The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 327
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October 24th 2017

      “In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.
      Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
      Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.
      The Beautiful Ones is a sweeping fantasy of manners set in a world inspired by the Belle Époque.

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“Hector raised his hands, the candle flames rising with them, and with one movement of his arms they merged into a prodigious ball of fire that he then snuffed out with a clap of his hands, causing several spectators shriek because, for a moment, it seemed like he was about to scorch himself.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones is a character-driven novel that combines fantasy and romance in a eloquent story rapt with emotion. Antonina “Nina” Beaulieu has been invited to stay with her cousin in Loisail for her first Grand Season. The city is a far cry from Nina’s home in the country, but she can’t help but see its appeal when she meets the mysterious Hector Auvray. A gifted telekinetic, Hector has risen to prominence performing for audiences across the globe. When Hector begins courting Nina, she’s convinced that they are meant to be. Hector, however, has a ulterior motive, one that will bring Nina’s world crashing down.

Moreno-Garcia juggles three perspectives and does a masterful job of fleshing out each character, making them feel real to the reader and allowing each to have their strengths as well as their faults. Nina is more comfortable trying to catch beetles and butterflies than a potential husband. Not the kind of young woman that suitors line up for in a city like Loisail, Nina finds rules regarding etiquette to be stifling. It doesn’t help that her telekinetic ability often manifests at inopportune times. While those in Loisail can appreciate such a talent as a means of entertainment, it is not something suitable for ladies to display. Nina is markedly younger than the other two characters and it very much shows. Hopelessly romantic and naive about the world, Nina is easily taken in. She believes the very best about people because she has never been exposed to those who would use others for their own gain. Her inexperience opens her up to plenty of heartache. Though her openness was one of the first things I admired about her, her growth as a character made me appreciate her even more. I loved that Moreno-Garcia took the most humble of the three characters and allowed her to develop and show strength unparalleled.

Hector is not a character that you immediately fall in love with. Yes, in some ways, he can be seen as simply a tragic figure. Coming from nothing, Hector has managed to accumulate the kind of wealth that people in Loisail are either born with or marry into. While trying to recognize this dream, he ended up losing his first love in the process. His choice to court Nina only as a means to get close to another instinctively made me bristle. That being said, his is a really rewarding character arc as he is forced to confront his own naivety. Even as a grown man, he still has a lot to learn. Hector learns to see the past and present how they are and now how he wishes them to be.

At times I wanted to dislike Valérie wholeheartedly, but Moreno-Garcia has created such a complicated character that it’s difficult not to admire her in some way. Valérie was pressured into marrying Nina’s cousin Gaeten in order to save her family from financial ruin. But lest you think she is some tragic figure, Valérie is also vain, resentful, and prone to jealousy. She often regards Nina with disdain because, unlike her, Nina has more freedom to choose who she marries. Nina also has the love of her cousin, something Valérie doesn’t necessarily want, but which her proud personality demands. She’s an incredibly manipulative person who is much more comfortable being cruel than sentimental. For her, loving someone means they have power over her and she refuses to be under another’s thumb. There’s no way to justify Valérie’s every decision, but because she is such a well-developed character, I understood why she did the things she did and this ultimately made her an exceptional antagonist.

The Beautiful Ones showcases just how versatile and gifted a writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia is. The world she builds is very easy to fall in love with and my only criticism is that I wanted to see more of the telekinetic aspect. Still, there are few books that leave me feeling completely satisfied and The Beautiful Ones is one of them.

5/5

★★★★★

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ARC Review: By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

Title: By a Charm and a Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Series: N/A
Pages: 300
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Release Date: February 1st 2018
*I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*

      “Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.
      Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.
      Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

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One of the most appealing aspects of Jaime Questell’s By a Charm and a Curse is its carnival setting, but I could not help but want more from this backdrop. Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic is supposed to be a place where Emma gets a chance to forget all her problems for one night. No thinking about her mother, who is a world a way on a research project, or the fact that since she moved back with her dad, the easy friendship she had with her childhood best friend Juliet, can sometimes feel forced. When Emma is tricked and forced to bear a curse that links her to the carnival and its troupe, her problems go from bad to worse. The curse alters her entirely. An unshakable coldness settles into her bones, making all previous human sensations a distance memory. In exchange for Emma’s involuntary sacrifice, those who work for the carnival are protected with a charm that prevents injury or illness. But Emma is desperate to reclaim her freedom, but in so doing, she may have to ensnare someone else.

The curse and charm aspect of the novel created an interesting predicament for the protagonist. Not being able to leave the carnival and unable to feel like she can function normally, Emma is trapped in a strange place with no one to turn to. Her only out is to find someone else to take on the curse, but that would require her to condemn an innocent person. This novel had the potential to be darker than it was and it is the possibility of a darker character arc for the protagonist that had me wanting more. Emma is a really naive character in the beginning of the novel and accepts her role as the “Girl in the Box” a little too quickly. I really wanted to explore how this loss of agency over her own life alters her as a person, but the author never delves this deep.

The novel features a dual perspective; the second of which belongs to Benjamin. As a roustabout, Benjamin is not a performer himself, but someone who works behind the scenes. He often feels like an outsider himself. His mother is a really strong influence in his life, though not always in a good way. She’s determined to protect him, but her need to shield him from life’s woes is stifling. Ben longs to leave the carnival, to stay in one place for once and make himself a home. As a character, Ben felt more developed than Emma and a lot of this had to do with his relationship to the carnival folk. We never get to see Emma with her family and only briefly see her interacting with her best friend. With Ben, we get to know him through his interactions with his mother especially. There’s a power struggle between the two that ends up revealing a really interesting backstory for his mother. As much as Ben feels like the carnival isn’t his home, there are many members of the troupe that he has a close relationship with. I enjoyed a lot of scenes with sisters Whiskey and Gin especially.

By a Charm and a Curse lacks the kind of magic I was hoping for in a carnival setting, left something to be desired when it came to darker elements, but showed promise when it came to its characters.

3/5

★★★

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy, #1
Pages: 346
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: January 10th 2017

      “At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind–she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
      After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
      And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
      As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed–this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

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“The moon was little thicker than a crescent, the light a glitter of blue. Vasya ran, with a panic she could not understand. The life she had led made her strong. She bolted and let the cool wind wash the taste of fear from her mouth.”

Katherine Arden captivates with her storytelling in her debut fantasy The Bear and the Nightingale. Vasya grows up in a family that belongs to two worlds. In a time where devotion to the old gods is dying, Vasya must hide her ability to see the old ones, but her gift may be what saves her as a darkness slowly descends upon the land. Her new stepmother and a recently arrived priest believe these creatures to be demons and are determined to rid the people of their devotion to said gods, but in so doing, they will put everyone in danger. As Vasya grows older, it becomes clear that her journey will bring her closer to Morozko, a demon of winter, but whether he offers help or death is uncertain.

Arden’s novel may be slow-paced for some, but for those who enjoy the journey of a tale and love an intricately woven story, The Bear and the Nighingale unfolds delicately and rewardingly. The novels opens before Vasya is even born where characters like her mother, whom she never gets to know, remain important players in a larger story. With eloquent descriptions that bring the bitter cold of Vasya’s world to life, allow the magic of old to seep through its pages, and takes the reader on an epic journey, Arden’s writing is an utter delight.

I loved how we as readers get to see Vasya grow up. As the world around her is concerned with more dire matters, Vasya grows up wanting to be a part of her older siblings’ lives but is always being told she is too young. Even as a child, she is willful and astute, her eagerness and unabashed openness is sometimes regarded with offense. Her stepmother regards her with barely contained scorn. Her potential beaus are shaken by her audacity and strength. The pious priest Konstantin, takes every opportunity to remind Vasya that she must turn to God and forsake old beliefs. Vasya, despite the disapproval of those around her, remains a strong and able heroine. Brave and selfless, Vasya is a character who is hard to forget and one worthy of admiration.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a wondrous tale of one girl’s strength in the midst of a cruel world and the power of sacrifice. Vasya is a protagonist who is easy to love and with every step she takes, you as a reader feel like you are taking it with her. Characters like the enigmatic Morozko are both dangerous and magnetic, making you want more. With this debut, Arden has secured herself as an author to pay attention to.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 30th 2018
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: ‘Stay away from the Hazel Wood.’
      Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

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Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood brings dark fairy tales to life with beautiful writing and eerie tales that leap off its pages. Alice is not used to staying in one place for long. Her mother has often whisked her off at a moment’s notice and so Alice is not used to putting down roots. Even her mother’s new marriage feels temporary as bad lucks seems to follow them everywhere. When Alice discovers that her mother has been kidnapped and that her disappearance may be tied to the recluse grandmother she’s never met, Alice sets out in search of her grandmother’s estate the Hazel Wood. But the closer Alice gets to the mysterious home of her mother’s youth, the more she begins to realize that the book of fairy tales written by her grandmother years ago may not just be stories.

One of Alice’s defining characteristics is the underlying darkness she’s constantly trying to keep at bay. I wanted the author to explore this more as I felt that those scenes where this darkness takes momentary control came across as Alice being more bratty than trying to quench this inner hostility. What I did find fascinating about who Alice is is the way in which the author showed how one woman’s life experience trickled down through generations and impacted all their lives. Althea had shut herself in the Hazel Wood years ago with her daughter Ella. This means for years Alice’s mother was essentially trapped in a make believe world of her own mother’s making. This explains a lot about Ella and her flightiness. Alice has adopted a similar mindset. Her world is very small because she’s only ever had her mother to love. When she finds out her mother is missing, it isn’t a matter of just calling the police, she must physically find her or else her whole world will come apart. It is this kind of desperation that would have had me more invested in this character, but scenes between Alice and her mother were too few considering the importance of this relationship to Alice’s character.

Aside from Alice, the novel spends most of its time on her classmate Ellery Finch. A bit of an outcast, Finch recognizes something familiar in Alice that he sees in himself. A fan of Althea’s work, Finch becomes a window by which Alice is able to connect with the grandmother she never knew. I really liked Finch, but felt that there were so many more layers to his character that we didn’t get a chance to explore. His own storyline seemed to end far too abruptly and his arc’s resolution didn’t feel justified based on the level of development his character received. We were often told there was a side to his character that he didn’t let other people see, but we were never given enough insight into this for certain choices he made to feel authentic.

I can’t say enough about the writing in The Hazel Wood. Albert’s imagery shines best when she narrates the dark stories from Tales from the Hinterland. With titles like Twice-Killed Katherine and The Door That Wasn’t There, these stories are unique and compelling and sometimes sinister. I enjoyed these strange fairy tales so much that there were times that I wish I was reading Althea Prosperpine’s novel instead of this one. As much as I enjoyed this aspect of the novel, Albert’s writing seemed to falter when it came to characterization and most notably that of her lead.

3/5

★★★

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

Title: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
Author: F.C. Yee
Series: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, #1
Pages: 336
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: August 8th 2017

      “Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.
      But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tale and penchant for peaches.
      Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance., Is there evil in all of us?

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“I scrabbled backward on my heels and hands, trying to get away from the radius of their malice. My heart hadn’t beat in the last minute. I was looking at two people trying to kill each other.”

F.C. Yee’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo brings Chinese mythology to life in an action-packed and entertaining novel. Genie Lo is a sixteen year old with Harvard ambitions. Her number one priority has always been school and she’s never let anything distract her from that goal. But when Quentin Sun walks into her life and introduces her to a world of gods and demons, Genie is forced to reprioritize. Genie isn’t as ordinary as she’s always thought. Gifted with abilities beyond her wildest imagination, Genie must join forces with Quentin to defeat demons who have descended upon her city.

I immediately took to Genie as a protagonist. Not only is she relatable, but her voice is playfully comedic, making it hard not to immediately love her. She is also a bit of a hothead, but it made me love her more rather than subtracting from her character. Genie often struggles with her self-image. She’s never been dainty and has always been valued (like her spot on the volleyball team) because of her height and not her skill. Genie’s self-consciousness is made worse by her mother’s often backhanded remarks. Though she knows her mom means well, this doesn’t make these snide comments any easier to swallow. Genie also has a complicated relationship with her father and is part of the reason she feels that it is important to have her whole future already planned out. Discovering that she is the reincarnation of a powerful entity makes discovering who she is as a young adult even more complicated. Genie has to contend with this important destiny that often pulls her away from those she’s close to and refusing to do so could result in the end of the world. It isn’t easy for Genie to suddenly have all this responsibility on her shoulders. I felt for her so much when this journey took her away from her best friend especially and she couldn’t even tell her what was really going on in her life.

I really liked Quentin both as a character and love interest for Genie. His first impression isn’t all that great and in many ways he comes on a little too strongly, but he ends up being incredibly supportive of Genie. He sees strength in her even when she does not. I loved how much room he gave Genie to grow and even though he wanted her to see just how powerful she really was, it never felt like he was being too pushy. Genie and Quentin’s relationship felt genuine. Any romantic feelings between the two didn’t start right away. Their relationship felt earned as they both earn each other’s trust first, but I did find myself rooting for them from the very beginning. If you’re looking for a fun fantasy with an likable protagonist, look no further than F.C. Yee’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: First & Then + An Enchantment of Ravens

MiniI meant to post these mini-reviews before the end of the year, but with all the posts I was hurriedly putting together, I didn’t get a chance to post this one. In a rare case, I actually regret not writing a full review for An Enchantment of Ravens as I enjoyed it more than my mini review implies, so if my brief thoughts don’t convince you to pick it up, I’m hoping this little note will. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: First & Then
Author: Emma Mills
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: October 13th 2015 

      “Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them: first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.
      Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

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“It was endearing, in that way that almost ached sometimes, how much my folks wanted Foster to be okay. And I think even more than I did, they wanted Foster to be normal. For me, being normal meant fitting in. For them, I think it just meant being happy.”

Emma Mill’s First & Then is a Pride & Prejudice inspired contemporary that failed to grip me emotionally, making it difficult to enjoy. I had a hard time getting immersed in this book and a lot of this had to do with the protagonist. Though I understood that Devon’s judgmental thoughts were meant to create that needed tension with her love interest Ezra and draw parallels to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, it was still difficult to get behind a protagonist who referred to the freshman gym girls as “prostitots.” Her long-standing crush on her best friend Cas never radiated with me, but this was mostly the fault of the author never showing her readers why someone like Cas was worthy of such a crush. I wanted to swoon along with Dev over Ezra and knowing their relationship was gradual should have made my slow-burn loving heart skip a beat, but I mostly found the star athlete to be too wooden and meaningful interactions between the two to be lacking. The standout character and who really held the whole story together was Devon’s younger cousin Foster. He gave Devon and Ezra a common purpose and added heart to a story that would have completely fallen apart otherwise. There isn’t anything extraordinary about First & Then, but if you’re looking for a simple Jane Austen retelling, you might enjoy this one more than I.

Rating: 2/5

★★


Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: N/A
Pages: 300
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: September 26th 2017

      “Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
      Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
      Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

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“Just like that the wrongness spread. The breeze dropped away, and the air grew still and oppressively hot. The birds stopped singing, the grasshoppers stopped buzzing, and even the wheat dropped in the stagnant air. The stench of decay grew overwhelming.”

Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens is a enjoyable fantasy with intriguing world-building and multilayered characters. Isobel lives her life dealing with the fair folk on a daily basis. As a talented portrait artist, many fair folk have commission her to paint their portraits in exchange for an enchantment. Isobel has learned that though the fair folk are beautiful, they are incredibly deceptive. She has relied on this knowledge and her own shrewdness when dealing with them. Her connection with the autumn prince Rook is more of an unspoken connection at first and it is for this reason that I hesitated to get behind their relationship. I’m not a fan of the insta-love trope, but as the story progressed, the author ended up selling their relationship better over time. I probably would have taken to the idea of Rook and Isobel sooner if the story had shown them interacting more during his portrait painting. The fair folk were fantastic antagonists in this book. I loved how dark and twisted Rogerson’s wrote them. Their fascination with humanity helped, but also hindered Isobel as she tried to escape their realm. I loved the imagery of the different fairy courts and like Isobel, readers quickly learn that just because something is enchanting, doesn’t make it innocuous. An Enchantment of Ravens does a wonderful job of showing two contrasting beings trying to navigate the other’s world and after finishing, I’m really surprised that this won’t end up being the start of a series rather than a standalone.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★