a blanket of snow and ice.

When Ben finds a small, mute Hispanic girl abandoned at a gas station with a note pinned to her shirt that reads “Please Ben. Watch my son. His name is Juan. Bad Trouble. Tell no one,” he is unprepared. He has no idea what’s going on, but he knows it’s bad, so he takes the girl. And finds himself in the midst of dark circumstances he’s not sure if he can find his way out of. But he’s determined to keep the girl safe, even when she’s set on disappearing into the snowy wilderness without a trace.

Lullaby Road, like the first book, The Never-Open Desert Diner, is set in a startling and memorable place and filled with characters that are…quirky and frequently scary and sad at the same time. Ben is both an awesome character and a hateful one, with his temper and his lack of impulse-control. The land is as much a character as any of the people, and this compelled me from the very first page. But I don’t think I’ll be visiting Utah anytime soon.

James Anderson was born in Seattle and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Lullaby Road is the follow-up to The Never-Open Desert Diner.

(Galley provided by Crown Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

thehazelwood
Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have been haunted by bad luck as long as Alice can remember. Not run-of-the-mill bad luck, either, but strange things happening in even stranger circumstances. And Alice’s mom won’t allow her to speak of her grandmother, a reclusive author who lives on a mysterious estate called the Hazel Wood. It’s the two of them against the world.

When Alice’s grandmother dies, Alice’s mom is stolen away by mysterious creatures from the Hinterland—where Alice’s grandmother’s creepy tales are set. The only lead Alice has is her mom’s message, “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

But Alice will stop at nothing to save her mom. The only person she can turn to is Finch, a Hinterland superfan…and Alice is sure he’s hiding something. To save her mom, first they must find the Hazel Wood. Then Alice must venture deep into the woods, where she just might find out what’s wrong with her own story.

The Hazel Wood is absolutely magic! Dark magic, to be sure, but magic all the same. Alice is such a fascinating character, filled with rage but yearning for the light. The Hinterland and the Hazel Wood are places of magic…terrifying magic. I was enthralled with the story from the very first page, and that continued through to the very last page. Loved this book!

Melissa Albert is the editor of the B&N Teen Blog. The Hazel Wood is her first novel.

(Galley provided by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.)

 

 

Book Review: The Night Child, by Anna Quinn

the night child
Image belongs to Blackstone Publishing.

Nora Brown lives a quiet life in Seattle. She teaches high school English and lives with her husband and six-year-old daughter. Their lives are routine, normal. Then one day she sees a girl’s face hovering in the air, wild blue eyes surrounded by shadows. Terror fills Nora’s body.

A day later, on a family vacation, Nora sees the face again, and her whole life starts to feel off-kilter.

Nora sees a doctor, then a psychiatrist. There, she starts to realize that everything in her life and her memories is not as she always thought, but the hidden darkness may be too much for Nora to defeat.

This book was not what I expected at all. Nora is an intriguing character, happy with her life and her family, despite the tragedy in her past. But when she sees the girl’s face, her whole life comes unraveled, leaving her grasping at broken threads, trying to make sense of the knotted mess that hides the truth.

Anna Quinn is a writer, teacher, and bookstore owner. The Night Child is her first published novel.

(Galley provided by Blackstone Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)