Thank you to Partner Netgalley for my advance copy of this novel. I loved The Belles and was so excited to read the sequel, The Everlasting Rose. Set in the dystopian world of Orléans , this novel reveals the way that quests for beauty and power can spiral out of control as the quest to become the most beautiful and most powerful gets in the way of compassion, equity, and all forms of understanding.
The Belles opens in a world where most people are born gris, meaning that their natural complexion is gray, with red eyes, straw-like hair, and gray whiskers on their faces. This condition is both unattractive and painful. The only exception to this natural state is the Belles, who are born lovely with all different complexions, shapes, and demeanors, but who are all able to use the power within their blood to help others beautify themselves. The Belles are raised to beautify others, and when they come of age, that becomes their duty. In order to avoid this natural but uncomfortable state of being gray, the citizens of Orléans must have routine beauty procedures done, which can only be performed by the Belles. They pay high prices and suffer extreme pain to endure the beauty procedures. Camille Beauregard and her sisters are coming of age at the beginning of The Belles, and they become the group of Belles able to assist all of the people of Orléans, including the royal family, with these procedures. However, as Camille gets deeper into her journey, she quickly realizes that the world is not as it seems and that her talents can be misused and can cause harm.
The Everlasting Rose picks up where The Belles left off, and it captivates the reader immediately. I loved the main characters in the novel and found myself swept up in their riveting adventure, rooting for them to succeed, even though they were facing staggering odds. Camellia Beauregard leads us through the complex world of the royal family as Princess Sophia makes her way toward the throne. Camille discovers that she has powers she did not realize she possessed, but she also realizes that she can be forced and manipulated into doing things that are horrendous. Her unlikely companion, Rémy, and her sister Edel, are both fascinating supporting characters with their own agendas and desires. Additionally, the teacup dragons who travel with them are so precious and fun!
I love the way Clayton demonstrates the power of suggestion, the pressure to fit in, and the role of gossip and the media in what shapes society. I also love her commentary on the way that subliminal messages and peer pressure can lead us all to feel that there is some kind of artificial beauty ideal that we should achieve-- and that the pursuit of that false ideal can destroy us or cause us to destroy others.
Camille's courage, determination, loyalty, and resolute unwillingness to back down make her the kind of woman I hope to be and hope for my daughters to be. She is ready to bring about change, and she faces the uncertain future with resilience and passion.
In short, I cannot wait for Book Three!
Enter: Edgar’s muse. Yes, his muse, Lenore, comes into his life as the physical embodiment of a grotesque drawing, there to provoke and bully Poe into accepting his affinity for death and all things Gothic. Lenore can be seen not only by Eddy, but by everyone, and as she moves through his world, she unsettles everyone because of her ghastly appearance and her disturbing behavior. The novel moves through the alternating perspectives of Poe and Lenore, and her presence is a definite reminder of the place of women (and, particularly, dead women) in Poe’s stories, of women’s morbid hold on his imagination and of “the beauty in horror” (loc. 376).
In The Raven’s Tale, Winters takes the historical facts of Poe’s life and embeds them into a world reflective of the fantasy he embraces in his writing, one where ghosts and spirits are real, where his muse torments him (and competes with a second, more conventional, male muse), and where Poe’s sporadic use of alcohol makes him unable to write . . . because it makes his muse sleep. Through the novel, Poe fights his inclination toward darkness because he does not think he will find acceptance if he follows that path.
The strength of this book lies in its enthusiasm for its subject matter. Winters clearly loves Poe, his life, and his poetry, and she immerses the reader in his style. This immersion happens most clearly in Lenore’s chapters, where Winters writes in mimicry of Poe: “I awaken in the shadows, ravenous for words, hungering for delicacies dripping with dread” (loc. 155). As Lenore strengthens, the style intensifies, demonstrating the increasing bond between artist and muse. Winters’s describes her research in an extensive Author’s Note, which is fascinating in its consideration of the connections between this novel and Poe’s life.
Though I found many elements of The Raven’s Tale appealing--including the grounding in historical detail and the incorporation of Poe’s early writing process--the novel didn’t completely work for me. The characters fell short: though I love fantasy (the more complex and strange the world, the better), I never felt as if I had my footing in this realm of embodied muses, and Poe himself felt more like a collection of character traits and information than a fully realized character.
The Raven’s Tale, which will be published on April 16, 2019, is a solid choice for those readers interested in learning more about Poe or beginning to imagine how he embraced the darkness that came to dominate his art. It did not, however, succeed in capturing my imagination or the spirit that makes Poe’s works so captivating for readers.
Over the last few years, I have so begun to appreciate the art of the celebrity memoir. I have consumed the memoirs of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Tiffany Haddish. What I have come to realize with this particular genre is if you can listen to the audio of these books and they are read by the author, you must choose that medium. It adds a whole other element to the enjoyment of the book.
I have loved Busy Philipps for a long time. Although, I wasn’t an early adopter of Freaks & Geeks, I was a HUGE fan of Dawson’s Creek, and when Busy Philipps burst onto the scene as Audrey–I loved her. She spiced up the show in just the right way. After Dawson’s ended, (and just a side note, Audrey should totally have been in the series finale–I can’t even…) I have to admit I lost track of Busy’s career, but was always interested when I saw her in US Weekly or People. (In case you didn’t know—I LOVE celebrity news and gossip. Can’t help it. Won’t apologize.)
Enter Instagram and my exposure to podcasts and my reacquaintance with one of my early favorites, you guessed it, Busy Philipps. To be completely honest, I didn’t know she was on Instagram until one of my favorite podcasters (I am looking at you Jamie Golden from The Popcast) gave a list of some of her favorite Instagram celebrity follows. Busy Philipps was one of those celebrities that Jamie crowned a “must follow.” And of course, I immediately followed. What I found when I went to Busy’s account was a down-to-earth mom, a wife, and a career person who was willing to chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly in Instagram stories. So, even though, I am not a celebrity (I know, shocking!), I was able to relate as a mother. And a wife. And as a mother who is also trying to juggle a career and a side business that takes up a ton of time. And as a woman, who is just trying to find her own happiness.
When Busy (no, I am definitely not on a first name basis with Busy Philipps, but it feels weird to keep typing her first and last name. It also feel weird to say Ms. Philipps. So, Busy it is.) and Touchstone Books started promoting her memoir, I knew I had to read it.
Friends, I just finished it. I loved it. My favorite part about this memoir is that Busy is matter-of-fact and no-holds-barred. Seriously, she calls people out on their bullsh*t, and I really appreciate that. She also gives a really clear and authentic (as far as I am concerned) look at being a female in Hollywood. And, it ain’t pretty, friends. I think what Busy does so well is she shows the struggle, the fight, and the determination a female has to have to have a career in a business that notoriously marginalizes women. I feel like I knew that, but after reading Busy’s book–there is ABSOLUTELY no doubt. In addition, she just shares a lot about her life before fame, the struggles of being a teenager and navigating life in Scottsdale, AZ. It’s just good, readers. It’s just good.
The other thing about this book is that I received a hard copy of the book for Christmas (Thanks, Mom!), but I chose to listen to most of it because Busy reads it. I have to say when you can read (hear) a celebrity (or really any) memoir in the author’s own voice–take that opportunity. It just adds something to the narrative that merely reading the words cannot manifest.
So, if you can’t tell–I love Busy Philipps. I loved This Will Only Hurt a Little. But, please take my advice–listen to the audio. You won’t regret it.
Bottom Line: In the genre of celebrity memoir, this is a 5/5 for me. Funny, poignant at times, and completely honest–if you are a fan of this genre, you will want to read this one immediately.
At the opening of the novel, Rhen, the daughter of an Upper society mother and a Lower father, is fighting with her Da to find a cure for a crippling illness that is afflicting residents, including her mother, of Lower villages. She yearns to be seen by those in power, the ones who could make a difference for those who are suffering. She dreams of breaking out of the cage of her gender, which seems to have sentenced her to—at best—a life as a politician’s wife without choices who must hide her intelligence and scientific aptitude. She pines for Lute, a fisherman who wants only to care for his family and to make a simple living.
With her cousin Seleni, a member of Upper society, Rhen does her best to work toward each of these goals while respecting the bounds of her world. There is, however, a catalyst that causes her to make a leap, disguise herself as a boy, and enter the Labyrinth. To Best the Boys reminded me, at different times, of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, but it establishes a new angle on that YA trend.
Weber’s world building here is just brilliant, juxtaposing the science that consumes Rhen with a fantasy world containing sirens, ghouls, and basilisks. I so appreciated Rhen’s coming of age as she struggles to define who she is in a society that gives women few choices. Weber balances Rhen’s personality with her cousin Seleni’s desires, and we see Seleni focusing on a quite different life for herself. The right to carve one’s path, regardless of what that path is, is a major theme in the novel.
The writing is strong, and I found myself marking quotations and beautiful phrasing throughout the book. The book’s strength doesn’t lie in surprises—I found this type of plot, including the quest within the labyrinth, Rhen’s self discovery, and the romantic relationships, to be fairly predictable. Instead, the quality of the details of world and of the character distinguish this book from others like it.
A strong standalone novel that is both rich and complete, Mary Weber’s To Best the Boys will satisfy readers seeking fantasy, action, and some excellent feminism. Great YA read!
"There must have been signs, but we were distracted by the roller coaster of the adventure. Paperwork, looking for a couch for the apartment, ties and shirts for Matthias."
"I used to eat. I used to like to eat, then I grew scared to eat, ceased to eat. Now my stomach hurts; I have been anorexic for so long that I have forgotten how to eat."
"I did not choose anorexia. I did not choose to starve. But every morning, over and over, I choose to fight it, again."
Thank you to Partner NetGalley for the awesome opportunity to read this book before publication. The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib is a powerful, gripping novel written by a commanding, courageous writer who addresses eating disorders and mental health head on. It is a story that needs to be told, and Zgheib tells it in a captivating way that forces the reader to take a good long look at the reality of that situation for everyone involved.
This story is the struggle of Anna Roux, an anorexic twenty-six year old married French woman living in America with her husband of three years, Matthias. As the story unfolds, Anna has been voluntarily placed in care at 17 Swann Street in DC, a residential facility for women with severe anorexia or bulimia. The novel is a powerful examination of everything leading up to that moment side by side with the experience of being in the residential facility itself, trying to find a way back from starvation and into life.
Most notable about this novel is the raw, direct way that Anna's narration depicts how unbelievably difficult it is for someone with anorexia nervosa to overcome it, even when that person desperately wants to be well. Throughout the novel, it is readily apparent that Anna's husband Matthias adores her and that her father and sister in France are still very close to her. However, Zgheib reveals how little the family intervenes, even when they see that Anna is in crisis. Even Matthias does not act:
"They had both become too comfortably settled in the magical kingdom of makebelieve. She
made believe that she was happy and all was fine, and he made believe it was true. It was less
painful than confrontation. Confrontation just led to fights. And so she ate nothing and they
both ate lies through three years of marriage, for peace, at the occasional cost of no more roller
coasters, no more sharing ice cream and French fries."
Matthias, who clearly loves Anna dearly and sees that she is suffering, cannot find a way to reach her. Anna's other family members also do not know what to say; what they do say only leads to brutal fights. And so they go on in silence until it is absolutely impossible to keep going. The pathway back is a long and painful one for all of them, and the end is uncertain.
By tracing the path of Anna's life, Zgheib shows how someone who is seemingly successful, happy, in love, and willing to change and grow spirals down into a husk of a person, unable to look at much less consume food. Zgheib demonstrates how some catastrophic childhood events coupled with dancing ballet, concern over body image, pressure to lose weight, and major life changes in early adulthood result in a profoundly severe situation for Anna as she finds herself starving to death.
I also loved the way that Zgheib incorporates facts and statistics into the narration; those biting details make real for the reader how destructive and deadly both anorexia and bulimia can be. Zgheib lays bare the cruel facts about how anorexia physically destroys the body. As Anna lives at 17 Swann Street, she arms herself with information about the disease that plagues her body. Throughout the novel, Anna notes what she learns, such as what she read in the patient manual: "Only 33% of women with anorexia nervosa maintain full recovery after nine months. Of those, approximately one-third will relapse after the nine-month mark." Some of the information is terribly discouraging, but Anna seems to take comfort in the knowing, even if knowing is painful.
Anna's time at the house is unbelievably difficult for her. The regimes are brutal for the girls there, and the methods can be severe, though the readers comes to understand how vital those methods are for the women. Feeding tubes become a fact of life for anyone who refuses to comply with the meal plans. The required therapy sessions threaten to tear Anna apart. It's clear that the people who work there have seen everything that Anna is experiencing before, and they can sometimes seem callous and even cruel from her perspective. Yet those caretakers are saving the lives of the women there, as Anna comes to understand.
I found Anna's tale captivating, and I believe that Zgheib speaks to many of the misconceptions and biases surrounding anorexia nervosa and bulimia, forcing the reader to take a clear-eyed look at the brutal reality of life for a person living with either of those conditions. Strikingly compelling and full of heartbreak but even fuller of hope, this is a phenomenal novel that will stay with the reader long after finishing.
Thank you to Candlewick Press for my free review copy of Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith. This book released on October 9th.
Hearts Unbroken is the story of Louise Wolfe, a Native teenager, Muscogee Nation. She deals with all of the normal teenage angsts-boys, friends, hormones, etc., but she also wrestles with what it is to be a Native person, the “Hollywood Indian” that is commonly used in the narrative of Thanksgiving and other historic events and on sports teams, what it means to be a Native person in America. She is navigating how to deal with the misappropriation of her culture and how to reconcile what she knows with what she sees in her world.
I really enjoyed this YA novel. It is fiction, but loosely based on real accounts from the author’s own experience. I really loved Louise and her family, and I enjoyed the narrative as a whole. I especially found the relationship between Louise and her Lebanese-American boyfriend compelling in that within the context of Louise’s relationship with him, she must confront her own biases and stereotyping.
I liked this book and thought it was a fast read. I did think it times it seemed a little over-simplified and predictable–in terms of how conflicts were resolved. However, it gave me a whole lot to think about, and overall, I think it is a great place for young people to start in understanding the Native experience in America. I think what stood out to me most is my own participation in the misappropriation of Native culture. This book made me realize how important it is to fight the stereotypes of the “Hollywood Indian” portrayed in American culture and to refuse to accept this misappropriation.
Don’t miss this: There is a great author’s notes section where Smith explains how the book came about and how she researched and included some of her own story into the book. I found this portion of the book especially enlightening.
Bottom Line: 3/5 I like this book for its accessibility and approachability for teenagers to a subject that is presently underrepresented in YA literature.
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is a literary work of genius. This is one I read quite a while ago, but it has stayed with me and remains one of my favorites. It's riveting and powerful without seeming forced or contrived in any way. It's the story of twins, Jude and Noah, whose lives are drastically, irreparably altered by a catastrophic event. The entire story shapes itself around that event and their quest to find themselves functioning on the other side.
Let's talk about structure first. Both twins have narrative rights, and they each have a very distinct story to tell. One of the things I loved was how unique the two voices were. Noah talks in images, constantly interpreting the world through colors and visual analysis. When he sees a boy who had been his friend, he thinks: "I spot him following Courtney up a stair case, watch him as he razors through the crowd, nodding his head to guys, returning the smiles of girls, like he belongs. How is it he belongs everywhere? (PORTRAIT: The boy with All the Keys in the World with All the Locks)" (Nelson 126). Noah sees the world in colors and shapes, and his perspective is tender and acutely perceptive: "...then colors start flooding into me: not through my eyes but right through my skin, replacing blood and bone, muscle and sinew, until I am redorangebluegreenpurpleyellowred-orangebluegreenpurpleyellow" (Nelson 202).
Jude is also an artist, but she is much more direct in her thoughts and narration. She is superstitious, but she does not dwell in abstraction as often as Noah. When told that she cannot eat a donut without moaning, she considers her condition: "No time to dwell, though. Guillermo and Oscar are giving the show before them--me--their undivided attention. How did I get into this? Tentatively, I lift the donut to my mouth. I take a small bite and despite the fact that all I want to do is close my eyes and moan a porn soundtrack, I resist" (185). Nelson knows her characters inside and out, and she lets each of them speak with clarity and with distinct perspective. The fact that Jude and Noah each get to work through the grief process through their own lenses and using their own voices makes the entire story more powerful and captivating. The structure also takes on a "before/ after" approach that moves seamlessly between the present and the past, revolving around a critical event that profoundly affects the lives of the twins.
Another thing that I LOVE about this novel is the scope. Nelson takes on some heavy, complex subjects, and she does it with grace and delicacy, never oversimplifying or making things seem binary. Nelson takes on loss, grief, guilt, adultery, sexual assault, and suicide all within a captivating work with an intricate plot line that webs together beautifully. Though the topics are heavy and dramatic, the characters never feel melodramatic or insincere.
Perhaps the best part of the novel (though it's certainly debatable--there are so many awesome parts) is the way that Nelson portrays all of the characters (even the ones we don't get to know well) with tenderness and compassion. They are fully human--they do horrible things sometimes, and they hurt the people they love. They keep secrets and tell lies. They lie to themselves and to each other. And yet, she shows how beautiful they are and how deeply they love. And she shows the power of hope and of forgiveness. She shows how people can, despite all odds, help each other heal.
The Gilded Wolves opens in a late 1800s Paris imbued with magic. An established crew of diverse characters successfully has completed a series of missions and is, at the novel’s beginning, in the midst of another. In this world, certain people are adept at Forging, a sort of magical engineering, and a circle of Houses control the world. Each House represents a different facet of magic connected to fragments of the Tower of Babel.
The novel moves between several perspectives. Séverin, the leader of the crew, has been cast out of the wealth and power associated with his line, the House of Vanth. He was raised in a series of foster homes, each dominated by a father who represented one of the seven deadly sins. With him through his childhood was Tristan, his foster brother, who relied on Séverin’s strength to help him survive each home. Next is Laila, a seductive, mysterious, and skilled woman from India who maintains an alternate identity as L’Egnime. Then comes Zofia, a brilliant Forger and victim of anti-Semitism whose objective approach to her world, including insight into numerical patterns, points toward some positioning on the autism spectrum. From the Philippines, Enrique, the final member of the group, can’t Forge but who makes up for his lack of ability with a dedication to history that informs many of their missions.
Each character has a distinct goal through the narrative, separate from the treasure they seek together, and each has a signature characteristic that acts as a sort of flag through the novel: Séverin, for example, chews cloves, Tristan has a gigantic tarantula that horrifies his friends, and so on. While these traits set the characters apart, they do at times seem to stand in for deeper development of individual characters. In general, The Gilded Wolves, in comparison with Chokshi’s other works, relied more on explicit explanation, on telling more than showing. This was, I think, in service of the plot, and Chokshi certainly devoted space to characters’ back stories, but I found myself wishing that the characterization were more nuanced.
As in all heist narratives, certain plot points require great suspension of disbelief: characters are able to foretell other characters’ actions with great accuracy or make speculative leaps just in time to allow their plan to continue. I am, as I said, all in for heists, so I happily suspended my disbelief and just went with it. The book’s fast-moving, compelling plot centers on a series of McGuffins that lay the groundwork for the next novel but are ultimately unimportant in comparison to the group dynamics at the book’s center.
The strength of the central crew and the solid heist plot make up for some shortcuts in other elements of the book. Overall, therefore, I’d recommend The Gilded Wolves, which has magic and Paris and humor and romance and vivid historical touches . . . plenty of good content for this compelling, fun YA read.
A Note from Ashley, Jen, and Sara
We're pleased to share some of our book reviews with you all here. Note that the title of the post also indicates the author of the review. The books reviewed are linked for purchase.