Serena’s Review: “The Beautiful Ones”

335741431Book: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book from NetGalley

Book Description: 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.

Review: Like my recent review of “The Goblins of Bellwater,” I think this book is another example of a poorly written book description. Unlike “Goblins” which read more as contemporary romance, the more true genre focus (historical romance) of this book happens to be one that I enjoy and was particularly in the mood for, thus coloring my reaction to this initial misdirection. Like in that case, however, I do think both of these books would be better received had they been marketed more appropriately to the groups of readers who are true fans of these types of books.

I know that “fantasy” is kind of going through a boom right now, but targeting every book towards that community when there may only be the barest hint of actual fantasy elements in your book, is unlikely to be met with a positive reaction. This book, for example, is presented as if it is going to be a “fantasy apprenticeship” type book, leading the reader to assume much of the book is about Nina learning to navigate her own abilities. Not so. This is much more closely aligned with historical romance fiction with a brief dash of fantasy.

Getting off that soap box and on to the review itself! As I mentioned above, “The Beautiful Ones” ticked many boxes for me, and the fact I was surprised by the story I was getting almost added to my personal enjoyment. Nina is has come to the city to experience her first Grand Season. Under the tutelage of her glittering and popular married cousin Valerie, she soon comes to realize that she does not fit the typical mold of a debutante. Luckily, she meets Hector Auvrey, a performer who has leveraged his own telekinetic powers to raise himself to position and influence. But Hector and Valerie have a history of their own.

The story is told from the perspectives of all three characters, something that I was initially skeptical of (my own personal preference is always to follow one main character), but I quickly grew to love this format. Nina, Valerie, and Hector all have distinct voices and are fully realized characters of their own, each with strengths, weaknesses, and their own agendas. Valerie, in particular, is the type of villainous character who you simply love to hate. And Hector is the perfect example of a flawed hero. Nina, on the other hand, may have read as a bit too perfect, but her naivete and the growth she goes through, particularly in the last half of the story, are enough to keep her from falling into a “special snowflake” category. Further, with Valerie and Hector being as frustrating as they were at times, Nina’s chapters proved a bit of a relief.

We all know my feelings on instalove plot lines (recently I DNF’d “Juliet Immortal” for committing this sin in the most blatant way, choosing to not even review the book on this blog out of sheer and utter frustration). “The Beautiful Ones” seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s answer to this trend. It serves as a perfect rebuttal to all the things that are wrong with an instalove storyline. Not only is the main romance a slow burn story, based on many interactions, and taking place over a full year, but the failures of previous romances that followed the instalove equation are fully explored and the repercussions are serious.

This book is almost completely character driven. There is little action (other than balls and visits to the country side). The fantasy elements of this story are very minimal. You could remove them all together, honestly, and not much would change in this story. There are many scenes of characters simply talking to each other. In this way, it is a slow read, and yet, loving this genre as I do, I blew through it in a day. If you enjoy historical romances, ala Jane Austen, this is the perfect book for you!

Rating 9: A complete and utter surprise with characters you couldn’t help but root for, both to succeed and fail miserably!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beautiful Ones” is on these Goodreads lists: “2017 Latinx/Latin American SFF” and “Fantasy of Manners.”

Find “The Beautiful Ones” at your library using WorldCat

Kate’s Review: “The Town Built On Sorrow”

34773852Book: “The Town Built on Sorrow” by David Oppegaard

Publishing Info: Flux, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: Welcome to the strange mountain foothills town of Hawthorn, where sixteen-year-old Harper Spurling finds herself increasingly obsessed with the diary of a local 1860s pioneer girl while a serial killer runs unchecked through the area, dumping his victims into the town’s dark river. As Harper’s curiosity leads her closer and closer to the killer, she’ll have to think fast or join the killer’s growing list of victims. Because in Hawthorn, a town built on sorrow, the barrier between life and death is as fragile as an old, forgotten skull.

Review: First and foremost I’d like to give a huge thank you to both NetGalley, for providing me with this book, and David Oppegaard, whose FB post pointed me towards the book on NetGalley in the first place.

We are officially kicking off Horrorpalooza, in which I try and keep my focus (mostly) on horror/scary stories for the month of October! October is my very favorite month because of Halloween, and I intend to honor it with tales to chill your bones and give you nightmares! So let’s begin!

A few years ago I took a horror writing class at a local writing workshop in downtown Minneapolis. My teacher was a man named David Oppegaard, who also happened to be a friend of a friend. Not only did I enjoy his class immensely, I still see David at Halloween and Christmas parties each year, in which we stand over various punch bowls and talk about any and all things. David has written a few books, his previous book “The Firebug of Balrog County” a Minnesota Book Award Nominee (and one that I quite enjoyed). While that one was more realistic/contemporary teen fiction, his newest book “The Town Built on Sorrow” is straight up horror/thriller, with a little historical fiction thrown in for good measure. It’s a combination that works pretty well, and sets up for a dreamy and atmospheric setting.

We follow the storylines of three characters. The first is Harper, an ambitious and driven high school girl living in the small town of Hawthorn. She has been obsessing over the diary of a pioneer girl who was part of the settling party of the town in the 1800s, named Sofie Helle. Right off the bat I thought this was pretty unique, as what YA novels as of late have shown their lady protagonists having a healthy interest in history? Perhaps there are some, but I haven’t read them. The second is Olav, an outsider from his peers at the high school is is also, spoiler alert but not really, a serial killer. The third is Sofie Helle herself, through not only her diary, but also flashbacks to see what the diary never did. Of the three, I probably liked Harper’s the most, just because she did feel like a pretty typical teenage girl, and her interests were of interest to me. And since we know that Olav is bad news, it was rife with tension when we saw her slowly getting to know him and becoming attracted to him. I really liked that aspect of the story, as the suspense about her wellbeing would teeter towards unbearable. I also liked the Sofie story, as the dangers and horrors of the prairie to the untrained interloper can have dire consequences. Right out of the gate a baby is taken and eaten by a wolf, which really got my attention. You know from the get go that Hawthorn is going to have a dark pall over it, and darkness is indeed oozing off the page. It’s definitely a dark, dark book, as death is always just within striking distance, and watching it slowly circle Harper in the form of Olav is distressing. And then when a strange dark form appears in a dark room part way through the book, well, the gothic tension just shuddered and oozed off of the page, and damn was it effective. The blend of real life horror and supernatural horror works well here, and I almost always imagined Hawthorn with a dense fog because of how Oppegaard builds it in the reader’s mind.

But while the atmospheric notes are tight and on point, the characters themselves, likable as some were, kind of fell a bit flat for me. I liked Harper enough but she didn’t really stand out too much outside of her interest in history. Olav gave me the creeps to be sure, but it was definitely rooted in his actions and not in who he was as a person. Sofie, too, is likable enough, but there was little connection to her for me and little investment in what exactly did happen to her. I suppose that I was worried for Harper as I read the book, but only because you are supposed to be.

So while the characters themselves didn’t do much for me, Hawthorn the town was enough of a character in and of itself that the chills there made up for it. I think that “The Town Built on Sorrow” would be the perfect read for a chilly autumn night this Halloween season. So wrap yourself in a blanket, pick it up, and if you live in small town setting or in a place with forest and nature surrounding you, maybe try not to get too freaked out as you read it. I’m sure come Halloween I will get to talk to David about this story, and I know that I will definitely give him props for Hawthorn and it’s demons.

Rating 7: Tense and atmospheric, “The Town Built on Sorrow” weaves three stories together over two time periods. While the characters were kind of flat, the setting was eerie and unsettling.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Town Built on Sorrow” is new and not on many Goodreads lists as of yet. I think that it would fit in on “Small Towns with Secrets”, and “Epistolary Fiction”.

Find “The Town Build on Sorrow” at your library using WorldCat!

October 2017 Highlights

It’s October! Kate’s favorite month of the year! Serena is less sold on the idea, but can grudgingly admit to liking the fact that she can now pull out even more cardigans and sweaters to wear from her closet. The slight chill in the air also gives the perfect excuse to say “No thanks!” to any outdoor activities and justify hours on end spent curled up in a blanket reading on the couch. Here are the books we’re looking forward to getting our hands on this month!

Serena’s Picks:

30025336Book: “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Why I’m Interested: After blowing through the entire “Raven’s Cycle” which just got better with each entry, it’s not a surprise to find Stiefvater’s latest book on this list. The story takes place in Bicho Raro, Colorado, a small town not unfamiliar with every day miracles. Three cousins, each with a unique miraculous ability of their own, all learn that not everything wished for comes true in the manner you may expect. Or want. There’s been some early controversy around this book (which is an entire post in itself, since how can there be much controversy over a book many of us haven’t even read yet??), so I’m excited to read it and form my own opinion.

34128219Book: “The Book of Dust” by Philip Pullman

Publication Date: October 19, 2017

Why I’m Interested: AAAAAAAAHHHHHH! I mean, is any actual reason needed?? It’s a prequel to “The Golden Compass” trilogy! This should be titled “Why I’m Scared” not “Why I’m Interested.” That’s always the cruel twist of returning to a world you’ve always loved. My one reassurance in this case is that young Lyra is very, very young. A baby. So it seems that she’s more of a side character than anything, which leaves the door wide open for Pullman to let other, new characters shine without damaging the story that we all know and love that follows. Mostly, I’m excited to see some good Mrs. Coulter/Lord Asriel action!

33574143Book: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publication Date: October 24, 2017

Why I’m Interested: By now it’s been well-established that I love the combination of historical “etiquette” books and fantasy. Antonina Beaulieu has a gift, a telekinetic gift. But her limited control of this ability has made her the target of malicious gossip and rumors. She’s finds comfort, and potentially love, in the tutelage of a grand performer, Hector Auvray. But is Auvray all he appears to be? And is his courtship of Nina to be trusted? This last part, especially, the question surrounding the romantic plot line, is what intrigues me the most about this story. It could go one of several ways: A.) there is no romance and he’s a villain character, B.) he’s actually a good guy, though there’s a question surrounding this for much of the story, or C.)…there’s a love triangle. We’ll see!

Kate’s Picks:

34690764Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” by Marguerite Bennett

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Because DUH AND OR HELLO?!?! It’s a new “DC Bombshells” Collection!! And judging by the cover, it looks like my girls Harley and Ivy are going to be back! While I did most certainly enjoy the previous installment, I have been ACHING to see more of those two, Zatanna, and that action that is going on in Europe, so I’m hoping that we will get all of that in this issue. Plus, it’s always fun to see who will turn up and how they will subvert certain plots and truths from the DC Universe to fit into this story. I’m hoping that somehow, some way, Star Girl comes back, though I’m not holding my breath.

28096526Book: “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo

Publication Date: October 17, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Malinda Lo is known for writing some well regarded LGBTQIA YA fiction, and given that this sounds like it could be a bit of romance with a bit of psychological intensity I am fully on board. It’s about two best friends, Angie and Jess. Jess is attracted to Angie, but Angie falls for a preppy girl named Margot who goes to a local boarding school. Margot, of course, brings these two into her inner circles, and it sounds like things get pretty messy, pretty quickly. And you all know how much I love catty girls at boarding school! I’ve been meaning to read Malinda Lo for awhile now, and now seems as good a time as any! Especially if things get disturbing and dark.

34497909Book: “Haunted Nights” by Lisa Morton (Ed.)

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Well obviously it’s because it’s October, and with October comes HALLOWEEN!! So what better way to get amped for Halloween than with a collection of ghost stories!! And even better, this collection of scary stories is specifically themed to have a focus on Halloween and the scary things that come with it. With popular authors like Seanan McGuire, Jonathan Maberry, and Garth Nix on board, this collection is sure to have something for everyone, and is coming out just in time for the best and scariest time of year!

What are you excited for this month? Let us know in the comments!