The Belles (The Belles #1) By Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles (The Belles #1) By Dhonielle Clayton

Title: The Belles (The Belles #1)

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Format: Audiobook

Narrated By: Rosie Jones

Published: February 8th, 2018

Publisher: Orion Publishing Group Ltd

Story: ★★★★★

Narration: ★★★★★

The Belles is the first book in The Belles series by Author Dhonielle Clayton this review is for the audiobook. Narrated by Rosie Jones. I listened to the audiobook in Aug after having read the book back in June. This review will be broken up in two parts The narration and the actual story itself.

The Narration.

I’ve always said audiobooks weren’t for me. I thought I needed to physically read the book to paint an image in my head of the story. While taking a road trip to from Virginia back to NY, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try out an audiobook. I’m glad I did Rosie Jones is a magnificent audiobook narrator, her talent has completely blown me away. Initially, I was skeptical about the audiobook, the first thing I thought when the Narrators voice came on was…she doesn’t sound black. I mean Camellia’s character is African American. The voice blasting through my speakers as I sped Down I95 sounded like a British white woman (at the time I didn’t know who Rosie Jones was). And I thought I’m not sure about this. Why? Well, it wasn’t because of any racist or prejudice notions but simply because I had already read the book and the voice I was hearing didn’t coincide with what my imagination had created. Simply put it isn’t what Camellia sounded like to me.

I decided to listen further and reserve judgment for a few more chapters. Rosie Jones completely floored me every time a new character took the stage. I began to realize how foolish my initial thoughts were, the narrator is more talented than I could ever have imagined. I was amazed by her ability to remain consistent from character to character. From Madame Dubarry to Princess Sophia, Augustus, The Beauty Minister, there are too many characters to name; but I Immediately recognized each character by voice. Immediately knowing which character was speaking and I was honestly in awe wondering how she does it.

Despite my initial trepidation, Rosie Jones will be forever ingrained in my mind as Camellia’s voice.  Her expertise in capturing Camellia’s tone and personality was immaculate, because of her talent I’m guaranteed to be listening to more audiobooks in the future.

The Story.

The Belles is a unique book with an original premise. Belles are the cherished saviors of Orléans ordained by the Goddess of beauty to save the citizens or Orlèans from being driven mad by their own ugliness. The Belle’s is told through a combination of the first person POV of our main character Camellia Beauregard and Character dialogue. The story begins on the 16th birthday of the current batch of the Belles. They are to be debuted, in a showcase of their talents to all of Orléans. Each Belle, hoping to be chosen as the “Favorite” Belle, the right hand to the Queen.

Almost all the Belles want to be the favorite more than anything. None more so than Camellia. All her hopes and dreams depend upon it. But being the favorite is not all that it seems. Being a Belle isn’t all that it seems. Camellia’s ignorance and Naivety get her deeper and deeper into trouble.

Sophia is a cruel girl, with severe body dysmorphia. As a princess of Orléans Sophia has much power, using it solely to achieve her goal of being the most beautiful. She is obsessed and will do anything to achieve it.

The Queen wants nothing more than for her beloved princess Charlotte to awaken and she’s willing to use any resource at her disposal to make it happen no matter the consequences. The fate of Orléans is at stake. Charlotte is both the rightful heir and the Queen Orléans needs.

The Belles is a book about many things I can only hope that I catch them all and interpret them accurately but I’m going to try my hand. On the surface, the Belles is about Camellia using her gifts as a Belle to save Orléans. But if you read between the lines into the deeper meaning behind the words, the things alluded to by the writer will test the boundaries of some people’s comfort levels.

The people or Orléans is composed of two races, the Belles and the Gris. The Gris, born grey skinned plain pallets with blood red eyes are doomed to be driven to madness by their ugliness, if not for the intervention of a Belle.

The Belles are the “minority” race only a few exist; they are the only citizens of Orléans ones born with skin tone and color, the only ones born beautiful. Belles are kept ignorant about what they are, how they are created, and what their powers can do. It is ingrained in the Belles that this or that is their duty. Duties in which they were created for by the Goddess of beauty herself.

I found there to be a parallel between the Favored Belles and “house negroes” and the Secondary Belles and “Field Negroes.” The Secondary Belles are outright slaves they know they are slaves they are chained and forced to work until they are used up. The Favored Belles live in gilded cages ignorant of their servitude. Their captors, like the slave masters, use their god the Goddess of Beauty to justify their slavery. Jealousy and rivalry among the Belles is encouraged to create a rift,  misdirecting their attention from what’s important. The Belles don’t truly know anything of their true origins. Chains of ignorance keep them locked in servitude for generations. I wonder if this sounds familiar to anyone.

The Belles is also about how people can be slaves to superficial attributes. I’ve watched many videos on youtube where women TRANSFORM themselves into unrecognizable beauties. Transformations so complete I would never believe they were the same person in a side by side comparison. Our society is so focused on outer beauty forgetting that sometimes it just covers up the ugliness and the madness festering inside.

The world of Orléans is unique. Its only right that a book about the extravagance of beauty takes place in an alternate New Orleans. I love how Dhonielle Clayton merged ancient, futuristic, and fantastical science and technology, how the carriages contrast with things like gossip post balloons. I especially loved the teacup animals. I hated that it ended so soon.

The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2) is scheduled for release March 5th, 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. And I highly anticipate its release.

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1) By Justina Ireland

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1) By Justina Ireland

Title: Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)
Author: Justina Ireland
Published: April 3rd, 2018
Length: 464 pgs.
Format Read: Ebook
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: ★★★★★ 

Dread Nation is in the first in a new series By Author Justina Ireland. The books is a YA, Fantasy, Historical fiction; taking place in the Civil War era, America Dread Nation ask the question what if?

Ireland answers it realistically. What if the Zombie Apocalypse happened during the civil war? I think we could all imagine some very different outcomes as a result. And that’s just what Ireland has done with her book Dread Nation.

How would our white counterparts have treated us if the zombie apocalypse occurred during the civil war? The current state of race relations in our country today tells me Irelands book gets it right. Dread Nation covers many of the injustices faced by African Americans during that period in history with an undead twist.

Loopholes in the 13th Amendment, allowed free negroes to be forced back into slavery after the civil war. And the cruel experimentation on negroes for the advancement of white society. The school of thought that blacks were not of the same species as whites. Using religion to justify slavery, and passing for white and the flipside dynamic to have skin which is “passing” light. Ireland dug into the historical Archives. There’s even some mention of the Native American boarding schools. Irelands fantastical take on slavery and racism during the Civil War era is as accurate as it is refreshing, interesting, and tasteful making Dread Nation an engaging and enlightening read.

In this version, of the civil war era United States; the Native and negro re-education act led to Negroes and Native Americans children aged 12, and older being rounded up and sent to boarding schools. At the schools, they were trained to fight zombies and eventually become servants for the whites who could afford to “employ” them upon graduation. The story hints that most of the Native Americans ran away from the schools. Still, a native American character does get a good bit of screen time in the book.

There are two factions at odds in the book Egalitarians & Survivalists. Survivalists believe negroes to be inferior to whites. Egalitarians don’t believe negroes to be inferior to whites. Mayor Carr & the Survivalist act as the villains in this tale, who makes a better Villain than a politician? Mayor Carr’s beliefs and political aspirations come before the safety of his constituents.

Born the biracial daughter of the richest white woman in Haller County Kentucky during the Civil War era; Jane Mckeene is the main character and heroine of the story. Two days after she was born the Zombies rose at the battle of Gettysburg and changed the course of her life forever. Because of Janes lineage, she was able to be sent to one of the ”upper-class” boarding schools.

Jane attends Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls in Maryland. Miss Prestons houses, the negro girls whose parents have the money to ensure they end up in the better schools, mostly biracial children.
Janes is a troublemaker she and the rules have a complicated relationship. I love Jane Mckeene’s Character. Jane is mouthy, independent, resourceful, and too intelligent for her own good. And as such, has an arch Nemesis that is the cliché do-gooder tattletale, Katherine Deveraux.

Katherine Deveraux is Passing Light. And perfect at everything thus Jane can’t stand her. When Jane and Katherine uncover a plot by the mayor that’s detrimental to the city she and Katherine are shipped off to a survivalist town. They’re in big trouble, and it’s up to Jane to get them out of it.

At the beginning of the book, these two characters clash, but it isn’t long before circumstances force them together. It’s during this time that we get to see each character’s true mettle. Both girls have secrets. Both girls hide the truth of who they are. By the end of the book, I’m thoroughly impressed by the real Katherine and shocked by Jane’s secrets.

There are some references to intimate moments between characters but no scenes of a sexually graphic nature. There is violence, and murder so if your sensitive to that kind of thing this might not be the book for you. But I think this book is pretty PG 13 and suitable for readers from YA to Adult.
I give this book five out of five stars. I love the premise. I loved the accurate and evocative historical references. And I loved that the main character looks like me. Dread Nation is a great book with a strong female lead of color, written by a woman of color. I highly anticipate the release of the second book.

The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Genre: Teen Fiction
Published February 28th, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

21 years after his death Tupac Shakur’s message is still relevant to urban America, T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. the Hate you give little infants F…’s Everybody. Angie Thomas Debut Novel isn’t the first time I’ve heard that phrase but, somehow Angie Thomas managed to paint a complete and vivid portrait embodying the meaning behind the message in her Debut Novel, The Hate U Give.

The Hate you give is a first-person POV novel told through the protagonist Starr Carter. Starr is a 17-year-old black girl living in a poor Urban Neighborhood known as Garden heights. The book begins following Starr as she struggles with balancing her identities. She’s finding it hard to cope with balancing her persona from her home life and the persona she’s created to cope with life at Williamson Prep the private suburban school she attends where she’s one of two black kids attending.  She often feels uncomfortable being herself, she’s afraid of being labeled the angry, or sassy black girl. She uncomfortable showing them the real Starr.

Things take a turn early on when Starr witnesses the Murder of her unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer. As if being a teenage girl living in two worlds isn’t enough Starr now has to deal with the emotional backlash of this horrific event. As the book goes on Starr struggles with finding her voice; putting the comfort of others before her own trying to be the Starr that everyone else is comfortable with . She draws a line between Garden Heights Starr and Williamson Prep Starr.

Starr eventually with the help of the supporting character figures out who she is and what she wants to say. Finding the courage to speak up and do the right thing when it’s easier and safer to be silent.

Although Starr is the main character, many of the supporting characters play an incredibly important role in bringing Thomas’ tale to life. Several characters go through trials, tribulations, and self-discovery; while finding their voices. Or seeing things that were right in front of them that they never noticed.

The Hate U give asks tough questions and answers with the sad, unfair yet true reality of urban life. Questions like: why do minorities turn to crime? Why are people of color afraid of the police? How do the police handle minorities? How do some white people, react when you’re no longer the “token” black person when the truth of your blackness collides with their world of happy denial, prejudice, and racism.

One of the many things Thomas did well was showing both sides of the coin as far as white privilege. She shows acceptance and understanding, as well as the complete refusal to acknowledge that the adversities exist. The Hate you give isn’t about blame, but it is about the black reality.

Angie Thomas rips off the rose-colored glasses and stomps them, HARD crushing the lenses beneath her heel! The Hate U Give is a powerful, emotionally evocative tale about the political climate and societal injustices of the last MANY years as well as the PRESENT. This book is a prime example of the necessity of own voices books; no story can be as evocative to the target audience as one written by someone from the same demographic, whose experiences are similar. Someone from the outside looking in can only interpret things through the scope of their own experiences.

Angie Thomas has managed to thoroughly portray the struggles of minority life, urban Living and just frankly growing up black. She’s done it without writing your cliché Urban fiction novel about a drug-dealing gang banger glorifying the rough side of urban living (not that I have anything against those, they are highly entertaining. But cliché nonetheless). The Hate U Give, told through the scope of someone whose experiences are of such a striking similarity to mine its almost scary. The cultural references alone are enough to make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Its obvious Angie Thomas didn’t dream this she lived it and wrote her truth in this fiction.

The Hate U Give was so evocative a few pages in the movie Just Another Girl on the I.R.T popped into my head. If you’ve never seen this movie, it’s a highly underrated powerfully evocated tale of a teenage girl from Brooklyn trying to survive urban life, finish high school, and make something more of herself. If you’ve never seen it, you can stream it on Google Play, Amazon, iTunes, etc.

The Hate U Give is a road map of urban life, written in terms that anybody SHOULD be able to understand. A vivid and detailed portrayal of urban life and the pitfalls that some fall into as well as the oppressive and socioeconomic devices used to push the underprivileged over the ledge and keep them there.

Overall the book was well written and entertaining, the characterization was excellent. The pacing and dialogue were great. The message of the book isn’t a new argument, but it is a well thought out and entertaining version.

The Hate U Give is marketed under the teen fiction Genre, but its a book Everyone should read.

I loved everything about this book. I cried at the end.

Trail of Lightning By Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning By Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning is the debut book by Native American Author Rebecca Roanhorse; the first in Roanhorse’s The Sixth World Series which is destined for greatness. Rebecca Roanhorse creates a unique dystopian world, unlike anything I have read before. What would happen if there was another great flood if all that we knew washed away? What if the Navajo built a wall to control their borders? What might become of our world if we continue to abuse it? The world that we know would be no more. That’s the premise of the novel. The characters here dwell in a new world; that which was left, after most of the former world washed away. The fifth world is reborn into the Sixth world; where magic returns to the Dinè Clans. Where the old gods, their immortal children, and monsters return.

“This last flood, the one you call the Big Water, ended the Fifth World and began the Sixth.”

But the rise of the Sixth world may have been the end for the rest of the world. It was a new beginning for the DInè. As tensions rose in the fifth world the Dinè had the foresight to build a wall separating their lands from the outsiders; singing blessings as the bricks were laid until it grew in both beauty and strength. While the rest of the world washed away, the Navajo land became Dinetah.

” They say the hataałii worked hand in hand with the construction crews, and for every brick that was laid, a song was sung. Every lath, a blessing given. And the Wall took on a life of its own. When the workmen came back the next morning, it was already fifty feet high. In the east it grew as white shell. In the south, turquoise. The west, pearlescent curves of abalone, and the north, the blackest jet. It was beautiful. It was ours. And we were safe.”

“But I had forgotten that the Diné had already suffered their apocalypse over a century before. This wasn’t our end. This was our rebirth.”

Trail of Lightning is written in first person POV through our protagonist Maggie Hoskie, as well as through character dialogue, interactions, and memories. Roanhorse waste no time inducting the reader into this new world by immediately opening the story with conflict, creating a lasting first impression of our reluctant Heroine and setting the tone for the novel with powerful a powerful message and evocative language.

This is the first thing the reader learns about Maggie Hoskie:

“ I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.”

Maggie Hoskie is a Monster Hunter. Trained by the Immortal Monster hunter himself Neizghání a child of the gods, Maggie is also an outcast. When we met her she’s at a low point in her life reeling from heartbreak and abandonment; she’s lonely and feeling sorry for herself.

“Killing is the only thing I have that makes me worth anything to Neizghání? And Neizghání was the only thing I had that makes me worth anything at all?”

I don’t know a woman or girl who hasn’t felt like this at some time in their lives.

In some ways, Maggie is your cliché Fantasy Heroine a loner, scared to get close to anyone, an ass-kicking badass who doesn’t believe in her beauty.

“I’m sure a beautiful woman like her has her choice of men.” My eyes shoot to Kai, looking for the joke. I clean up okay, but no one has ever accused me of being beautiful, and I know damn well I’m not as pretty as he is.”

But as cliché as that may be, in my experience this is the recipe which has proven to be essential to the construction of a great heroine. Many of my favorite Heroines made up this way. Maggie has Honàghà K’aahanáanii, clan powers which make her, faster, stronger, but it also has a dark pull. She’s always fighting against the dark side of her clan power the bloodlust that brings out her baser nature. Imagine a little devil on your shoulder whispering sweet nothings in your ear every time someone pisses you off.

“I’m Honágháahnii, born for K’aahanáanii.” He nods, thoughtful. “Honágháahnii I know. ‘Walks-Around.’ And that means you’re . . . ?” “Fast. Really fast.” So what’s your other clan? What does K’aahanáanii mean?” “ ‘Living Arrow.’ ” “So does that mean you’re good at archery or something?” “No, Kai.”
“Living Arrow means I’m really good at killing people.”

“K’aahanáanii whispers to me that it would be simple to pull the Glock I still have tucked in my pocket and put a bullet through the back of his skull.”

At the same time, Maggie is more human than she’s willing to admit; the author allows us a more in-depth look into her life. Maggie has suffered so much pain and loss first the tragic murder of her grandmother which was the catalyst to the emergence of her power, and the most recent and still open wound being her abandonment by her mentor Neizghání who she is in love with. As someone currently recovering from the end of an eight-year relationship, I found Maggie’s experiences to be both relatable and emotive. If you thought your breakup was hell, imagine recovering from a breakup with a god. An inhumane being who cannot love on a human level (sounds a lot like my Ex). The origins of Maggie’s pain, and the motive behind her way of existing both humanized and made Maggie more real to me. When I began to understand her motives and thought processes I knew that the author had hit the mark.

Kai Arviso is the secondary character, the grandson of a Maggie’s friend a medicine man name Tuh. Kai has been exiled from the other side of the wall a town known as Burque formerly known as Albuquerque. Kai is a devilishly handsome man with a way with words. He’s also a medicine man, and he’s hiding something. Maggie and Kai are opposites Kai is a people person, and adverse to violence. However, he appreciates the necessity of violence as well as Maggie’s violent nature together they are a balanced pair what Kai lacks in his capacity for violence he makes up for in both charm and power. Balance is essential in Native American Culture.

“Kai steps forward. Starts to sing. Navajo words, soft and low. Closer, within twenty feet, he lets them come. Voice still steady. Fifteen. Twelve. And then he flicks the lighter alive, leans in over the flame, and blows. His breath catches the fire, sends it whirling. Small at first, but then it grows. Tall as a child, but then taller. And it circles, twisting into a cyclone of blue and orange and yellow and red, until it’s a massive whirlwind of fire that builds, builds. “

As the series grows, I expect Kai to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.

In almost every fiction book with a Native American element Coyote, the trickster is often a common theme. He pops up frequently in both fantasy and urban fantasy, in fact, he’s the father of one of my favorite characters Mercy Thompson.

Coyote is most often written not as a benevolent god by usually not as one purposely out to cause harm, even though his trickster nature often does. Coyote’s character has been written in many different incarnations, but Roanhorse’s Coyote is a character I’ve never met before.

Although some elements remain the same, there are nuances that separate Roanhorse’s coyote from the rest of the pack; making this version of Coyote distinctly different. This Coyote is dark a little twisted and reminds that the gods are not like us, mere mortals cannot comprehend their motives.

“I think now that it must have tickled him, a creature who could change his shape as easily as humans shed clothes, to dress the white man’s frontier dandy when visiting a Navajo girl. He looked splendid, of course, but the choice was subtly cruel. I knew the stories of the Long Walk, of duplicitous land agents and con men. To remind me of them was no accident on his part.”

“I shudder at the blast of fury that pours from his body. For a moment, the pretense of the Western gentleman falters and I glimpse his true form under the facade. Shaggy gray-and-brown muzzle, dull yellow eyes, a mouthful of teeth meant for tearing carrion. He fills the room, frightening and unnatural”

While we often get the “gist” of cultural references, it’s evident that when writing second hand on the lore of other cultures; while assuming to have a full understanding of their ways, you are bound to fall short; this is the reason why own voices books are so important. It’s a testament to how powerfully written Roanhorse’s Coyote is, that as I read, I had the impression that every other version of Coyote I ever read was wrong. And the author acknowledges this.

“ So that was the Coyote?” Finished, he pushes the bowl away and leans back, stretching his lithe frame out and crossing his legs under my coffee table, arms behind his head. “He wasn’t what I expected.” ”

“ “What did you expect?” “I don’t know. A little less serious, I guess. All the Coyote stories I’ve heard portray him as kind of a fool.” He shrugs. “He didn’t seem so bad.” ”

I look forward to the development of this series and revisiting the Sixth World.

According to 23 and me, I’m only 1.7 percent native American but 100% proud of this book. Trail of Lightning is a fantastic debut novel I loved it! And you should grab a copy too!

Roanhorse is currently working on, Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2) which is Scheduled for release April 23rd 2019 by Saga Press and available for pre order.

Visit Roanhorse’s Website here

Storm of Locust Amazing book cover

RR - Storm of locusts