The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (2018)

Rating: 4.134506912

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a reimagined fairy tale, where the focus is less on marriage prospects, and more on understanding one’s own identity as a genderqueer individual.

The story does an excellent job of showcasing gender fluidity through a classic fairy tale lens. It’s a great book for a variety of age levels showing how someone can feel sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine, but never feel at peace with one or the other. With the rise of transgender characters in literature, it is important to also have role models that show there are other ways of presenting oneself out there.

The dressmaker character of Frances plays the role of the much needed supportive friend, the one who sees our Prince/Lady for who they are in both presentations. Frances is also a great cautionary tale of what can happen when we take these precious and supportive friends for granted.

A graphic novel is a nice art form for this piece, as it allows the reader to see the beauty and comfort level of our Prince Sebastian/Lady Crystalia in their different outfits. They are at ease in both, and the audience can see this. Although there is conflict and societal strife within the piece, the resolution is hopelessly optimistic, demonstrating a reality we wish we could have for all who identify as more than one gender.

Recommendation: A truly lovely LGBT graphic novel read. A must for my library.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (2018)

Rating: 4.2 Stars23197837.jpg

Imagine if a society became so obsessed with beauty, that people demanded real physical changes nearly everyday. The Belles can make it reality. They possess the almost magical ability to change everything about how you look through their touch. But the world can’t all be beautiful when a corrupt and horrifyingly sadistic princess is next in line for the throne. 

This new book on court intrigue takes the dystopian genre and makes it beautiful. It questions how important it is to maintain constant altering beauty. Clayton opens the story with a stunning depiction of the world, with enhancing details that paint an illuminating picture of the palace and those who reside within it. We know that Camille is special, but we have yet to see what role she plays as we are captivated by the power she possesses to make people beautiful. She can reshape your body physically, alter your insides, restructure your face, or simply change your hair.

Clayton entrances us, and then throughout the book, terrifies us as this world is twisted and darker than we thought possible. She makes us question our own society’s understanding of beauty and ponder if we had the same magical advantage, where our world could go. It’s stunningly sinister.

Although some elements of the story were predictable, there were certainly enough twists and turns to keep readers engaged. You were never sure how far Princess Sophia would go. You never want to believe she would go that far.

Camille is the right voice to tell the story as we can identify with her struggle, and see through her eyes how this world she believed was so perfect, has so much darkness.

Recommendation: If you like a good fantasy with an emphasis on defining beauty, it’s well worth the read.

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Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp (2018)

Rating: 3.4 Stars33918883.jpg

Short Summary: After having left six months prior, Corey returns to Lost Alaska for the memorial service of her best friend, a girl who dies under mysterious circumstances. She is further disturbed by the towns change in perception of her best friend from ostracizing Kyra for her mental illness to idolizing her in her death.

What I liked: I really enjoyed how creepy the town was. Lost brought in great themes of isolation and desperation. The author did an excellent job with creating an unsettling surrounding. It was an interesting view we saw through the eyes of a girl who was once such a well accepted member of this society who has now become an outsider.

I also loved the shout out to asexuality. I can’t remember ever reading a book with a main character who identifies this way. So many YA titles feel the need to thrive on the romance as a part of the book, and this one did well without it. The author really could have done more with this theme. I really do like her writing style, as it is so fluid and easy to read.

What I didn’t: When I read this book, I expected it to be similar to her previous one “This is how it ends” – a fast moving book about a school shooting. It was not. This book is quite slow. Even though the story takes place over the span of six days, little happens. Although the writing is engaging and there is enough conflict within the story to keep me moving forward with it, I kept expecting there to be more.

There were quite a few areas that I was simply left with too many questions. In some cases with mysteries – this can be a good thing, but others, its not. This was one of those times I wanted a few more answers.

The main character was okay. I didn’t find too much about her that I really liked, she was just kind of there.

Recommendation: If you need something fast paced, and are reading it because you’re looking for something similar to her previous book, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a slower paced mystery, with a fluid writing style, this might be of more interest.

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36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You By Vicki Grant (2017)

Rating: 3.5 Stars34220094.jpg

Short Summary: Hildy and Paul sign up for a psychological experiment seeking to answer the question “can love be engineered?”

What I liked: Its a really cute concept, and a great avenue to really develop two characters throughout a piece to showcase who they are and how such different characters can become emotionally connected when they really let go. It led to a strong character driven book.

What I didn’t: I think my main issue with the book is it seems like Paul had all the power in the relationship throughout most of the book. Hildy was supposed to be seen as a stronger character at times, but it felt like there were so many answers to questions that she gave that really opened and exposed her, while her counterpart did little. I understand that this is all about who Paul was as a character, but it seemed to me like he held more of the cards, thus turning Hildy into a weaker character than she could have been intended to be.

I’d also have liked a little more explanation as to how these characters worked through their differences on occasion and their motivation to finish the list, as it wasn’t always enough for me.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a cute character driven predictable romance, this might appeal.

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Everless by Sara Holland (2018)

Rating: 3.9 Stars32320661.jpg

Short Summary: Jules lives in a world where currency is time and there are consequences when you do not have enough of it. As she tries to save her family, her journey takes her back to her childhood home, the dangerous palace where she was a servant in hopes of making enough to keep her and her father safe. She soon learns that the palace holds more secrets than she had thought.

What I liked: I was immediately captivated by the cover of this book. I’d been hearing a lot of buzz over it as the January “should read” selections were coming through and it was high on my list of books to acquire.

I thought the concept was rather fascinating, but very reminiscent of the 2011 film “In Time”, where time is the currency in which you pay for your existence. While “In Time” took a more sci fi approach, I liked the fantasy take on the idea. I have to say the world building was probably my favourite part of the book. I thought it was relatively unique (despite the similarity to the film), it was creatively considered. The second aspect I enjoyed was the plot’s various twists and turns. This was what kept me engaged throughout the piece.

What I didn’t: Although I enjoyed the main character, as a reader, I wanted more evidence as to why Jules would make some of the decisions that she did. At times, I didn’t find myself convinced enough of her actions and was left curious as to whether her motivations were simply not well enough explained, or that she was an idiotic character. On the whole, if you can dismiss that, enjoy the ride.

The romance was a disappointment and I genuinely feel like the story would have been much stronger without it there at all. Sure, there were dimensions of conflict that it created within the piece, but it simply wasn’t very believable or well developed.

Recommendation: If you are intrigued by the idea, give it a go, because conceptually, it is an interesting read. I wouldn’t read it for the characters.

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (2018)

Rating: 4.5 Stars26032825.jpg

This book caught my attention months ago, and I ended up purchasing it before I read it (which I rarely do). I was not disappointed.

Short Summary: Jude is a human girl, brought to live in the twisted world of Faerie as a child, and now as a young adult tries to make sense of her place in this cut throat society. Think Game of Thrones meets the Courts of Faerie.

What I liked: Its rich with conflict. Jude is in conflict with every character at one point in time or another, which really moves the story forward, and keeps you engaged. Jude is exactly the type of character I love to follow. She’s strong, she doesn’t depend on anyone around her to increase her life quality, she’s opportunistic, smart, calculating and considers her every move carefully. The book had many twists and turns, few I expected, some I did not expect and loved.

What I didn’t: It’s hard to root for any character because every one of them is inherently flawed and every one of them leaves you questioning their intentions. No one is trustworthy, which makes it interesting, but also difficult for the reader to root for anyone at all. Some of the court manipulations were fascinating, while some were a little slower.

Recommendation: It’s not for younger audiences. Its dark, and you need to have an appreciation for dark stories to enjoy this book. It’s not straightforward or conventional, which made it right what I wanted.

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What Goes Up by Katie Kennedy (2017)

3.4 Stars.31450696.jpg

Short Summary: A group of teens vie for their place amongst NASA’s elite teen science program and once through, discover that their role is much more important than anticipated.

What I liked: The switch between the two main characters was interesting. I thought they provided a nice contrast, they were well constructed (Eddie more so than Rosa) and their thought process and energy kept me entertained. The writing itself throughout the beginning part of the novel had me whizzing through pages wondering what would happen next. On the whole, I found the first part of the book rather captivating.

What I didn’t: I hate it when the book jacket gives away too much, and then you end up having your entire vision skewed as a result. This was what happened for me. That being said, my biggest problem however was that without the book jacket, it was so hard to see where this book was going. I was a solid 100 pages into it, and I didn’t really have a clue what the plot was. It seemed like a book made up with many mini plots that connected through a linear timeline, but those gaps between those plots tended to really sag on the reader engagement. I also had some difficulty with plot holes I didn’t really understand, but this came second to my initial issue.

Recommendation: If you are interested in the prospect of the book, the characters are entertaining enough, and the writing itself is strong enough to keep you engaged, but it takes a little blind faith to lead you through the elongated beginning.

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