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review 2018-11-07 21:36
Review: The Belles
The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I read this book twice in a relatively short few months space of time and even after two reads I’m still unsure how I feel about it. This is one of those uber hyped books that I saw all over my Twitter feed and Goodreads. Needless to say it very high up on my highly anticipated reads.

 

So I was very excited when my review request was approved. Only to find that…I wasn’t blown away by it as I had hoped. There was something about the world building that made me very uncomfortable, and I didn’t particularly like the main character much. I found her annoying and childish, the villain cartoony and the barely there romance was completely unnecessary in my opinion.

 

I didn’t feel comfortable reviewing after the first time I read it since I couldn’t put enough thoughts together on whether or not I really liked the book or not. I did wind up buying a finished copy (cover love among reasons) and reading it again a few months later.  It’s still taken me months later to finally put a review together.

 

The novel is set in a fictional kingdom where above all else beauty is the most prized thing in the world. There’s a really interesting origins story at the start of the novel explaining about the Goddess of Beauty and her spurned jealous husband and how the people of the kingdom came to be, and how they were all born grey and ugly. As a gift to the people the Goddess created Belles, who have the power to make people beautiful. Belles are born into each generation. They are revered and worshipped, when the Belles reach sixteen they are presented to society, and Royal Court. In each generation of Belles one is announced as a Favourite and she works at the Palace for the Royals.

 

In this generation, there are 6 Belles we meet on the eve of their presentation into Society. The heroine, Camellia yearns to be chosen as Favourite. It’s all very opulent and glamorous. The excitement is evident in the writing. One thing I really liked was how close all the Belle girls were, they were sisters who adored and loved each other – no obvious dislike or rivalry. They’ve grown up together, learned their gifts together, and support each other. There’s arguments of course, it’s not all harmonious, but the camaraderie between the girls was lovely.

 

Once the Belles make their debut, votes are cast and the Favourite is announced. Not the result anyone expected, the girls are sent to different Tea Houses where they will perform their services. Belle services are highly prized, and the girls live in extravagant luxury.  However, there are very strict rules they must live by – one is they are not to be alone with a male outside of beauty appointments. They cannot fall in love. Yet in a brief moment of weakness when Camellia is caught alone – she finds herself talking to a handsome young man. Someone she finds herself meeting again and again at odd moments. Feelings start to develop.

 

I think it’s supposed to hint at Camellia’s curiosity – she’s never been alone with a boy before, there’s new emotions to explore. The banter between them is amusing, the boy, Auguste, is quick witted, handsome and appears intelligent. He’s bringing out new ideas in Camellia she’s never thought about. To this reader, it was eye rolling, annoying and unnecessary. She finds herself rather lose lipped about him as well. Things she’s not supposed to tell anyone have a strange habit of spilling past her lips before she can stop herself.

 

While the world building is certainly glamorous, rich and elegant, and with hints of some fancy technology mixing in with the fantasy setting there was something very uncomfortable about it, at least in my opinion. I just couldn’t get on board with a society that is just obsessed with looks. People go to Belles to get themselves beautified anyway they want – though there are trends and rules and endless amounts of Belle products to make the client’s beauty dream come true. Though it appears Belle treatments are not without pain. People don’t seem to care. Though I must admit – if I had the option of a Belle – hell, I would probably take it.

 

Camellia settles into her own new routine, she’s worked very hard. Though she learns things in the new tea house she’s assigned to. There’s secrets about the Belles from the generations before her, she hears strange crying in the night and no one will answer her questions. One thing I liked about Camellia was she didn’t take things at face value – she asks questions, she investigates when things are off and she doesn’t let things drop. She’s definitely strong willed and inquisitive. On the other hand though, she’s very rash and impulsive, also bull headed and stubborn. Normally impulsive and stubborn is a trait I admire in my heroines, but there were some of Camellia’s actions that just irritated the hell out of me and came across as childish more than anything. After all, she has lived a very sheltered life and probably doesn’t know how to control herself in certain situations.

 

Something else about the Belles also bothered me – even though they have the most sort after gifts in the kingdom, their power is beholden by everyone – even Royalty doesn’t have the magic the bells do. Yet the Belles are not…free. They live their lives according to the strict rules set out by others – they are not allowed to use their magic as they see fit. They are worked until they are exhausted. They don’t get to make their own choices in a lot of things. Services are bought and paid for. They may live in the lap of luxury but it seems to come at a price. And as the plot progresses, some of this seems to sink into Camellia. Is being a Belle really all it’s cracked up to be?

 

Things for Camellia change and she finds herself voted the new Favourite and shipped off to the palace to work for the Royal family – the Queen and her daughter, Princess Sophia.  The Queen is getting ready to announce her Royal Heir – the oldest daughter – Princess Charlotte has been in a coma for several years. No one knows why and no one knows what causes it.  Torn between the desire to be the best Favourite she can be and the burning questions about what happened to the previous Favourite, Camellia finds herself getting to grips with the pressures of living in the Palace. Princess Sophia appears to be rebellious and rule breaking – she can be very very generous – but she can be a viper.

 

There are more mysteries and the Queen has a special mission for Camellia regarding saving Princess Charlotte. Princess Sophia is to be announced as Heir if Charlotte can’t be woken, and no one wants Sophia as Queen – she’s manipulative and cruel to an almost cartoon villain level of giddy evilness, and her crowd of Ladies in Waiting and court friends are forced to go along with her, no matter how mean or awful. They are punished terribly if not.

 

Nothing is simple and there’s more mysteries to solve. And it doesn’t help matters when the truth about who Auguste really is comes to light as well. The more Camellia learns about Sophia the more horrified she becomes. The mystery of Princess Charlotte is begging to be solved as well – I certainly have my theories about that one! More questions, hardly any answered. And Camellia is not the only Belle who has been digging into things.

 

Things take a bad turn before the end. The plot is a little slow in the middle but picks up towards the end.

 

There’s also a really interesting author’s note about the end which explains a little bit about the inspiration behind the story and helped tremendously in making sense of the fact that the world building made me so uncomfortable. I understand a lot more now about the overall message behind the book.

 

I can’t say even after two reads I particularly liked this book, but I am very interested to see where this is going to go story wise. Camellia irritated me a lot throughout the book but she did show enough growth over all that I want to know what happens next.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2018-08-06 02:42
A Unique and Inventive Universe
The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

I knew from reading the synopsis of this book that I would immediately love it. The concept and plot of this story is superb, while its development is slow and steady. We meet our main character, Camellia, immediately and it’s through her naïve eyes that we are carried through the story. Since Camellia is essentially an outsider and separate from the bulk of society on account of her gifts, I believe that she worked as a great protagonist since readers are able to accurately and realistically learn about this creative universe through her perspective as she herself learns. Her slow character development led readers in a natural direction that was easy to follow. I absolutely fell in love with the mystery behind the true nature of this magical, fictional New Orleans.

 

My only complaint concerning this story is its writing style, which is technically only a matter of taste. I spent the first several chapters forcing myself to read rather than enjoying myself. However, once I became used to the writing style, I eventually came to love and enjoy it.

 

Overall, this is a completely original and thoroughly unique story which conveys a clear message that the author skillfully intertwines with the plot and heart of the story. Such a message is not thrust down reader’s throats, but told in a fashion that allows readers to develop their own perspective of the matter. The story works almost as an interpretative, symbolic piece representative of the struggles each and every individual likely feels each time they look in a mirror. I’m definitely anticipating book 2 of this series!

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review 2018-06-22 23:45
Shiny Broken Pieces Audiobook
Shiny Broken Pieces - Sona Charaipotra,Dhonielle Clayton

See my review for Tiny Pretty Things here.

 

It wasn’t great.

 

It wasn’t terrible.

 

It was kind of ‘meh.’

 

What I did enjoy was the depictions of actual dancing, of the ballet classes themselves, of the class getting ready to perform Swan Lake. I’ve read another ballet book where the dancing is described in terms of the physical actions taken, not a lyrical description, and I think the authors pulled off the feelings of what it is like to dance from the point of view of three characters whose lives revolve around ballet.

 

One of the reasons… ok the ONLY reason… I decided to read this book was to find out WHO had pushed Gigi into an oncoming car in the previous book. Tiny Pretty Things left this as a cliffhanger, which I despise, and I was pretty much OK with that for a long time. In Shiny Broken Pieces we find out pretty early on who it was definitely NOT… but then find out who it definitely WAS about halfway through. It seemed kinda early-ish for me, but then the rest of the novel focused on this massive Swan Lake performance.

 

One of Gigi’s defining characteristics is that she’s black, and in ballet, that’s really rare. However the authors couldn’t decide if everyone always stared at her or if she managed to blend in with the other ballerinas. I guess she could do both, but I found it wavered from one extreme to the other depending on what looked better to the plot without any consistency. Gigi was stared at A LOT, almost as if the students of a New York school had never seen a black girl before… I thought it was strange, but I do not study ballet nor do I live in New York City, so perhaps I’m not the best authority on that. In contrast, people did not stare at June, or Bette, the other two protagonists, however Bette is the epitome of the beautiful blonde white girl and June was half Korean and one of her primary characteristics was that she blended into the background.

 

I mean, whatever! I thought it was inconsistent but maybe that’s how people actually act. I don’t even know anymore. What is literary criticism anyway? *existential crisis*

Although I really liked the presentation of June’s anorexia and bulimia, I was a little confused how one teacher could indicate that June is too fat and everyone else was concerned she was too thin. Consistency was also an issue in Tiny Pretty Things, so maybe it’s just these authors.

 

Another thing I found grating was Gigi’s narrator. She had this really annoying delivery in a kind of monotone where she sounded really depressed, but then when she did dialogue she inflected much better. Her general narration annoyed the funk out of me. I don’t think Gigi was actually depressed, just bent on revenge, so was not pleasant to listen to. In contrast the other two narrators of Bette and June didn’t sound like they were uninspired and just reading from a script they hated in a job they hated, they actually delivered some entertainment.

 

I also want to say that I didn’t particularly like any of the characters in this novel, but I don’t think it’s a requirement in enjoying a book to like characters who are awful to each other as the main plot point (see Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books BECAUSE I hate the characters).

 

I will mention that I’m not comfortable with how it ended. There was one of many characters seeking revenge for acts committed against them and they ended up losing everything while other characters who instigated the bullying kind of got rewarded? Like, I get that ballet is a cut-throat biz but I felt really sorry for the character, who was only twisted up because someone had bullied them and they was seeking revenge. The other thing that irked me was that the people who did the really bad things in Tiny Pretty Things (pushing Gigi in front of the car, glass in the shoes, killing the butterflies) were all LGBTQ characters. Like, the victims got screwed over and the biggest bullies got everything they wanted.  So yeah, not cool. I like Mean Girl books because they get their comeuppance, and I didn’t feel satisfied with how everything ended.

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review 2018-05-04 14:29
Semi-Cute
Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet. - Katharine McGee,Jennifer L. Armentrout,Dhonielle Clayton,Katie Cotugno,Huntley Fitzpatrick,Jocelyn Davies,Nina LaCour

Your mileage may vary with this collection of short stories, for me though, I just found only a few of the stories, 5 star worthy. The rest were all over the place. I think the biggest issue is having a collection of short stories by 14 different authors definitely showed who can craft a well thought out short story and those who cannot.

 

According to Urban dictionary:
"Scenario in which two individuals are brought together in some unlikely, zany, destined-to-fall-in-love-and-be-together-forever sort of way (the more unusual, the better)."

 

"Siege Etiquette" by Katie Cotungo (2 stars)-No sorry. The first story in this collection did not start off strong at all. And I would argue barely met the definition of a meet cute. You had the two teens in this story one of which is named Wolf. At that point I was worried I had stumbled into some sparkly vampire nonsense, but nope. We just read how the main character in this story (Hailey) is part of the super popular crowd or used to be until something happened. It takes a long time (for a short story) for the reveal to happen. That said, Hailey and Wolf already knew each other since they had been in elementary school with each other. I didn't really even get the sense that she had plans to talk to him again after they finally got out of their "siege" situation.

 

"Print Shop" by Nina LaCour (3 stars)-This does meet the definition of a meet cute to me. We have the main character (Evie) who goes to work in a print shop because of reasons. There's a mention of her breaking up with her girlfriend and her obsessively checking her ex's twitter or was it Instagram. I don't know. Either way she ends up fixing a print shop order gone wrong and meeting someone new. It was alright, didn't blow my socks off or anything.

 

"Hourglass" by Ibi Zoboi (3 stars)-This whole story pissed me off. I felt like it needed a stronger ending too. The main character is an African American girl named Cherish. Cherish has a selfish asshole friend named Stacy. The biggest issue for me is that I don't think the character of Cherish realizes how wrong she has been done by Stacy. Stacy ends up choosing to be with a boy who has gone after Cherish due to her race. At that point I would be popping smoke and telling Stacy to shove it. I just ended up feeling frustrated by Cherish still obsessing over telling Stacy everything that has gone on with her. 

 

"Click" by Katharine McGee (3 stars)-Shrug. I swear I feel like I have read a similar story to this one before. This story takes place in 2020 and we have a new dating service called Click. It floats back and forth between two characters, Alexa and Raden. There were no real surprises here, I can't lie though, I could see this as a total rom-com. 

 

"The Intern" by Sara Shepard (1 star)-Sorry, this was among my least favorite of these stories. I was not engaged during the entire story-line.

 

"Somewhere That's Green" by Meredith Russo (2 stars)-I swear, this was another storyline that ticked me off while reading. We have one girl (Lexie) who attacks a transgirl (Nia) at her school and talks about safety and a variety of other things that is about her not being allowed to use the bathroom. And somehow this turns into a thing where Lexie is fighting against who she really is or something. 

 

"The Way We Love Here" by Dhonielle Clayton (5 stars)-This was so good. I loved the fantasy elements incorporated into this story. I loved the various ways that you can see how the characters (Sebastian and Viola or Vio) lives can change and how it is left open-ended to see what path they may take knowing what can happen between them. 

 

"Oomph" by Emery Lord (4 stars)- I thought this was an adorable meet cute taking place at an airport. I liked how the story was set up and the ending. 

 

"The Dictionary of You and Me" by Jennifer L Armentrout (1 star)-Sorry from beginning to end this story just didn't work for me at all. It just felt unfinished somehow. And I never want to read the word "zazzy" again. 

 

"The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love" by Jocelyn Davies (5 stars)-You get some math/stats and a young girl determining how likely is it that she is going to see a guy she viewed via another train window. I loved the discussion of soul mates (her parents were hilarious) and how the story is developed. 

 

"259 Million Miles by Kass Morgan (3 stars)-Okay story, after the last one though it was a let down.

 

"Something Real" by Julie Murphy (2 stars)-I know I read this, but I still had to go back since I couldn't even recall this one. It felt like there was too much going on with this one. Okay story, just didn't really enjoy it as much as I did the others.

 

"Say Everything" by Huntley Fitzpatrick (3 stars)-I was surprised I didn't like this one more since I loved this author's book "My Life Next Door."

 

"The Department of Dead Love (5 stars)-This was so good. This is another fantasy short story where people can go and determine why the love between them and another person died. You get interviewed by Heartworkers who diagnose you. Don't want to spoil, but I loved the entire idea about this story. 


So I realized that I tended to like the fantasy/sci-fi elements short stories more. 

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review 2018-04-05 21:10
The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

For the year 2018 I thought I would step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to read a genre new to me.  Not knowing where to turn or how to begin this new journey, I took to Youtube and Bookstagram for inspiration and after watching many book hauls, book reviews and lurking on many Bookstagram pages, I chose fantasy.  I mean, I enjoy watching movies of magic and mystical powers and enchanted universes, why not read about them.

 

To kick-off my new adventure I chose a YA fantasy, The Belles by Dhionelle Clayton.  I'm going to forego the synopsis because I'm sure many of you have already read it, so I'll begin my review.

 

TWs: sexual assault, gay killing, body shaming.

 

One of the reasons I wanted to read this novel was because of the captivating cover.  Beautifully detailed, I was anxious to begin reading.  The vibrant map on the inside of the cover is an extra bonus.

 

The author poured out her heart and soul on every page.  From the picturesque surroundings, to the kaleidoscopic garments, mystical creatures and delectable cuisines, I took pleasure imagining all that was taking place.  However, many times throughout the book the descriptions were overpowering and the moment dragged on.

 

Powerful characterization from the author and with each character's mannerism, I experienced a different emotion.  Annoyance, anger, empathy just to name a few. I'd love to have read more building up of some characters and less of others.  

 

Although the plot was interesting and intriguing, it didn't draw me in right away.  It was a slow start due to the overly detailed paragraphs and I didn't become involved until the middle of the book.  At times the story lacked balance.  Some parts of the story dragged and some parts were rushed.  The subplot was a nice added a touch of mystery.

 

I'm glad I chose Dhonielle Clayton's YA fantasy novel, The Belles, as a new genre for me to explore.  Inside there's magic and fascination, but the author also touches on body shaming,  how one perceives beauty and the depth people endure to achieve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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