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!

 

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!

 

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!

Book Review: Warcross


Warcross

Warcross
by Marie Lu
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Form: Library Audiobook and Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Online Gaming, Virtual Reality, Hacking

Summary from Goodreads: For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

My thoughts: As the book started, I definitely saw the book as a little too similar to Ready Player One. Poor kid, virtual game world, fame and fortune, etc. But once the mystery element was introduced, I was much more into the story. Emika’s identity as both a hacker and bounty hunter makes her a fun character to follow as she tracks down a mysterious figure. The Dark Web, bombs, assassination attempts, etc. were more exciting than the game they played (and I often found myself zoning out during the virtual game portions).

I liked having Asian lead characters–I have a ton of Asian students this year and have been looking for more books featuring Asian leads.

But what made this book great was the ending. There is a big twist that I didn’t see coming. And you are left with a really tough moral decision for Emika to make. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to see where this story goes next.

Overall: A fun read that is similar to Ready Player One in many ways, but with a mystery plot that will grab you and a twist at the end that will get you thinking.

Book Review: Heartless

HeartlessHeartless
by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Form: Audiobook & Hardback
Big Themes: Fate, Freewill, Love, Friendship, Baking

Summary from Goodreads: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

My thoughts: At it’s core, this book is a tragedy about a girl trying to build her own life and everything that prevents her. Girls of today will read this and be so grateful that they don’t have to deal with the social norms and restrictions that were common for women years ago.

The theme of fate vs freewill is developed beautifully. Throughout the book, you root for Cath’s freewill–for her bakery plans to come to fruition, for her to choose Jest over the King. She knows what will make her happy, but fate and those around her keep getting in her way. The tragedy in this story is that ultimately it is one choice she actually does make that results in her losing everything.

One moment that really broke my heart was on Cath’s wedding day, when she is marrying a man she doesn’t love, her parents finally ask,

“Is this what’s going to make you happy?”
“How different everything could have been, if you had thought to ask me that before.”

Marissa Meyer did such an outstanding job of capturing the whimsy and nonsense of Wonderland in this origin story for the Queen of Hearts. The characters, dialogue, and world all felt like an authentic new addition to Carroll’s canon.

And the nods to Poe through Raven were an unexpected fun touch!

If you are a foodie or enjoy binge-watching The Great British Baking Show… this is your book. Cath is a passionate and gifted baker, and the descriptions of her baking are enough to make this book worth reading purely for that alone. One chapter in, and you’ll be craving lemon tarts.

I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Soler. She was FANTASTIC as a narrator. I began this book as an audiobook and finished the last 40 pages in hardback. The audiobook really brought Marissa Meyer’s words to life and captured a tone of whimsy that was hard to recreate in my own head. I just can’t recreate the Cheshire Cat’s drawling voice like the narrator could.

Overall: A wonderful and whimsical tragedy from Marissa Meyer. Highly recommend the audiobook. 4.5 stars

Audiobook Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon
Published by: Simon Pulse
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Arranged Marriage, College Life, Love, Friendship, Indian Culture, Coding, Comics

Summary from Goodreads: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

My thoughts: This book was such a fun surprise!! It was such a fun, sweet love story. The story alternated between Dimple and Rishi’s point-of-view, which I really enjoyed. You get to see what each character is thinking and feeling as they get to know each other, and it made you so invested in seeing their love story work.

I loved how Dimple and Rishi grew and changed over the course of the story. Each character had a fear that they had to overcome in order to be truly happy. The parallel structure of their stories was a nice touch by the author.

I am a sucker for characters with passionate interests. So Dimple’s obsession with coding, and Rishi’s love of comics made the story all the more lovable.

Rishi is a great example of healthy masculinity. He is compassionate, honest, loyal, and strong. We need more male leads like him!

I also really loved a particular moment between Dimple and her mother towards the very end of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was so sweet!

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five stars! Highly recommend! If you want a happy, feel good read–this is your book! Better for older teens due to some sexual situations.

Book Review: The Westing Game

Westing GameThe Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
Form: Hardback and Audiobook
Big Themes: Murder Mystery, Contest, Disguise, Partnership/Friendship

Summary from Goodreads: A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger – and a possible murderer – to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

My thoughts: I can definitely see why this book is a children’s classic. Well-crafted characters, unique mystery, and unexpected twists.

My favorite characters were Angela, Turtle, and Chris Theodorakis. I appreciated how our understanding of Angela changed over the course of the book. Turtle is a spunky and a tad unlikable, but you root for her just the same. Chris Theodorakis warms your heart.

This book is a quick read, and perfect for kids ages 8-12. This is the kind of mystery that will grab a young reader and blow their minds.

My only criticism is that the red herrings are so plentiful that the mystery is near impossible for a reader to solve. I prefer mysteries where an astute reader could come to the correct conclusion.

Overall: A classic mystery for young readers.