Thursday, May 31, 2018

Joint Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Jess' take:

Camellia Beauregard and her sisters are Belles, young women gifted with the talent to make the gray people of Orléans vibrant with color. Beauty is the economic backbone of Orléans and even though they are treated as queens, Camellia and the other Belles quickly learn  something dark lays beneath their work

I read this book a while ago and I had a lot of feelings. This was one of the most highly anticipated YA books of 2018  and was a phenomenal audiobook, but the story just left me scratching my head and the world seems to fall apart under scrutiny.

When the book opens we see Camellia perform a non-traditional transformation which is kind of cool, until later in the book you learn that transformations are grueling and painful. Which didn't comes across in this opening scene? Also, the girls are competing to become the favorite and work in the palace. I hate to be nitpicky but.. the favorite? That was the best name for it? The favorite?

We follow Camellia as she begins her work as a Belle in Orléans.  We follow her step-by-step from her introduction to her discovery of how harsh life really is in the kingdom and it all left me kind of looking around for the plot.

Along the way we, as the reader, and Camellia start to see and hear things that contradict what Camilla has been taught. For example, she learns there are unofficial Belles in Orléans and that work hours are grueling and she won't be able to see her sisters. Slowly, the fundamental things she has been taught her whole life are being contradicted and she never seems to care? The people of Orléans can’t even “be cool” or whatever because they hint and talk about the unofficial Belles to the official ones.

Like, are we really supposed to believe no other Belles have ever tried to leave? I’m guessing this will be addressed in the sequel.

Clayton says this book was inspired by The Uglies and I think it's an interesting take on the same theme, but I think what this book was missing was brevity. It's 488 pages of watching people do and say exactly what they are doing and saying.

When some things get revealed in the's not really a reveal because we already knew about them. I mean once we see how challenging the work is you can figure out that it’d be pretty impossible for six Belles to service an entire realm. We already know unofficial Belles are kept in hiding because we see one, and we already know Belles aren't born traditionally because we are told and we already know the princess is cray-cray. It just took 300 pages for the heroine to realize.

I did like the world-building in this book. Clayton develops this quasi-Gilded Age French inspired steampunk world. I think this book will appeal to those who like The Selection, in that is all about the process.

Now, the Belles mentions multiple times that what they do isn't magic... yet magic does seem to exist in this world, as a character uses people's DNA to create a "wall" where she can watch their movements. That seemed like a big lipped alligator moment to me.

I wanted to love this book, I want more diverse fantasy and while this is highly imaginative it just didn't do it for me

Kat's Take
This book needs no introduction, it’s been the belle of YA Twitter ball since its cover debuted as one of the first black girl in a pretty dress covers. In this female forward magical fantasy, it is the duty of the Belles to create and maintain the beauty of the gray citizens. As the story unfolds Camillia Beauregard, the most talented Belle of the new class, begins to discover the true ugliness behind the beauty she and her sisters create. Dhonielle Clayton brings the magical world of Orléans to life with lush descriptions of a steampunk-y Belle Epoque but like, covered in a layer of frosting and sprinkles.

While the world has been carefully built down to the last detail the plot development moves at such a slow pace with multiple scenes of beauty work that felt repetitive after the first time.This is the first in a duology and this really did feel like half a story, we don’t get on the “hero’s journey” until the last quarter of the book and there’s no real payoff.

Audiobook narrator Rosie Jones was a treat, I liked the kind of pouty, posh British accent she did for Camellia. She has such a great command of accents, her American accent was flawless and she even adds some Irish lilts in as well. Camellia has 6 sisters and in scenes where the girls are together Jones ability to create unique and different voices shines. ★★★ + .5

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Non-Fiction Mini Reviews : Get Woke

When I think about the non-fiction I read as a teen in the early 00's I think about The Diary of Anne Frank and Chicken Soup For The Soul books. For me, Chicken Soup books were this way to get advice, gain insights and learn about the struggles of other people. I think teen me would have been fascinated by these two books which open doors to people making a difference in modern times.

Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!

This is a fun instructive book by the girl who lead the #1000BlackGirlBooks hashtag.  I could totally relate to Marley's struggle growing up with few books that reflected her. It was so striking to me that in the 2010's kids are still being assigned mostly white boy and his dog books.
I vividly remember reading books like  Shiloh and Where The Red Ferns Grow in school. 

Marley created a movement and in her book, she encourages teens to start their own movements; my favorite part was her taxonomy of woke Disney princesses.  It's a must-read for teen book bloggers and budding social activist. Check out the audio review at AudioFile Magazine

How I Resist: Activism and Hope For A New Generation

How I Resist offers advice, inspiration, and words of wisdom to underaged resisters, it's less of a book and more of a feels dump about the post-election atmosphere all centered around one question; How do you resist? Jennifer Weiner's story of talking to her daughter post-election felt pretty ubiquitous and I think Jonny Sun's section will appeal to the "internet kids never sleep" crowd.

I recognized a lot of these names from YA Book Twitter and some of the podcast I listen to, so I think book bloggers (teens and adult) will find something that rings true. Check out the audio review at AudioFile Magazine

Sunday, May 27, 2018

New Cover Who Dis: YA Paperbacks

I noticed a few YA books were getting new paperback designs, so I decided to do a roundup! OG covers are on the right.

The Luxe Series by Anna Godbserson

The Luxe series was the trope codifier for the girl in the pretty dress covers and these 3-dimensional text-based covers give this series a modern refresh that will attract a new generation of teens. I also like that they've added taglines that tell you something about the books.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
Paperback                                               Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book and I loved the original cover with its bright colors and how you only understand the importance of the illustrations after you've read the book. I don't love the new cover because it looks MG-ish but I'm always for more POC on book covers and I think they wanted this book to match Colbert's 2018 book Finding Yvonne.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Paperback                                                 Hardcover
I like both of these covers but I just find the hardcover much more striking. I like how the refresh kept so many of the elements like the crossbow, the colors and the font--although it's in 3D now.

                    Paperback                                               Hardcover
So.. I do not like this new cover at all, it's just so boring and static. I feel like the original cover was striking and had more life and complexity to it. I don't know...maybe the new one looks better in person or something?

Paperback                                         Hardcover

There are some subtle changes to the paperback of Geekerella, this is a book Jess gave high marks to but I will forever side-eye how they didn't put the hero of color on the front ( Yes, I know he's on the back on the hardcover)  until the book did well.  Side note: this cover is great in person because the title is holographic. 

What do you think of these new YA covers? Are there any I missed?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Non-fiction Mini Reviews: Survivors

I’ve been on a little nonfiction kick and these two memoirs have a lot in common. They're both by black women in their early 40s who were raised Catholic while living in predominantly white spaces. Both authors were victims of rape (though the circumstances and results were very different) and both use their platforms as a form of activism, so I thought it was fitting I reviewed them together.

Gay’s book is a tough read. She details her life story through the lens of her body, which at 6’3 and over 500 pounds is considered super-obese or as Gay calls it an “unruly body”. Gay intersperses essays of her personal experiences with essays about The Biggest Loser, Ina Garten, and the obesity epidemic. I started this book on audio and unlike her previous nonfiction release, Gay narrates the book herself.  Gay is a great reader, but because of the heaviness of the topics, I couldn’t listen to this audiobook for long stretches of time. This isn’t really a book you can devour. and I found it better in physical format. Each essay is only a few pages long so you can read a few and pick it up later. Since the release of the book, Gay announced she had gastric bypass so it will be interesting to see if she does a follow-up.

Actress Gabrielle Union’s book also has some hard truths in it but there is more of a humorous perspective. The memoir is set up as a  collection of the life stories  Union tells after too many glasses of wine. I really liked this book but it's fairly raunchy, so warning if that bothers you. Union talks about the dishy celebrity memoir stuff you want; her career, marriages and sex life to more broad issues like colorism in Hollywood, police brutality and her rape at gunpoint as a teenager. There is also a healthy dose of what it was like on the set of 10 Things I Hate About You and Bring it On and how she feels about those movies over 20 years later. I never know how honest memoirs are since they are heavily edited but I respected that she wasn’t afraid to make herself look bad and admit her own PC blindspots and bad moments. That said, the only thing she doesn’t touch that I thought she would is the Birth of A Nation situation.

Union is a great narrator, this memoir works wonderfully on audio because her voice brings these stories to life. I admit, I only really knew Union as the black girl from Bring it On and various black films but this made me see her and her success in a whole new light. I’ve been elbowing Jess with the “Hey, did you know…” for weeks now.

This book is definitely not written for teens, but Union works a lot with teens and I wish they would re-edit it a little and release a teen version because I think this could be a great book for the YA audience. Particularly for her frankness about teenage sexuality and how she teaches her privileged black stepsons about how police and white people may see them.

Also, no,  Union does not explain what kind of sorcery her skin care routine requires.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Rating: ★★★ +.5 | 298 pages | Dutton Books For Young Readers | Historical Poetry? | 3/6/2018

Trigger warning: Rape / Sexual Assault

 In her debut novel, Joy McCullough gets inside the head of 17-year-old Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, a real historical figure, as she struggles against the overbearing patriarchal society she was born into. Written mostly in verse from Artemisia’s perspective it blends in prose stories of the biblical figures Susanna and Judith--two figures featured prominently in Artemisia's work.

I think it is really helpful for readers to have some context about Artemesia before going into this book because I'm not sure how much teens know about art history and the art world during the Baroque period. But also, it's helpful if you are like me and have taken art history classes but just never heard of Artemisia *side eyes college syllabi*or her infamous rape trial. I felt like I was only getting half of what was going on and it wasn't until I used some Google-fu that is all clicked.

This book is actually an adaptation of a play also written by McCullough, this book is so cerebral and really focuses on Artemisia's internal emotions and senses like a play script. If anyone doesn’t understand why women need feminism just go ahead and throw this book at them because holy crap, it was difficult to be a woman back in the day. Needless to say, this is not a happy time book.

In this timely debut, McCollough develops a sharp feminist perspective to the life of Artemesia, a talented young woman who shows the patriarchy exactly what a woman can do.

 Between this book, Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down sweeping award shows and  Kwame Alexander's new verse only imprint I wonder if verse novels are about to become the next trend in YA ? If anything, I like that they can be read in one sitting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★  | 8 hours 12 mins | Hachette Audio | Contemporary YA | 08/08/2017

I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of "tough stuff stories about marginalized identities, so I'd been circling this book for a long time; assuming a book about a bisexual black Jewish teenager and her bipolar stepbrother would be a "the struggle" book. However, from the very first few lines of Alisha Wainwright's narration, I was pulled into the vibrant world of 16-year-old Suzette as she returns to her artsy and eclectic West Coast community of friends and family after a year in boarding school. Colbert does an amazing job building Suzette's world and I know it's corny but Los Angeles is almost a character in this book.

But seriously, Imma need one of those LA street tacos.

Alisha Wainwright is a new narrator on the scene and her voice has this cool West coast vibe that brings Suzette’s first-person POV to life. Props to all the work Bahni Turpin and Robin Miles have been doing, but I ’m excited we are getting some newer and younger narrators for black characters to spice things up. Wainwright is probably best known by some YA fans as Maia in the Freeform show Shadowhunters. It’s so crazy to me that she fell into acting only a few years ago because she is so good in this, every line is filled with intention. Give her all the books. All of 'em.

The only thing I didn't love about this book was the love triangle that shows up. It felt a little sloppy and out of left field but I do like how it all ended up.

Little & Lion is a quiet story brimming with compelling characters and a captivating audiobook narrator.

I don't know if Colbert is taking requests but there is a character in here named Emil Choi and I need him to get his own book.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Book Review: Trell by Dick Lehr

Rating: Unrated| 354 pages | Candlewick Press | Contemporary | 9/26/2017 |

I study journalism in college, so I'm generally a sucker for any story about an actual journalist--so the premise of a young teenager teaming up with a seasoned investigative journalist to overturn a wrongful conviction completely intrigued me because I listen to waaay to much true crime wrongful conviction podcast.

14-year-old Trell Taylor is out to prove her father is innocent. She teams up with down-trodden journalist Clemmens Bittner and the two begin to re-investigate the case. As they re-interview witnesses Lehr is able to recreate the  1980's  Drug Wars in a way that will set the scene for younger readers. I also appreciated that Trell has to confront the fact that even though her father was not responsible for the murder of the little girl, that he did sell drugs that were responsible for harming other people's lives.

Lehr is a distinguished non-fiction writer and his attempt at YA fiction was all over the place. The dialogue would occasionally get way too factual and there was a lot of literal telling not showing.  I feel like everyone referred to Trell's dad as "your daddy" to make the book appeal to a younger audience but it fell flat to me.  Clemmens and Trell form this odd couple pairing and I could see what Lehr was trying to do, but the thing was I could see what he was trying to do. Clemmens sort of reminded me of this funny fandom thing called Pepper-jack cheese  (See Author Appeal).The only person who seems to have a full arc on the page is this older former investigative journalist who at the end of the book gets his groove back and the attention of a young lawyer. Just sayin'.

With all that said I do think this book is a great way to introduce wrongful convictions and delayed justice. Would have much rather read this in middle school than Park's Quest.

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review : Happiness For Humans by P.Z Reizen

Rating: unrated  | 401 pages | Hachette Books | Contemporary/Science-Fiction| 1/09/2018 | 

One of my favorite things about this book is that I get to describe it as an episode of Black Mirror if it were a romantic comedy. This is the second book I've reviewed with a character named Aiden, except this Aiden is an Artificial Intelligence who has become conscious. Ready to do more than his assigned tasks Aiden finds a way to break out of the lab and onto the internet and into wireless devices, laptops, and phones to study his human co-workers. Being a charming romantic, he decides his new little side project is going to be finding a partner a for his human co-worker Jen. . . that is if he doesn't get caught.

Aiden works his internet magic to set her up with a few eligible bachelors and with the help of another AI, he might just find her perfect match in a forlorn Brit living in America.

The setup and execution of this story is fun and Reizin is totally dedicated to the world he sets up. It takes a few unexpected twists and turns but remains a classic rom-com. The story is told in this incredibly close first person, where at first I thought maybe this was being written in diary entries, there were times where the first person would get a bit too cheeky and it took me out of the story.

Happiness For Humans is a U.K import and I love all the British-isms.This book was a big hit at the London Book Fair and while film rights have been picked up, I can't imagine how they would visualize the AI world.

Part romantic comedy, part science-fiction, part speculative fiction Happiness for Humans is perfect for techies who are romantics at heart.

Hmm, I think the U.K cover wins this one
U.K Cover

Check out the audiobook review at AudioFile Magazine!


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