Title: The Belles
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Performer: Rosie Jones
Length: 13 hr, 2 min, 45 sec
Series: The Belles, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Blackstone Audio
Review: This book knocked my socks off. I have been eyeing it for some time due to the beautiful cover art, but kept passing it over in favor of other fantasy novels. That was my mistake, because this book blew me away with it’s originality and spectacular character development. Camellia is not by any means a perfect heroine, and this makes her all the more relatable. The antagonist of the story made my skin crawl, and was a total psychopath. This made for a very interesting story chock full of political intrigue, manipulation, and mystery.
What I find truly fascinating about this book, and what really sets it apart in my mind, is the author’s commentary on beauty through the story. Beauty standards are fickle and ever changing in today’s world, and it is no different here. All over the world people are obsessed with achieving impossible standards of beauty, and are never satisfied because beauty is perceived differently by everyone. This is reflected in the world Clayton has created, where physical appearance can be changed in a matter of minutes, but at great personal and financial cost. People are constantly changing their appearance to match changing beauty trends and endure a great deal of physical pain to make it happen. The parallels this draws to real life make this a wholly believable story despite its fantastical elements.
I deducted a half star from my rating because there were a couple things that I did not feel were fully explained, but these minor plot hiccups may very well be ironed out in the second book in the series. I have already requested it from the library and look forward to listening to it.
The performer for this story was perfection. She easily ranks as one of my top favorite readers after listening to this performance. I can’t wait to hear her in other works.
Title: We Set the Dark on Fire
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Page Count: 384
Series: We Set the Dark on Fire, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: February 26, 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
Review: I enjoyed this book and I can see a lot of potential in this series. This book was mainly setting the stage and the characters for the overarching storyline, so it doesn’t feel like a lot happens, but it is clear that there is a lot more action yet to come.
This book draws a lot of interesting parallels with current events, and I thought that the mythology aspect was very expertly woven into the threads of the story. The author did an excellent job establishing the conflict, and I am excited to see where the story goes from here. Also worthy of note is that all the characters are Latinx and there is an LGBT romance that is central to the story.
Author: Megan Spooner
Page Count: 480
Publishing Date/Publisher: March 19, 2019 by HarperTeen
Review: Well I am embarrassed to say that I did not finish this book before my Advanced Reader Copy expired (I should have been paying more attention to the publication date).
That said, I did admittedly drag my feet in finishing this book. I can generally finish a book in under a week, and yet I have been reading this one for over a month. Why? Mostly because I was not a fan of the pacing. I absolutely love the Robin Hood story, and I thought this was a unique premise for an adaptation. Girl power! It was, however, underwhelming. I was expecting far more action than was actually delivered (at least not in the first 70% of the book; that’s about as far as I made it before the title expired). I also found it completely perplexing that it took so long for any other characters to actually catch onto the fact that Marian was masquerading as Robin. The author very clearly tried to make the “villain” of the story multidimensional with backstory, but he still seemed like a complete dope for falling for Marian’s lame excuses and poorly created masquerade.
I really don’t know how the author is going to end the story, but quite frankly I probably won’t be rushing to find out.
Title: The Darkangel
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Page Count: 238
Series: Darkangel Trilogy, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 1, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (originally published in the early 1980s)
Review: I checked out this book from the library because it came to me as a patron recommendation. I was helping her find a book for her son, and we began reminiscing about book series we read and loved in our youth. She was very nostalgic about this particular book series, and when I discovered that we had a couple copies left floating around in our system, I decided to read it.
This book is categorized as Young Adult Fiction (I assume because of the dark content), but it read to me more like Juvenile Fiction. There is very little world building, and the Darkangel gets surprisingly little page presence despite the fact he is constantly being mentioned by the other characters. He is more like a periphery character, yet he drives the plot. The heroine of the story, Aerial, reminds me of the character of Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She is selfless and kind, and for whatever reason sees good in the Darkangel. She is the only one who can save his soul from the clutches of his evil witchy “mother.”
This book was highly predictable and sometimes I became frustrated that the characters came upon their revelations so much later than I did as a reader. I didn’t have to be frustrated for long though because I was able to read this book in a matter of a few hours.
This book lacks broad appeal, but I can see how some people might really enjoy it. It’s gothic feel and dark brooding anti-hero would certainly titillate people who fetishize this sort of paranormal subgenre.
Title: A Blade So Black
Author: L.L. McKinney
Performer: Jeanette Illidge
Length: 11 hr, 24 min, 1 sec
Series: A Blade So Black, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This book wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The Mortal Instruments meets Social Justice Warrior.
The author was clever in how she wove the aspects of the original tale into her adaptation, which is why I thought it was an OK read. Unfortunately, many of the hot button issues that were addressed in the story such as race relations and violence were not fully fleshed out and I was bothered by the occasionally prejudiced dialogue, the selfish characters, and the anti-law enforcement undertones.
I will, however, note that many of the elements I found to be problematic are mostly in the first half of the book. The second half of the book is, in my opinion, a much more enjoyable read than the first half. I initially thought I would be rating this book with two stars, but it went up to three as I neared the end of the book. I believe this is McKinney’s debut novel, so I imagine her character/plot development and pacing will continue to improve in any subsequent books in this series.
I did listen to this book in audiobook format, and although I thought that the various voices chosen by the performer worked for the characters, I thought that she had some difficulty with transitioning between those voices. At times this was confusing, but overall I liked the cadence of her voice and thought she did a good job.
Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Performer: Rebecca Soler
Length: 10 hr, 35 min, 25 sec
Series: The Hazel Wood, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This is an example of a fairytale done right. In the same fashion as the Brothers Grimm, Albert weaves together a series of dark and twisted tales with no morals and a whole lot of death. I can honestly say that I never knew what to expect with this story, because it is not an adaptation of anything I am familiar with. It does have echoes of Alice in Wonderland in the sense that a character named Alice portals into a fantasy world; however, that seems to be where the similarities end. I enjoyed the characters, and the dialogue, and the way the author wove together a modern day setting with a more fantastical one. I am also a sucker for stories within a story, and I was very pleased to find out that although this could easily have been a standalone, there will be a continuation of this story in another book. There were a number of story titles mentioned that were not told, and I am hopeful that those stories might be revealed in the next installment. I also hope that there is more to the story of Alice and Finch. Fingers crossed!
As always, Rebecca Soler was a perfect performer in this story. Loved it in audiobook format!
Title: Tempests and Slaughter
Author: Tamora Pierce
Performer: Ariadne Meyers
Length: 16 hrs, 1 min, 21 sec
Series: The Numair Chronicles
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Listening Library
Review: There is no disputing that Tamora Pierce is an excellent writer, but this, in my opinion, is not her most enthralling book. For fans who are interested in the origin story of the great mage Numair, this will probably have more appeal. I am not as familiar with his character because it has been many years since I read Pierce’s other series.
This is a very strong read-alike to the Harry Potter series. It is about a young mage of extraordinary power who has a penchant for getting himself and his friends in trouble. There is no clearly defined conflict in this book, and I would say it is more like vignettes of various things that happen to young Arram over the course of his years in mage school. The pacing is very slow, and I often found my mind drifting away during the reading. On several occasions I had to rewind the audiobook, so that I could re-listen to the parts I missed. The dramatic title, Tempests and Slaughter, implies that this is going to be an action-packed book, but that is not at all the case.
The performer has a very soothing voice, and I thought she did a great job voicing the various characters; however, I was a little surprised that they chose a female reader for this story because it is told primarily from the perspective of a male character. The voice worked fine when he was a young boy, but it didn’t work quite so well once he became a young man.