Posted in contemporary, fantasy, review, young adult

The Witch’s Kiss – Katharine & Liz Corr

“Witches do not kneel. They do not grovel. They do not beg favours from any creature, mortal or immortal. At most they bargain.”

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Blurb: “Sixteeen-year-old Meredith is fed-up with her feuding family and feeling invisible at school – not to mention the witch magic that shoots out of her fingernails when she’s stressed. Then sweet, sensitive Jack comes into her life and she falls for him hard. The only problem is that he is periodically possessed by a destructive centuries-old curse. Meredith has lost her heart, but will she also lose her life? Or in true fairytale tradition, can true love’s kiss save the day?”

The Witch’s Kiss is the first instalment of a trilogy by sisters Katharine and Liz Corr, and it’s a book I fell in love with instantly.

Set in modern day, readers are introduced to Meredith (Merry) who is a witch but does a very good job of not embracing this. She beats herself down a lot when she does have a momentary lapse of control and internalises her emotions in a way that makes her a character readers can really relate to. As she learns of the enormous task that faces her, naturally she wants to run in the opposite direction but then approaches the situation with a kind of “well if it has to be me then I guess I will” attitude. Unlike a lot of YA books, she was a character that read like the age she is supposed to be so a lot of her choices made sense.

Another great addition to this story is the brother, Leo, who becomes Merry’s partner in crime. A lot of the time in “modern day fantasy” siblings are often brushed aside so it was wonderful to see her have this family support system who wanted to keep her safe but also stood out on his own. I just loved every single scene he was in and it was clear that he was willing to do whatever it takes to protect his sister but also allow her that room to do things on her own when required.

The Witch’s Kiss blends the present and the anglo-saxon period in which the reader learns of an enchantment put in place to keep the evil wizard, Gwydion, and his servant, The King of Hearts, in a deep sleep. But this enchantment is soon to end and it falls to Merry to be the one to stop the wizard before the curse takes hold. Viewing stories through an adult lens meant that when the mother puts her foot down, I could actually understand the reasoning behind her actions, whereas teenage me would have probably screamed at her. It was nice to see how the bubbling drama was affecting those around Merry rather than solely focusing on her. The blending of timelines was done in an interesting way: rather than resorting to info dumping to fill the reader in, they are instead taken through the history in a series of chapters, getting to know the old faces and their motivations which add that further weight in the present. It works wonderfully but my only wish is that it had been threaded a lot more through once it had all been revealed.

The King of Hearts, also known as Jack, is a truly tragic character and my heart just ached as I began to learn more about him. The story does lull a bit around the middle but it allows that room to understand who he actually is compared to the history and, again, I loved that little way of blending two time periods together.

That tension build at the start and the bubbling danger throughout leads to a dramatic conclusion which had me shielding myself with my blanket as I fought my way through alongside Merry.

The Witch’s Kiss is a breath of fresh air with magic, a brilliant cast of characters and a test of morals.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Queen Of Air And Darkness – Cassandra Clare

“We are dust and shadows,” Emma said. “I guess we’re all ashes too.”

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Blurb: “Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined.”

It’s no secret that Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors and, like many, I have been sat impatiently waiting for the final instalment of The Dark Artifices series. This new aspect of the Shadowhunter world has not been plain sailing for me: I didn’t like the previous book and even in my reread in preparation of this release, I still didn’t rate it much. To me, it’s a series that peaked at the first book.

The first thing that really strikes me about this world is just how detailed it is. Cassandra Clare has stated in talks before that she’s a full on planner and it really shows in her writing. The Dark Artifices features her biggest cast of characters to date and she manages to ride that perfect balance of allowing each group the appropriate amount of readership time. It’s so intricate and carefully handled that I can’t help but marvel at it.

The blackthorns are reeling from a family tragedy and the many ways grief is explored throughout the book is painful to read but absolutely necessary. There’s a distinct shift in how Dru and Ty deal with the loss compared to Julian and the older siblings and all of it was so beautifully done. Consistently, Mark Blackthorn has been my favourite character and his overall growth throughout the series has been an absolute treat and, dare I say it, he may be up there with Alec Lightwood as my favourite Shadowhunter character. He’s come such a long way from the sugar incident in Lady Midnight to protecting his siblings with his life and I just adore everything about him. In fact, love triangles are one of my least favourite tropes but my favourite segments to read were any scenes with Kieran, Christina and Mark. The growth and development there was, again, beautiful to read. I also loved seeing a bisexual character exploring relationships with both men and women.

The Clave are a government body that have always absolutely terrified me and this book was no different. If anything, they really ramped up the fear factor. As lot of their decisions feel all too familiar from our world with talks of walls to keep certain species out, creating registries and handing out numbers to identify Downworlders. I love seeing politics in other world and it was fascinating to have the character of Diana through which to see these Clave events play out.

However, at 800 pages, Queen Of Air and Darkness really feels its length. I had periods where it just felt like a slog to get through and I really didn’t enjoy the majority of Part Two and find myself getting distracted by other things. I’m not really a big fan of “alternate reality” stuff within an author’s work and, minus one particular factor, it just didn’t feel like the reader gained much apart from an long drawn out “what could have been” segment. And frankly, if I wanted to see that I would turn to fan fiction. Also I read this via ebook and there were a lot of typo errors.

It’s sad to say goodbye to another area of this world, but with the news of The Last Hours due to be released next year, I won’t have long to wait before I delve back in!

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

More Happy Than Not – Adam Silvera

From the shapes cast by the green paper lantern, you would never know that there were two boys sitting closely to one another trying to find themselves. You would only see the shadows hugging, indiscriminate.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto is struggling to find happiness after a family tragedy leaves him reeling. He’s slowly remembering what happiness might feel like this summer with the support of his girlfriend Genevieve, but it’s his new best friend, Thomas, who really gets Aaron to open up about his past and confront his future.

As Thomas and Aaron get closer, Aaron discovers things about himself that threaten to shatter his newfound contentment. A revolutionary memory-alteration procedure, courtesy of the Leteo Institute, might be the way to straighten himself out. But what if it means forgetting who he truly is?”

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, assault, homophobia and self-harm

More Happy Than Not was the first book Adam Silvera released and sadly only found its home in the US book market. As word started to bubble around his stories on the social media channels, his follow up book History Is All You Left Me received a much wider release and was the first book of his that I read. Link to my review of that can be foundhere. Now his debut has found home in the UK and I decided to give it a go.

The Leteo Institutes offer individuals the chance to forget by wiping their memories for a plethora of reasons. There is some exposure to how this affects the wider society such as protests outside the buildings demanding that criminals be banned from using the procedures. But for the most part this initial hook falls by the wayside and is never really mentioned, minus an incident with a friend, until it becomes relevant to Aaron and his story.

Aaron, the protagonist, is a character that I kept going back and forth on. I just didn’t really connect with him, but a lot of that could be down to the fact that, minus questioning your sexuality, I don’t have much in common with a gay sixteen year old boy. Through the course of the story, he struggles a lot: from the aforementioned sexuality, struggles with money and not really coping his dad’s suicide. Then he meets Thomas who starts to take an interest and understands him in a way that Aaron’s friends never cared to. I expected to root for them to be together. But minus Aaron, all the other side characters such as Aaron’s current girlfriend, Gen, felt very flat and two-dimensional.

Instead of asterisks to signify a time jump, emojis were used instead. This might seem a bit out of place but for the respective parts and overall arc, it was a small bit of formatting that made quite an impact.

The first half of this book is a real slog. And I mean it really does drag. At about the 100 page mark I was starting to wonder if anything was actually going to happen, and if I’d been juped. But it is worth persevering for what takes place in the latter half. As I mentioned at the start of the review, there are a lot of triggers: The father’s suicide is mentioned throughout and eventually shown in detail and I wish I’d been made aware of it before reading. There’s homophobic fuelled attacks and a lot of very sad moments but it shows what can happen when someone is pushed to their limits and it’s worth sticking out for. (But of course, please practice self-care!)

The blurb for More Happy Than Not is one of those that really does the book a disservice. It’s raw and emotional at times, and completely surprises you.

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Posted in review, young adult

The Loneliest Girl In The Universe – Lauren James

“It’s hard to focus on the future when the past is so distracting.”

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Blurb: “Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.”

As I’ve said many times before, sci-fi is a genre that I’ve never been able to fully invest in. More often than not, it can get too complicated for me to follow so I tend to avoid it. For some reason, when scanning the shelves at my local library, I came across The Loneliest Girl In The Universe and decided to give it a go as it seemed like something my tiny brain could handle. Quite simply put: I adored this book.

Romy is the only astronaut on her ship and her only correspondence is with a woman called Molly at NASA, and even then she has the time delay of only just receiving messages that had been sent to her a year ago. It’s far too easy to relate to her character, in the sense of feeling alone. Sometimes it can be crippling and feel like it might never end and in the modern age, we’re able to turn to a virtual world where we can communicate with other people at the click of a button. As I pursued the narrative, I felt the rush alongside Romy when she took to her computer and found a new notification waiting for her. When she’s informed that another ship has been launched to meet her and complete the mission, she finds herself messaging this new boy J who is on the same page as her; he’s the only one who really understands what she’s going through. Again, it highlights just how much power technology has and how, in certain situations, it can actually be used for good. I just loved this weighted aspect in a story consisting really of just one character.

I found the actual space elements quite easy to digest which made it easy for me to just fly through this story. Though I couldn’t shake the claustrophobia of being on this one ship for so long. Romy is faced with the monumental task of creating a new civilisation on a new habitable planet and that’s just a lot to bear, especially on your own. Every little layer of her backstory to create this beautiful, well-written character who felt so real that my chest ached whenever she was going through a negative moment. For the most part, she’s just a normal teenager, writing fan fiction about her favourite TV show, doing homework and slowly starting to fall in love with a boy on another ship trying to catch up.

Another awesome thing to note is that there is a period mention because, after all, being in space doesn’t negate the fact that a teenage girl will still have her monthly cycle! Not only does the reader experience Romy going through it, but it’s also mentioned at different intervals as the amendments to her ship are made and so on.

It’s very much a story about characters and Romy is one I’m going to be thinking about for a long time.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

A Map Of Days – Ransom Riggs

“I had just survived the most surreal summer imaginable – skipping back to bygone centuries, taming imaginable monsters, falling in love with my grandfather’s time-arrested girlfriend – but only now, in the unexceptional present, in Suburban Florida, in the house I’d grown up in, was I finding it hard to believe my eyes.”

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Blurb: “Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery—a subterranean bunker that belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe. Clues to Abe’s double-life as a peculiar operative start to emerge, secrets long hidden in plain sight. And Jacob begins to learn about the dangerous legacy he has inherited—truths that were part of him long before he walked into Miss Peregrine’s time loop. Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom—a world with few ymbrynes, or rules—that none of them understand.”

The Miss Peregrine series was one that I never expected to love as much as I did, and if it hadn’t been for the news of an adaption directed by Tim Burton it would have completely passed me by. The ending was one of those rare ones where I felt incredibly emotional, but also content with it. So when the news came out that the series was going to be extended by three books, I was incredibly apprehensive. In fact, I got myself so worked up that I honestly didn’t think I’d even be able to read this book.

A Map Of Days offered me one of the big things I wanted: character development. As the peculiars move from the loop world to present day Florida, they are forced into drastic changes in order to fit in. It was hilarious seeing them try Pizza for the first time and have to go shopping for regular clothes and the wit, especially from Millard won me over again. As the main crux of the plot comes into effect, the group is split with a select few joining Jacob on his mission to learn more about his grandfather and try to bring order back to the peculiar world. This worked really well because it eases the reader back into the cast of characters by focusing on a select view and padding them out in new surroundings. I found myself leaning more towards characters such as Enoch who I never really cared for in past books.

As usual, Ransom Riggs proves his talents in storytelling and world building as the reader explores new parts of the universe, accompanied by the peculiar photographs that give the series its unique element, but outside of that, this book fell really flat for me.

After the amazing arc the original trilogy had, is A Map of Days really needed? No. It isn’t. If anything, it’ll hopefully appeal to those fully invested in the series, but at just short of 500 pages, it’s a very long slog with a rushed action packed ending to try and keep the reader waiting for the next installment. I just didn’t really feel like it had that many revelations that it was marketed that it would have.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich

“Fantasies always sound good but they’re no help when reality comes and shoves you to the ground.”

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Blurb: “When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?”

 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Trigger Warnings: talk of suicide and death, themes of depression.

Dear Evan Hansen is a book inspired by the incredibly popular Broadway musical of the same name. With the news of it finally crossing the pond and finding a home in the UK West End next year, I felt that it was finally time to take the plunge into this story.

Evan Hansen is a trouble teenager: his family life isn’t stable, he doesn’t really have any friends, and he’s in therapy where he’s asked each week to write a letter to himself in order to process the struggles he’s facing. The narrative encourages you to feel, and in some cases, be able to relate to what Evan is experiencing, and then express horror when one of his self-written letters ends up in the hands of his classmate, Connor. When it’s announced that Connor has taken his own life and Evan’s letter is believed to be Connor’s suicide note, Evan is put in a difficult situation: break the family’s heart and tell the truth, or maintain the lie. This is where the book just gets really uncomfortable. Evan is determined not to tell the truth. He employs another classmate to forge email exchanges that create the appearance of Evan and Connor being friends, has dinners with the family where he shares more fake stories, becomes close with Connor’s grieving sister, and even becomes the front of a foundation to raise money in Connor’s name. It’s a very difficult and unfortunate situation to be in but I just couldn’t fathom all the lengths that Evan goes to in order to back up all the things he comes out with, and any of the good that comes from the campaign and foundation was muddled by the intentions behind it.

The campaign itself is nice to see and very relatable to true life and I liked how social media was tied into it, and how it was showed that the news was getting around to the point where strangers were starting to donate. Again, the co-creator, Alana, didn’t know or really care about Connor and is forcing Evan to be the face of it, clearly using the traction it’s getting for her own personal gain. I guess, in its own way, the book highlights how some people will use bad instances to their own advantage, and some people are just unaffected; including Evan’s therapist. In fact, Connor’s passing is the catalyst for Evan to ignore his own life and pretend to be someone else for a while.

The book flits occasionally between Evan and Connor’s perspectives which I feel works a lot better in a stage setting where you can see the actors. The formatting in my E-Arc was really off which meant that I spent a good portion of the reading experience confused when these perspective shifts happened and when text conversations happened because there wasn’t any distinction in font. Also the perspective shifts just felt really jarring. I get that maybe it was to make the reader feel more for Connor who is essentially a non-character and viewed solely through Evan’s eyes otherwise.

This a story that I imagine works really well on stage, but as a book I feel it missed the mark. Now I’m going to listen to the soundtrack.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Odd One Out – Nic Stone

“None of this is simple as we want it to be. And I think that should be okay. Being who you are and losing who you love may not be easy, but it’s always worthwhile.” – Author Note

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Blurb: “Courtney “Coop” Cooper: Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin: I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez: The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story. Three sides. No easy answers.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Like her debut, Dear Martin (of which my review can be found here), the topic of her latest book is something close to Nic Stone’s heart. In her acknowledgements, she talks openly about her own struggles with sexuality and why she felt it important to add to the growing list of LGBT titles for Young Adult readers.

Odd One Out is told through three perspectives: Courtney who is in love with his lesbian best friend, Jupiter. New girl Rae who kind of loves both of them, and Jupiter who thinks she likes Rae but really like Courtney. On top of this, Courtney appears to have this sense of ownership over Jupiter as if, despite her being unobtainable, she is meant to be his and Jupiter is struggling with her sexuality as she experiences that same desire of ownership for Courtney, and Rae is stuck in the middle. Basically, it’s one giant complicated love triangle.

Normally I’m very wary of multiple perspective stories because it’s rare that I like them all. In this case, I found some to be weaker than others and my favourite ended up being Jupiter. She’s a big fan of the rock band Queen which feeds a lot into her narrative and it made her more fleshed out than the other characters because she stood on her own separate to them. It made her feel more like a real teenager. Also her struggles with sexuality were very relatable: she identifies as lesbian but begins to worry about whether that label fits and if she will add fuel to the stigma that LGBT teens are just seeking attention or “waiting to be turned.” I could just feel the hurt she was going through and I was powerless to help her. I also think that she experiences the most character growth overall. Rae is of the similar vein; battling with the bisexual label and the ever-present stigma that she doesn’t want to validate. In fact, the only one who is firmly comfortable in their sexuality is Courtney.

This book also features awkward sex scenes combined with the handling of consent which is really nice to see becoming more common in YA books. It just came across really natural and authentic in the scenes and added to the characters experiences.

Another important point to note is how it’s shown that everyone experiences situations differently and this book does a fantastic job of showing how a character perceives an event compared to how it actually exists.

Once again, Nic Stone proves that she is a writer very much worth watching.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Always And Forever Lara Jean – Jenny Han

“To love a boy, to have him love you back, it feels miraculous.”

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Blurb: “Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends. Life couldn’t be more perfect! At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news. Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?”

After completely falling in love with this series from the first book, it’s not surprising that I’ve flown through the trilogy and found myself faced with the finale.

Always and Forever Lara Jean sees our favourite protagonist being thrown in the deep end: with her school life coming to an end and future plans falling apart, not to mention facing being long distance with her rather attractive boyfriend. This is the book where it feels like the reader really gets to see Lara’s character arc as a whole. It’s been wonderful to see her grow and still hold the same moral and family values no matter what she came to head with, and the finale is no different. Lara is very much a perfectionist so when things don’t go how she wanted, it was interesting to see how she found a way to readjust and see the new opportunities available to her that she may have not considered otherwise.

The most interesting character shift for me personally was Margot, who seems incredibly abrasive and unlike herself compared to the pervious book, but as the story progressed it was understand how she felt like she had lost her place among the family after physically seeing her father’s new relationship flourish. As she has been away at college, getting to see how she learned to also accept a new form of change really hit home with the themes the book was trying to convey.

It seemed only right to end this adventure the same way I began: by listening to the audiobook. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Laura Knight-Keating has cemented herself as one of my favourite audiobook narrators ever. It’s been a real treat listening to her bring this story and its characters to life and I honestly wouldn’t have binged on this trilogy in any other way.

However, I think that Always and Forever Lara Jean is my least favourite in the series. It just didn’t grab me the same way the others did and I actually had instances where I put off listening because the story just wasn’t moving as fast as I would like. Also Peter became very unlikeable and his actions regarding trying to get Lara to sign a supposedly jokey contract about Lara having to call him every day and put pictures up etc to show she was in a relationship just left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Overall, I would read the whole series again, but To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely the best.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

“Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to pretend nothing’s wrong.”

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Blurb: “Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.”

Note: I am aware that as a white reviewer I have privilege and can’t fairly comment on the racial aspects of this book. Any Own Voices reviews are greatly appreciated and I will add them here.

In an attempt to “examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings”, Nic Stone began writing her debut after seeing the responses to the real-life shooting of unarmed African American teenagers.

Dear Martin follows high school senior Justyce McAllister who starts to question his racial identity after spending three hours in handcuffs for something he didn’t do. Classroom discussions and societal stereotypes come to the forefront of his attention more than they did before. When introduced to a gang, he identifies them as “the ones that make us look bad” and starts to worry more about everything he has to lose.

The book flits around different formats from more script based interactions for the classroom discussions, to prose for present happenings, to the letters. It’s the latter that really stood out to me. Letter writing to someone who won’t read the letters, especially an idol, can be so cathartic and it seems to work for the protagonist. While Justyce feels like he must remain silent in his daily life, especially when topics of equality come up, his letters to Martin Luther King are raw and unfiltered; it’s in these moments that it feels like the reader get the “real” Justyce.

The media fallout following another shooting by a police officer mimics what readers see too often in the real world and the predictability of questions thrown in front of Justyce are predictable and not surprising.

It was interesting to have the white male character, Jared, who starts off as someone who “doesn’t see colour” and truly be lives society is equal start to shift with the events of the book, to the point where he starts to acknowledge his privilege and own up to things he’s said and done in the past. Which is the kind of person I think all of those in a similar positon to him should be trying to do in our own lives.  Alongside this is a white girl called SJ who acknowledges her position from the start but speaks out on important issues and also helps lift up and push Justyce to the front as his voice is more important.

I found it thought-provoking that Dear Martin didn’t just focus on what it means to be a black boy in society, but how that transends into older age: The dad of Justyce’s best friend, Manny, talks about how he has a position of power at his current employment and yet his white colleagues still look down to him or refuse to answer his requests. All of which prompts the further questions in Justyce’s mind of “is this my life now?”

This book can seem almost simple at points. Like I mentioned earlier, certain chapters are just listed dialogue between characters and it feels very reserved in places, but a lot of this is down to it being a lot shorter than I expected. But it still leaves your heart aching at the end. In just over 200 pages, Dear Martin has the reader in the palm of its hand with a protagonist to root for from the very first page, until the very end. My only wish is that it was longer.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

“At the beginning of the world, the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty.”

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Blurb: “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.”

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, “bury the gays” trope.

I was on the fence for quite a while about this book until I saw FantasticBooksAndWhereToFindThem’s review  which finally swayed me to give it a go. So with a shiny new audible credit, I decided to opt for the audiobook and straight away, this was the best decision. The narrator – Rosie Jones – is utterly incredible. Her range of accents is phenomenal and she captures the character of Camellia perfectly: all her innocence, passion and naivety. It’s almost impossible not to feel completely sucked up into the world of Orléans with our remarkable protagonist.

In this world, the beauty industry mirrors our own with its set of trends, magazines and beauty rooms where residents can get makeovers but for a price. However, in Orléans, Belles have the ability to make people beautiful but it’s never permanent. The process is brutal and more detailed than I even expected. I often found myself stopping what I was doing and sitting back to just listen to Camellia talk about what she was doing.

The writing is gorgeous. Everything is described through the use of food imagery which was a very clever technique as it made the world feel rich and enticing.

Princess Sofia is a standout character for me on the grounds that she is simply terrifying. Whenever she appeared in the scene I physically tensed as if that would change the course of events in some way.

However, this book was incredibly slow. There’s no real action until the last quarter and by that point I was just feeling bored. The Belles reads very much as a set up book and I feel that the sequel is when that characters are really going to hit the ground running.

As I referenced at the start, there is a scene of sexual assault that is quite heavy and the perpetrator is not reprimanded for it. Also a gay character is killed off for absolutely no reason other than shock value. Please exercise self-care before reading.

Also Clayton wrote a twitter thread about the need for more POC reviewers in general, especially ones talking about her book. Here’s a link to Rich In Colour’s review  that picked up on specific themes I didn’t and if you know any others, please let me know so I can link them as well!

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