Sunday, 18 February 2018

Review: The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, published by Gollancz on 8th February 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
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.

There has been a lot of pre-publicity buzz surrounding 'The Belles' which I seem to have seen featured everywhere.  In addition, the book made my 'most anticipated reads' list of the year, so I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy and get stuck in.  The cover is absolutely gorgeous and really eye catching. It looks so pretty sitting on my bookcase. I'm definitely a sucker for beautifully designed cover art. The book doesn't really fall into one particular genre, although I guess it might fit the fantasy niche most of all. 

I absolutely loved the concept of the story.  It's set in Orleans where people are born grey and damned and only a Belle's powers can make them beautiful.  Belles have something unique called arcana which they can use to shape peoples' looks and change things like their hair colour or the size of their waists.  Orleans itself is magnificent and opulent and all the Belles want to stay there and be chosen as the Queen's favourite.

The story is told through the eyes of Camellia Beauregard who wants nothing more than to serve the Queen and make people beautiful.  Although out of all the characters Camellia was my favourite, she wasn't somebody who I had a deep connection with and at times I found her a bit self-centred.  She often finds it hard to follow the rules set out for her and her wilful personality definitely gets her into trouble at times.  There are elements of romance with someone she meets at the Palace but I actually enjoyed the relationship between her and the other Belles the most.  They are like sisters and are stronger when they are all together supporting one another.  My love to hate character was Princess Sophia who really gave me the creeps.  She represents someone who may look beautiful on the outside but has darkness and an evil streak inside of her. 

The author certainly has a strong message to send about what beauty is and how people covert it.  Beauty is often depicted as only skin deep and yet seen as something which is valued above all else. There are different notions of what makes someone beautiful in the story and how everyone wants to be unique and prettier or more handsome than anyone else.

I enjoyed finding out more about the origins of the Belles and as this book is the first in a trilogy, I expect there to be a lot more revelations to come.  I wasn't quite as blown away by it as I was originally expecting which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it but it didn't grip me as much as I thought it would.  The second half was a much slower read than the first half and the story veered down a different path which opened up new possibilities for the rest of the series. 

An original and unique story which  was a lot of fun to read and which I will be continuing with when the series resumes.  

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Review: The Truth and Lies of Ella Black - Emily Barr

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr, published by Penguin on 11th January 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Ella Black seems to live the life most other seventeen-year-olds would kill for . . .

Until one day, telling her nothing, her parents whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro. Determined to find out why, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things.  And realises her life has been a lie.

Unable to comprehend the truth, Ella runs away, to the one place her mother and father will never think to look - the favelas.

But there she learns a terrible secret - the truth about her real parents and their past. And the truth about a mother, desperate for a daughter taken from her seventeen years ago . . .

I love books that constantly take me by surprise and 'The Truth and Lies of Ella Black' certainly did that.  The story is quite dark and twisted, keeping me on my toes throughout.  There were quite a few aspects of the plot that turned out very differently to what I had been originally expecting.

The main character is a seventeen year old called Ella Black, who it is soon evident is far from a normal teenager.  She has another personality inside of her who she calls Bella and who is extremely dangerous when let out.  Ella tries her best to keep Bella under control but there is a real power struggle between the two of them.  There's a pretty nasty scene of animal abuse quite early on in the book when Bella temporarily takes over and I found that extremely hard to read.  I originally thought that Ella might have schizophrenia which could have been causing a split personality disorder but then later events made me change my mind.

This was a story that felt like stepping on sand.  The ground beneath my feet was continually slipping as new elements to the story unravelled. One minute Ella is hanging out with her two best friends and the next minute her parents are whisking her off to Brazil.  She's made to leave everything she knows behind - her friends, her cat Humphrey and all traces of her old life.  The reader is left guessing the reason for the quick exit for quite a while, although there are hints given about the real reason behind the trip.

Ella's love interest in the book is a slightly older guy called Christian, who she meets in Brazil.  It's definitely a case of insta-love which I found slightly creepy.  He seems to fall very quickly into the shoes of white knight to Ella but I didn't find his character believable at all.  He doesn't question anything that Ella reveals to him, even though he's only just met her and I found it hard to believe that he'd go so far out of his way to help her.

The final chapter of the story was unexpected and again made me rethink my thoughts about some of the characters in the book.  I did prefer the first half more than the second, as I thought the pace was much slower at the end and some of the events seemed a little far-fetched.  This was the first book I've read by Emily Barr and overall I enjoyed it.  If you like YA thrillers with complicated heroines then this is definitely worth a read.  
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