Enchanting and Thrilling: A Review on The Belles

Belle

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TW: ableism, lesbian character deaths, sexual assault (attempted and mentioned), animal cruelty

This book also deals with body image. Scenes may be triggering.


What’s It About?

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.


My Thoughts

[some spoilers ahead]

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A Review: Sightwitch

Sight

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What’s It About?

Set a year before Truthwitch, Sightwitch follows Ryber Fortiza, the last Sightwitch Sister as she treks deep underground to rescue her missing best friend. While there, she encounters a young Nubrevnan named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he wound up inside the mountain. As the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, and as they brave one close call after another, a tentative friendship forms between them—one that might one day grow into something more.


My Thoughts

Sightwitch made me love fall in love with fantasy deeper. It’s a short book but it managed to envelope me in its world, its magic, its monsters and its plot. I loved the format of a collection of finds, details on powers and witches, and the characters’ diaries. The plot twists were refreshing – I really did not see that climax coming.

The only thing that disappointed me was the length. I wish the book was a full-length novel so there would be more room for character development, more time to immerse in the Sightwitch Sisters world, and yes, more of the story – though the shortness did give the high stakes a stronger effect and leaving me with more questions. Hopefully the next books would give answers and more of Ryber and Kullen.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A Soul-Consuming Read: The Cruel Prince

CP

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TW: suicide, parental murder, bullying

What is it About?

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

My Review

*some spoilers ahead*

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Blog Tour: The Harper Effect

BLOG TOUR _square

Hello! The first weeks of the year have already been busy for me since the number of books I need to review keep growing. Okay, my fault for not saying no haha. Okay, welcome to another blog tour I’m participating in. The book this time is The Harper Effect, an Australian YA.

What is it About?

Sixteen-year-old Harper was once a rising star on the tennis court—until her coach dropped her for being “mentally weak.” Without tennis, who is she? Her confidence at an all-time low, she secretly turns to her childhood friend, next-door neighbor Jacob—who also happens to be her sister’s very recent ex-boyfriend. If her sister finds out, it will mean a family war.

But when Harper is taken on by a new coach who wants her to train with Colt, a cold, defensive, brooding young tennis phenom, she hits the court all the harder, if only to prove Colt wrong. But as the two learn to become a team, Harper gets glimpses of the vulnerable boy beneath the surface, the boy who was deeply scarred by his family’s dark and scandalous past. The boy she could easily find herself falling for.

As she walks a fine line between Colt’s secrets, her forbidden love, and a game that demands nothing but the best, Harper must decide between her past and her future and between two boys who send her head spinning. Is the cost of winning the game is worth losing everything?

My Review

The writing is good and it’s refreshing to read about a YA book with a sports theme, with a main character who’s a teen tennis player. And I’m not into sports. I liked the scenes where training and the games were involved.

But I had to knock off some stars since the characters including Harper got on my nerves. Most of the time, she’s an unlikeable character that I don’t like. She does things that I don’t understand – I couldn’t follow her thoughts – and there are moments of internalised misogyny that don’t get challenged – much revolved around her love interest. Why are the other women associated with the guy rivals and kinda slut-shamed?

Colt is another brooding YA male who Harper helps get through tough times and eventually he lets her through his armour. Just boring stuff. It wouldn’t be if their relationship remained platonic and a little healthier for me.

The romance or love triangle was…unbearable. It felt so over the top, a little creepy at times (consent, not pressuring people to open up, and not stalking are actually cool, guys) and just an annoyance. Harper’s friend and sort-of boyfriend Jacob is an ass who’s forgiven too quickly. I wanted more page time of Harper and her sister instead. I thought the resolution for them was too brief.

So were the major tennis tournaments towards the end. The fast pacing made me think that winning and tennis weren’t important to Harper after all the mid-life crises she had.

Rating: 🌟🌟


Thank you Pan Macmillan for the review copy. My thoughts are based on the book and are my own.


 

Between the Blade and the Heart Blog Tour

Cover Between the Blade and the Heart

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Hello! Between the Blade and the Heart, inspired by the Valkyries and Norse mythology (are you thinking of Thor: Ragnarok right now?), is my first review and blog tour of 2018.

What is it About?

When the fate of the world is at stake
Loyalties will be tested

Game of Thrones meets Blade Runner in this commanding new YA fantasy inspired by Norse Mythology from New York Times bestselling author Amanda Hocking.

As one of Odin’s Valkyries, Malin’s greatest responsibility is to slay immortals and return them to the underworld. But when she unearths a secret that could unravel the balance of all she knows, Malin along with her best friend and her ex-girlfriend must decide where their loyalties lie. And if helping the blue-eyed boy Asher enact his revenge is worth the risk—to the world and her heart.

My Review

I enjoyed the book more so than Hocking’s previous books. Between the Blade and the Heart flows more nicely. It’s straightforward, an easy and quick read, and the plot is quite focused. There aren’t distracting subplots. But the climax is too short and the ending is…mundane.

The characters are okay. I like the Valkyries and their duties, and the consequences of not following orders hooked me in. The plot twist involving some gods is also a highlight. The book touches on the Valkyries not getting too attached to others, pulling my heart strings. But I found the romance between Malin and Asher mediocre (he’s also mediocre) and just…there’s no heat, okay. Them hitting on each other doesn’t make sense and that’s why I didn’t feel anything when that thing involving Asher towards the end happened. Malin has a better relationship with her best friend. Why can’t they be in love?

Besides Odin, I’m bothered by how the other few poc characters, minor characters, are portrayed, not like the main characters, e.g. a Japanese character shapeshifting into a spider-like monster. There’s also the part where languages other than English are kind of fading away and Central America being described negatively in terms of civilisation. It’s also near the entrance of the underworld.

There are moments where it feels like the settings, especially the far off places, are fetishised, having an “exotic” feel. As for the bisexual and lesbian rep, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s sweet and makes my heart race, but on the other, I’m like “Really?”

Anyway, the book has some flaws, but it still has admirable things, enough to like it.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Q&A with Amanda Hocking

Q: What or who was the inspiration behind Between the Blade and the Heart?

A: I have already written several books inspired by Scandinavian folklore, and I was always fascinated by Valkyries. But because I had already done in Scandinavian fantasy, I wanted to come at this one from a different angle. I imagined the Valkyries helping to police a gritty, diverse, cyberpunk metropolis, in a world filled with not just Norse figures but from many mythologies.

Q: What are the life lessons that you want readers to glean from your book?

A: That love is a strength, not a weakness.

Q: If you were given the chance to go on a date with one of your characters, who would you choose and what would you do together?

A: Oona. She doesn’t swing that way, but since I’m married anyway, it would be a friendship date. I think it would be fun to go to an apothecary with her and have her show me around the magic. Or maybe just veg out and watch bad movies.

Q: Would the essence of your novel change if the main protagonist were male?

A: Yes, it would be changed dramatically. For one, Valkyries are women. But I also think the book explores the relationships between mothers and daughters, and friendships between young women.

Q: What is your definition of true love in YA literature?

A: There has to be passion and desire – not necessarily anything physical, but so much of young love is about yearning. But I also think that true love is based on mutual respect and selflessness.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be an author/start writing?

A: My biggest piece of advice is to just write. It’s so easy to get caught up in self-doubt or procrastination. There are lot of great books and blogs about the art of writing, but the most important thing is really to just do it. The best way to get better at writing is by doing it.

Q: What’s one book you would have no trouble rereading for the rest of your life?

A: It would be a toss up between Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve read both of those books a dozen times already, at least, and I never get sick of them.

Q: How did you name your characters? Are they based on people you know in real life?

A: It’s combination of names I like and taking inspiration from the world itself. With Between the Blade and the Heart, the names were inspired both by the mythology they come from – many Valkyries have Norse names like Malin, Teodora, and Freya, for example – and the futuristic setting of the book, so I wanted names that seemed a bit cooler and just slightly different than the ones we use now.

Q: Alright, Amanda, I know you’re a movie buff. What are some movies your characters would pick as their all-time favorites?

A: That’s a tough one. Malin – The Crow, Oona – Pan’s Labyrinth, Quinn – Wonder Woman, Asher – Inception, and Marlow – Twelve Monkeys.

Q: Which mythological character is the most like you?

A: Demeter, because she’s pretty dramatic – she basically kills all the plants in the world when her daughter goes missing – but she’s also determined, and will stop at nothing to protect those she cares about.

Q: Who is your favorite character in this book and why?

A: Oona or Bowie. Oona because she’s so practical, supportive, and determined, and Bowie because he’s adorable.

Q: What is your favorite scene and why?

A: I don’t know if there is one particular scene that I loved more than the others, but I really enjoyed writing about the city that Malin lives in and all the creatures that inhabit it.

Q: What cities inspired the urban haven where the Valkyries live?

A: I was really obsessed with this idea of an overpopulated metropolis, and so I took a lot of inspiration from some of the biggest cities in the world, particularly Tokyo, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Manila. The city itself is actually a sort of futuristic, alternate reality of Chicago (one of my favorite cities in the world), and I wanted to incorporate that into it as well.

Q: What came first: The world, the mythology, or the characters?

A: I usually say the characters come first, and the world builds around it. But for this one, it really was the world that drew me into it. I knew I was writing about a young woman who was a Valkyrie, but that about all when I began building up the world and the mythology.

Q: I love that these characters are in college. What inspired this choice?

A: Because of the complex relationship Malin has with her mother, I knew I wanted some distance between them, so I thought putting her in college, living away from her mom, was a good way to do it. Plus, I thought it would be fun to explore the all the supernatural training that would be needed to do these specialized jobs that come up in a world where every mythological creature exists.

Q: What songs would you include if you were to make a soundtrack for the book?

A: This is my favorite question! I love creating soundtracks that I listen to while writing a book, and here are some of my favorite tracks from my Between the Blade and the Heart playlist: Annie Lennox – “I Put a Spell on You,” Daniel Johns – “Preach,” Halsey – “Trouble (stripped),” Meg Myers – “Sorry (EthniKids Remix),” and MYYRA – “Human Nature.”

Q: Was this book always planned as a series or did that develop afterwards?

A: It was always planned as a duology. I don’t want to go into too much or risk spoiling the second book, but I had this idea that one book would be above, and the other below.

Q: Your novels and characters are so layered. How do you stay organised while plotting/writing? Do you outline, use post-it notes, make charts, or something else?

A: All of the above! This one was the most intensive as far as research and note taking goes, and I also had maps, glossaries, and extensive lists of various mythologies. I think I ended up with thirteen pages of just Places and Things. I do a lot of typed notes, but I also do handwritten scribbles (which can sometimes be confusing to me later on when I try to figure out what they mean. I once left myself a note that just said “What are jelly beans?”) For this one, I really did have to have lots of print outs on hand that I could look to when writing.

Q: You’ve said that pop culture and the paranormal both influence your writing. How do these things intersect for you?

A: In a way, I think they’re both about how humans choose to interpret and define the world that surrounds us. So many mythologies come from humans trying to make sense of the seasons and the chaos of existence, and even though we’ve moved past a lot of the scientific questions, pop culture is still tackling our existence. Even when looking at shows made for kids, like Pixar, they handle a lot of difficult concepts, like what it means to love someone else, how to be a good friend, facing your fears, and overcoming loss. These are things that mythologies and stories have been going over for centuries.

Q: Did you choose the title first, or write the book then choose the title?

A: It depends on the book, but I will say with this one that it took a very, very long time to come up with a title. It was already written and edited, and we were still bouncing around different names.

Q: How many more books can we expect in Between the Blade and the Heart series?

A: One more! From the Earth to the Shadows will be out in April 2018.

Q: What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)?

A: I don’t want to say too much or risk spoiling it, but there’s a scene near the end of the book where a confrontation leaves Malin reeling. I wrote it in an almost present tense, stream-of-consciousness way because I thought that was the best way to capture the raw intensity of her emotions.

AUTHOR BIO

Amanda Hocking NEW--credit Mariah Paaverud with Chimera Photography

Amanda Hocking is the author of over twenty young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. Her love of pop culture and all things paranormal influence her writing. She spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book.

Author Website: http://www.worldofamandahocking.com/

Twitter: @Amanda_Hocking

Facebook: @AmandaHockingFans

Author Blog