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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On the Fence by Kasie West

On the Fence by Kasie West

Title: On the Fence
Author: Kasie West
Series: N/A
Pages: 296
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 1st 2014 

      “For sixteen-year-old Charlotte Reynolds, aka Charlie, being raised by a single dad and three older brothers has its perks. She can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows—including her longtime neighbor and honorary fourth brother, Braden. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn’t know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world of makeup, lacy skirts, and BeDazzlers. Even stranger, she’s spending time with a boy who has never seen her tear it up in a pickup game.
      To cope with the stress of faking her way through this new reality, Charlie seeks late-night refuge in her backyard, talking out her problems with Braden by the fence that separates them. But their Fence Chats can’t solve Charlie’s biggest problem: she’s falling for Braden. Hard. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.

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I placed my palm on the fence as if I had somehow just sent the message to Braden. Then I sat down on the dirt. It felt warm between my fingers. “I dream about my mom,'” I said to the moon. “How is it possible to miss someone I never knew?”

Kasie West’s On the Fence is the perfect read if you’re looking for a contemporary novel with a well-developed lead and just the right amount of romance. West’s protagonist, Charlotte “Charlie” Reynolds, is what really makes this book stand apart from her other novels. Charlie has grown up in a house full of boys, having lost her mother at a young age. She feels much more comfortable in a pair of cleats than high heels. Her three brothers and neighbor, Braden, have always treated her like another boy and she wouldn’t have it any other way. But her new job opens a new world to her, she meets girls she always dismissed because they were too girly and discovers that she may have more in common with them than she realized. One small criticism I had with this storyline is that it kind of implied that no sporty girl could be into makeup and fashion as well. While I don’t think this is what the author meant to do, it did feel like she was drawing a line, because although Charlie hung out with a lot of sporty girls, not one is mentioned as also liking “girly” stuff. To me this was very unrealistic.

Charlie really struggles with being vulnerable. Her father has never been into sharing his feelings and her brothers are much more likely to take on a crazy dare than open up to each other. Charlie, in turn, feels the need to be just as tough, even with her mother’s passing continuing to haunt her. Her secret talks with Braden is the first time where she feels she can talk about things she usually hides during the day. Braden also finds a confidant in Charlie. This is one aspect I wish had been explored more. While Charlie struggles with trying to remember the mother she lost at such a young age, Braden is dealing with an alcoholic father whose favorite activity while inebriated is picking a fight. While I understand this is a story about Charlie, I would have liked to have seen Braden open up more to her, especially when it came to this particular issue.

Having read The Fill-In Boyfriend and The Distance Between Us, I did not go into this one expecting to be blown away; however, On the Fence exceeded my expectations. Charlie’s relationship with her brothers is strong and easily relatable, a major highlight of the book. I loved that she was able to recognize that being athletic and girly are not mutually exclusive, and you should never change yourself in order to be accepted by other people.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey

Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey

Title: Love, Lies and Spies
Author: Cindy Anstey
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: April 19th 2016

      “Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish their research.
      Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.

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“Please, I do not wish to be rescued by a gentleman. Could you find a farmer or a shopkeep–anyone not of the gentry–and then do me the great favor of forgetting you saw me?”

Inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, Cindy Anstey’s Love, Lies and Spies opens up with one of the funniest scenes I’ve come across in a while. I immediately took a liking to the protagonist Juliana as she tries to navigate strict social constructs while not compromising who she is. While her aunt and cousin prepare for a Season of balls and courtship, Juliana’s only goal is to find a publisher for the research she and her father have done on the ladybug. I really enjoyed this aspect of the protagonist’s character, but I did not feel that the author explored her interest enough. Juliana’s pursuit of a publisher remained on the outskirts of the plot that centered more on her relationship with her love interest and his story.

Juliana meets Spencer Northam in a rather hilarious way and I loved their immediate rapport. There’s an ease and playfulness to their exchanges that had me smiling throughout. I do, however, feel that their relationship never really advanced past that first stage of superficial flirting. Part of the reason for this is the era in which this book is written. Most of their interactions take place in crowded rooms with only a few words exchanged at a time, so it was never appropriate for them to spend time alone together in order to get to know one another. This aside, I still feel that their relationship lacked real depth. This is mostly due to the fact that Spencer spent the majority of the novel hiding his secret occupation and the book hardly explored Juliana’s personal interests, making their interactions with each other feel incomplete.

The main conflict of the novel revolves around Spencer as he investigates who has been working with the French against Britain. Unfortunately, this aspect of the novel really slowed down the pacing. It was probably the least interesting part of the book which had a negative effect on how much I enjoyed it. Love, Lies and Spies has a very sweet romantic storyline, but could have been better if the protagonist had a larger role involving the main conflict.

Rating: 3/5

★★★