Audiobook Review: The Belles

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 10.58.14 AMThe Belles
by Dhonielle Clayton
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Form: Audiobook and Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Beauty, Power, Sisterhood

Summary from Goodreads: 
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.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

My Thoughts:
This book is luscious. I was immediately drawn into the world of Orléans because the author’s use of sensory detail is unbelievable. Color, taste, touch, and smell fill the pages of the book. The writing is full of similes that are as lush as the world they describe.

In terms of genre, I categorize this book as fantasy dystopian. Initially, you’ll be pulled in by the enchanting beauty being described, but as the plot progresses the beauty warps into a twisted and sickening thing.

Camellia is a likable heroine. She treasures her family/sisters while also having strong personal ambitions. She has a strong sense of morality, and yet, when she falters, you understand why.

Two of my favorite aspects of this world were the post-balloons and teacup animals. I loved the idea of balloons carrying messages. To arrive home and see balloons bobbing with notes is something I want in the real world! And the teacup-size pets are just too cute! I want one!

There are two rather disturbing parts of the book: an assault and a torture scene. The torture scene was definitely hard to get through.

Ultimately, this book has so many deeper levels to consider. From it’s analysis of beauty–it’s power and how it can be weaponized. To a deeper subtext examining servant and master. “No one is a prisoner. Even you have the power to make your own choices.”

Overall: If you enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series or the 2006 film Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst, you will love this! This was one of my favorite reads so far this year. I would gladly re-read this book before the sequel comes out. Five stars!

 

Series Review: Saga Volumes 1-7

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 5.56.44 PM

Saga (Volumes 1-7)
by Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)
Published by: Image Comics
Form: Paperback
Big Themes: Forbidden Love, Family, Effects of War, Refugees, Trust, Growth

Summary from Goodreads (Volume One): When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

My thoughts:
I just re-read Volumes 1-7 of Saga, and fell in love with this series all over again.

This is a comic for grown adults. Particularly Millennials who are embarking on the next phase of life–adulthood, married life, creating a family of your own. This is a love story, but not a meet cute, falling-in-love type story. This story starts with the birth of a child, from two forbidden lovers who married in secret. We start as the family is forming, and follow this family through the universe.

Lyingcat

I adore this comic. I love Alana and Marko. I love that there is a beautiful, bizarre, action-packed space opera comic about a mom and a dad raising their daughter and trying to keep her safe.

This comic is definitely bizarre. The world is strange and gritty. There are aliens unlike anything you’ve seen before. A sexy blonde alien that is half spider. A red ghost that is missing her lower half. A blue cat that knows when people lie.

There is a lot of violence. Lots of swearing. Lots of sex. It’s an adult world with adult problems. I wouldn’t recommend this series to teens. Because honestly, they aren’t the target audience.

The core of the story is watching Marko and Alana and hoping they manage to succeed in raising their little girl in this messed-up alien world. Despite the bizarre nature of this universe, the characters are so REAL. You can relate and connect to their struggles and joys.

Vaughan’s writing is strong. Each character has motivation. There are clear character arcs. Staples’ art is stunning. Her drawing style adds such depth to the characters and world.

I fly through each volume because the plot is fast-paced and ever-changing. However, upon re-reading them, you notice the themes and questions that the comic forces you to ponder. What is the definition of family? When is violence okay? Is it selfish to put your own family’s safety above the safety of others?

sagaArt

This article in The Atlantic articulates better than I can the themes and topics this series explores.

The Sprawling, Empathetic Adventure of Saga
One of the most prestigious comic-book series in print today is an unwieldy, profane, and glorious ode to compassion and equality.

I just love this series so much. I don’t know where Vaughan and Staples are heading, but I trust them enough to hop on for a ride through their universe.

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five stars and a Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval. If you enjoy expansive sci-fi universes, don’t mind adult content, and are looking for an unconventional comic series. This is it.

Audiobook Review: Wonder Woman Warbringer

Wonder Woman WarbringerWonder Woman: Warbringer
by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Random House Children’s Books
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Heroism, War, Legend, Humanity

Summary from Goodreads: 
Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

My Thoughts:
Despite loving Wonder Woman in theaters and becoming a total Gal Gadot fangirl, I didn’t jump at the chance to pick this book up. I assumed it was a movie adaptation in book form. And didn’t think it could live up to the movie.

I assumed wrong. This book is totally worth picking up. There is a totally different plotline from the movie, but much of the same heart and earnestness that makes Wonder Woman such an endearing hero.

One element of the book that I really enjoyed was the two narrators. Diana (Wonder Woman) has a more antiquated and formal way of speaking. The other narrator, Alia, is a modern teenage girl from NYC. The contrasting points-of-view resulted in some lovely bits of humor in how each character saw the world and each other. And Alia’s voice was one that a modern reader could connect with.

The plot includes a ton of Greek Mythology, so fans of Percy Jackson will eat this up. The story made me especially want to research Helen of Troy. I remembered bits and pieces of her story from The Iliad, but this story humanizes her in a way that I appreciated.

The secondary characters, particularly Nim and Theo, were vivid and sympathetic. There were several plot twists that I didn’t see coming (and a few I had a hunch were coming). I was never bored, and eager to hop in my car to continue the audiobook!

Overall: Four stars. A thrilling adventure story with a lot of heart. If you loved Wonder Woman (the movie) or enjoy Percy Jackson, you will love this!

 

Top Ten Books With My Favorite Color On the Cover

5b4a8-toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. For a list of upcoming topics and more about this weekly feature, check out her site!

This Week’s Topic:
Books With My Favorite Color On the Cover

It was super clear to me from the start that there is a particular color that grabs me when it comes to covers: RED

Red is intense. Love. Fire. Blood. Red just brings intensity and passion. It was fun to see just how many of my favorite books feature red on their covers.

Red Covers.001

Twilight by Stephanie MeyerTwilight

As the only pop of color on this cover, red is prominent and a huge reason this cover was so iconic. I chose to feature this cover for two reasons. One, red is such an essential part of this cover’s design. Two, I watched this video essay on YouTube recently: Dear Stephenie Meyer–I’m Sorry. It’s worth watching, and helps me reflect on language and treatment surrounding chick flicks and romance. The shame, guilt, and bashing of things women enjoy or entertainment aimed at women is commonplace in our society. It’s definitely something I’ve done–called a movie I enjoyed a guilty pleasure rather than just admitting with confidence that I like it. It’s something I need to work on.

Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder

I adore this series as well as this cover! All of the books in The Lunar Chronicles feature the color red, but this first book in the series is by far my favorite use of red. The sexy red heel is such a fun twist on the glass slipper. The hint of the cyborg leg hints that this book will have more unexpected twists to the classic tale. And the lettering/font choice for the title is excellent. By far my favorite font from the ten books I selected for this post. The cover designs for the US Lunar Chronicles are up there with my all-time favorite covers for an entire series.

Little Brother by Cory DoctorowLittle Brother
If you want to learn about cyber security, programming, and cryptography–this book is a fun way to do so! Cory Doctorow does a great job of explaining complicated subjects within fiction in a fun way. His books serve the dual purpose of being entertaining as well as educational. I think the red “X” on this cover helps to create a tone of rebellion that is the core of this story. If you look closely at the “X” you can see rows of code. A perfect subtle detail that hints that the type of rebellion will be cyber in nature. Highly recommend this book for people looking for a cyber-heavy, near-future dystopian read.

Enna Burning by Shannon HaleEnna Burning
This is the second book in Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series, and probably my favorite! Enna’s character has stuck with me years after turning the final page. What was it about her? The way Hale described Enna’s power with fire and the danger of wielding it is what most sticks with me. Drawing heat into her body fills her with power, but that heat can also burn her alive from within. She becomes addicted to the power, and what she can do with it. I’d love to see a fanfic that ships Enna and Avatar’s Zuko. That would be such an interesting crossover! A lot of books with red covers feature fire, but I love how this one shows the fire being on the brink of consuming Enna. So central to the story, and I love when covers reflect the contents of the book!

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIlluminae
This is, by far, my favorite sci-fi book in a long time! The storytelling method is so unique, but perfectly suited to the story it is telling. The cover captures the content and themes of the story: censorship, cover-up, technology. But I think the color red, particularly this fiery orange-red, for the first book accurately captures the intensity and danger of this first book. I see this cover and I prepare myself for a wild rollercoaster ride. Whoever designed this cover did a magnificent job! (I’ve bought Obsidio… and am torn between jumping into it… and holding off… because I don’t want this series to be over!)

Fire by Kristin CashoreFire
It’s been ages since I read this book (2011? Goodreads doesn’t have a date logged.) But I’ve been meaning to re-read this book and Graceling so that I can read Bitterblue. I remember loving this book for its plot twists. And appreciating that author’s view of the world: That nothing is just black or white/right or wrong. That everything is circumstantial and kind of gray. I’ve read more books, particularly in the fantasy genre, like this since then. But Kristin Cashore was probably the first author to get me thinking morality in a more nuanced way. She definitely inspired me to craft heroes with a dark side and villains you could sympathize with. And because this post is about covers… can we just stop for a moment to say how gorgeous that bow and arrow is?

The Elite by Kiera CassThe Elite
This series was a pleasant surprise. I listened to them on audiobook last summer, and really enjoyed the female friendship, romance, and dystopian elements. However, I totally think the gorgeous dresses featured on each cover were a big factor in how this series became such a success. Before even knowing what the books were about, this series was the “books with pretty gowns” series. Admittedly, I think I like the dresses on the other covers better than this red one. But the red is certainly striking! And I love the eerie reflections in the background. I think this cover captures more than the others that there is danger lurking around America, as well as her growing strength.

Leviathan by Scott WesterfeldLeviathan
I LOVE THIS SERIES. SO MUCH. I think it’s so underrated and more people need to pick it up. This is the original hardback cover, and it captures the steampunk genre. I think it’s a really gorgeous, neutral cover. But I don’t know if it captures much of the story. The later paperback covers give you bigger hints what this book is about, but I still love the gorgeous design of this cover. This book is an alternate history of WWI where gender roles are flipped and battles are waged with steampunk machines and genetically modified beasties. This series is so clever that I was in awe of Westerfeld’s genius by the end of it. I wrote an entire paper on the gender roles in the book for an independent study in grad school. So good. Read it!

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. MaasACOTAR
I read this series this past winter to see what all the fuss was about. The fans of this series are intense! While I’m not a fangirl, I was pleasantly surprised with the series as a whole. This first book was not my favorite of the three, but this cover is certainly eye-catching. I love the variety of textures in inky black: lace, scales, feathers, bare tree branches. All of these on a backdrop of red makes for a really sexy and alluring book cover. I’d recommend this series to mature readers who can invest some time. The second book in the series makes the investment worth it with great twists, character growth, and world building.

Fablehaven (Book 5) by Brandon MullFablehaven 5
Another series that I absolutely LOVE!! This is the cover of the final book in the series, which was my favorite. This series is the first fantasy series that I truly enjoyed after Harry Potter. Technically, this series is middle grade, but I think readers of all ages can find something to enjoy. There is a huge cast of characters. A huge magical world that spans multiple continents (yes–you travel around the world in this series)! And tons of unexpected twists. The final book was so satisfying because you saw such growth in the characters, there were high stakes, and a thoughtful resolution. I don’t think this cover truly captures the essence of this series–two kids who strive to protect magical creatures and sanctuaries around the world. The cover looks like some sort of Greek hero story. But if this cover pulls in Percy Jackson readers, I think they’d be so happy with this series. Seriously, these books are underrated fantasy. Everyone should read them!

Some of my favorite books definitely have red covers! Which color covers do you connect with?

Top Two Books I’d Slay a Lion to Get Early

5b4a8-toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. For a list of upcoming topics and more about this weekly feature, check out her site!

This Week’s Topic:
Books I’d Slay a Lion to Get Early

Yup. Two books. Not ten. My to-read list is long enough. These are the two books that I’m most excited about in the coming months!

  1. A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa TahirA Reaper at the Gates

    This is one of the only series that I’m seriously invested in at the moment. The characters, world, and plot of Ember in the Ashes and Torch Against the Night are so gripping, fresh, and fascinating. It’s been a long wait for book three, and I am so, so eager to jump back into this world. Laia, Elias, and Helene are all in such perilous situations where there aren’t easy paths to take. I love each of them, but I fear that my heart won’t make it through this series without someone from this trio breaking it.

  2. My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton

    My Plain JaneMy Lady Jane was such a fun romp through an alternate history where Lady Jane Grey gets to keep her head. The voice, humor, and playful tone of this book makes me so gosh darn excited to see what they do with one of my all-time favorite Janes: Jane Eyre. The Goodreads summary:

    Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Which books would you kill for?

Book Review: My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane
by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton
Published by: HarperTeen
Format: OwlCrate Hardback
Big Themes: Tudor England, Alternate History, Animal Transformation, Love

Summary from Goodreads:
Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

My thoughts:
Such a fun read!! This alternate history of Tudor England features many prominent British figures from the monarchy, but takes some liberties with who does and does not lose their head.

The book switches between three point-of-view characters. I loved their version of Jane Grey, a bookworm with a noble heart. Gifford, Jane’s arranged husband and part-time horse, was fun to read. He is a lover of poetry and watching him fall in love with Jane made your heart melt to mush. And finally, Edward, reigning King of England, was surprisingly sympathetic with his own adventure, internal journey, and romantic crush.

If you enjoy alternate histories, this is a fun one! One of my favorite alternate histories is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. Fans of that series would definitely enjoy this! Both have strong feminist undertones, hints of magic, and are woven with bits of real history.

Overall:
Four stars! Definitely worth reading if you like history or a sweet romance. Lots of fun!

Book Review: Long Way Down

Long Way DownLong Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
Published by: Atheneum
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Murder, Revenge, Family, Gangs, Rules, Ghosts

Summary from Goodreads: 
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

My thoughts: I listened to Long Way Down on audiobook, but now I want to go back and read the book as well! This is a quick listen and a quick read. The audiobook is about two hours (including an interview with Jason Reynolds at the end.) This is a book in verse (which is part of the reason I want to read it after listening to it.) Jason Reynolds also does the narration, and he reads with the intended rhythm and cadence of what he wrote. But I’d love to really dive into his language because he uses some really lovely metaphors and imagery in his verse, which I see more clearly when I can see the words instead of just the audio.

Earlier this year I discussed the idea of books as windows and mirrors. This book was a window book for me in that it gave me insight into a world that I’m not familiar with. This story shows the challenges and culture that urban youth, particularly young black men, deal with in today’s world. Reading Will’s story and knowing it was the reality for many urban teens gave me empathy for the violence they witness, the intense emotions they work through, and the tough choices they must make.

The concept of this story was BRILLIANT. Similar to Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the main character is visited by ghosts of his past as he travels in an elevator. Each floor, a new ghostly visitor appears to him. The atmosphere and tension from this concept is perfection. As a writer, it’s one of those ideas that is so awesome, you wish you’d come up with it.

HR sealofapprovalOverall: A quick, emotional, masterfully written novel in verse. Highly recommend! Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval!