The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles #1)

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“The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton

4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“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.”

From the very start, “The Belles” had an entrancing quality to it. I could feel the textures, see the colors, and experience the sounds of Clayton’s novel from the first chapter of Camellia’s story. I instantly connected with the rich and fluid quality that Dhonielle’s storytelling style seemed to possess, and I really love how “très français” the begging of this book felt while I was reading it. Between the opulence of the court, the fashion, and the absolute need and desire for beauty and power, I felt like I was reading about King Louis XIV’s court. It has been a long time since I have read a book that has so instantly drawn me into its story, and I was both enthralled and disgusted by the opulence and excess of the broken world that Dhonielle portrayed in “The Belles.” Dhonielle Clayton is a very impressive author to elicit so spontaneously both positive and negative emotions; the beauty was alluring in this book, but then I would pause to think about how vicious and truly disturbing the heart of the “culture” of Orléans was. With this book, I appreciate the fact that I felt so strongly opposed/drawn to the world that Dhonielle had created for her heroine. I was also pleasantly surprised that Camellia was not a born rebel, already prepared to usurp the authority of Orléans, when I was “introduced” to her.

Camellia was a follower. She was obedient, subservient. Most people might have issues with that aspect of this character’s personality, but I rather liked it. Sometimes I feel like YA novels get more than a little too formulaic with the development of their heroines and heroes. Somehow these girls and boys are just born rebels, unlike anyone else in their culture or society, and that their “perfectly” devised rebellion against the rules is exactly what all the world needs. I’m tired of reading the same type of characters recast with new names. So for me, Camellia was a breath of fresh air. This poor girl was unique by her society’s standards due to the fact that she was born with the gift of beauty, but she was otherwise the opposite of a rebel in the beginning of this book. What I so enjoyed about “The Belles” was how it took trials, experiences, and seeing the ugly truth behind the elegantly constructed façade of her world to make Camellia think about the consequences of such a cruelly stratified society. Gradually, she began to see what needed to stopped, what needed to be changed, and learned to be brave enough to do what was right. Camellia was not born with the tools that so many other heroines are given in their own books, but Dhonielle did such an amazing job of writing the struggle between Camellia’s desire to only see and create beauty for her society, while also wanting to be free of the confines of the Orléans’ toxic culture. I loved that Camellia’s character development was a slow-burn; she still has a long way to go in the next book, but I am really looking forward to seeing Camellia grow more fully into who she has the potential to be.

A unique aspect to this book was how the tone of the novel changed as Camellia began to discover what made her world keep spinning. I know that many books get darker as they go along, or they become grittier as the characters uncover what’s going on or who needs to be stopped. But with “The Belles,” it felt almost artful in how the tones were fluffy, elegant, and airy while Camellia was enamored with the court of Orléans, but as she became aware of what others were doing to gain power and beauty and that she was just a pawn in their game, the tone became darker, almost grayish in hue. I know that most books attempt to do this as its hero or heroine evolves, but the writing style in “The Belles” made the transition and change in tone feel so fluid and elegant that I did not notice the contrast right away, because I was so engrossed in the story. Dhonielle’s writing style didn’t lose its fluid descriptiveness even as it maintained a sense of gravity that was appropriate for the situation and the parallels it was drawing between this book and our current society.

Oh, the parallels! Honestly, I just loved how Dhonielle put societies’ standards of beauty, past and present, on display in “The Belles.” The culture of Orléans was built off of the idea that you are only good or valuable if you maintain the ever evolving standard of what it is to be beautiful. Sound familiar? Fallow the trends, or else you’re an outcast. Ostracize those who do not fit into your groups based on how they dress or how you look. Block the less pretty people/accounts from your instagram because they’ll “kill your image.” I saw in “The Belles” so much of the current generation of what beauty is, what men and women do to themselves to obtain it, because beauty is power, right? It is a tale as old as time, and I admit that I have been guilty of this same behavior at times in my life, just like everyone else. But to me, I loved the fact that Dhonielle brought these parallels to the forefront of her book, not to accuse, but to encourage people to stop that kind of behavior, and to not let others’ ideas of what beauty is to make you hurt yourself or change how you look, just to make them comfortable enough to accept you. I thought her message was poignant considering the swipe right and instagram generation we live in. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful or wanting things to make you feel pretty (I love my makeup and pretty clothes!), but what makes it wrong is when that desire becomes an obsession that consumes and hurts you, driving you into a mindset that leaves you unhappy.

I was truly surprised and impressed by Clayton’s refreshing approach to her heroine, and her book’s progression and message. I also found the other characters like Ivy, Rèmy, and her sisters to all be very interesting, despite not getting as much time to get to know them as I had wanted. I feel like “The Belles” was really about setting up the world, revealing the villain, and beginning Camellia’s true journey, rather than throwing too many other dynamics into the mix. It was a fairly complex book, but I can definitely tell that there is going to be a LOT more going on in the next book. I hope that Rèmy and the sisters get a bit more page time, because I felt like there is so much more to all of these characters, and I am curious to see where Dhonielle intends to take her story.

This book was a big win for me!

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Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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“Lucky in Love” by Kasie West

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Can’t buy me love…

Maddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?”

“Lucky in Love” was the YA contemporary novel that I have been looking for since “The Fill-In Boyfriend”! It has been very difficult to find a YA contemporary novel that I enjoyed this past year/year and a half, and the only one that truly stuck out to me this year so far was “Geekerella,” which was several months ago. But now the wait is over, and Kasie once again delivered a fantastically adorable and light-hearted contemporary novel that I absolutely loved reading.

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Kasie West is the best at writing contemporary fluff pieces that always feel like coming home or like comfort food. Whenever I read one of her novels, I know that I am going to have a smile on my face the entire time I am reading it, and that I am going to get a couple of great laughs out of Kasie’s amazing comedic timing. Most of the time contemporary novels are a hit and a miss for me, but with Kasie West I can pretty much be guaranteed a good time, and “Lucky in Love” was no exception to the Kasie standard.

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“Lucky in Love” was just one of those books that I could finally sit down and enjoy, even after an interminably long reading slump. It was adorable like all of Kasie West’s contemporary books, but it also felt a little different and had a flair of its own that made it stand out next to the other stories that Kasie has already told, The whole concept of an newly eighteen-year-old winning the lottery was a charming and funny idea to begin with, but Kasie made it pretty hilarious and even cuter than I had anticipated it would be, and it was her characters who were at the heart of the adorable awkwardness and fun.

Maddie was such a cute and relateable character! I loved reading from her perspective because she did not have a diva attitude, she definitely did not have her life or family situation figured out, and she had some great friends. I think we can all predict what might happen when someone, especially an eighteen-year-old, wins the lottery. Despite that fact, though, I felt like Kasie did a great job of keeping me as a reader engaged in the story, even if I could see something terrible that was going to happen from a mile away. Maddie was just so endearing and likeable, so between that and her newly acquired money, “Lucky in Love” was as cute as it was comical!

Besides just Maddie being great, I also really liked Seth, who was her co-worker/kind-of-friend/love interest. Seth was super cute and endearing in “Lucky in Love,” and I liked how their relationship slowly evolved over the course of this book. Honestly, all I wanted was for Kasie to have Seth in this book more because of how great a character he was. Kasie West has a knack for creating likeable and unique characters, and I just adored Maddie and Seth together. They were supportive of each others’ dreams and they had very cute dialogues, so I was completely on board with their relationship! Now all I really want in a book about the college years! ;-D

Besides it be all fun and games, I feel like Kasie did a good job of pointing out all of the disastrous things that can happen when someone comes into a lot of money suddenly. Even though Maddie was a complete sweetheart, she fell victim to the curse of the lottery, as well as her family. The family dynamic between Maddie and her sibling and parents was pretty interesting and accurate for a struggling middle-class family, and it’s no wonder that they went a little crazy when Maddie won the lottery, despite her best intentions for how the money should be shared and used. For how light-hearted and delightfully fluffy most of this book was, I think that Kasie did a fairly good job of addressing Maddie’s family’s issues, as well as leaving her readers with the feeling that many of those problems had the potential to get resolved eventually.

If you are looking for a sweet treat for the summer, you definitely need to give “Lucky in Love” a try. It was a light, quick read, but it still had depth and substance, which I always appreciate in a contemporary novel. The only thing I might warn you of is that, if you should choose to read “Lucky in Love,” you might want to quit your current job and go work for your local zoo. Or maybe that’s just me…

Thank you again, Kasie West, for not disappointing!

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Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #2)

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“Blacksouls” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Nicole Castroman brings the dangerous pirate ports of the Caribbean to life in this vibrant sequel to Blackhearts—the reimagined origin story of history’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Edward “Teach” Drummond is setting sail to the Caribbean as first mate on the most celebrated merchant ship in the British fleet—until he rebels against his captain. Mutiny is a capital offense and Teach knows it could cost him his life, but he believes it worth the risk in order to save his crew from the attacking Spanish ships.

Sailing on the same blue waters, Anne barely avoids the Spanish attack, making it safely to Nassau. But lawless criminals, corrupt politics, and dangerous intentions fill the crowded streets of this Caribbean port. Soon, Anne discovers that the man entrusted to keep the peace is quite possibly the most treacherous of them all—and he just happens to hold Teach’s fate in his terrifying hands.

Life and death hang in the balance when Teach and Anne are given a dangerous mission. It’s a mission that will test their love, loyalty and devotion, forcing them down a path neither one could have ever imagined.”

“Blacksouls” is one of those books that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you come to love and appreciate the story and its characters. I honestly think that this is in my top three favorite books of the year, and I cannot believe that it took me this long to write a review for it! I guess reading a bunch of duds this spring kind of took up the free time that I use to write reviews… 😦

Last year, “Blackhearts” was one of the best books of 2016, and I completely fell in love with Nicole’s characters and her storytelling style. I loved the fact that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel rather than an high-octane adventure story, and that it was centered on developing the characters and the dynamics between them, rather than the drama that was about the ensue. I love historical fiction and learning about times and new places that I do not know much about, and I love the feeling of taking away some new piece of knowledge or developing a new perspective due to something that I have learned while reading. That sensation of discovery and enjoyment was one of the reasons why I loved “Blackhearts” so much, because it was more than a pyro maniac’s dream; it was about relationships and the invisible cords that linked them all together, and how people and many of their choices were dictated by the time that they live in. That aspect of “Blackhearts” was depicted with such accuracy that I instantly became a fan of Nicole Castroman, and I so admire her skill as a writer and the accuracy of her research. With all that being said about “Blackhearts,” I do have to say that as dear to my heart as Castroman’s debut is to my heart, “Blacksouls” definitely showed how much Nicole has grown as an author over the past year, and let me tell you, this book was one killer of a ride.

After hearing the announcement that there would be a second book in Nicole’s retelling of Blackbeard’s life, I was, to be honest, a bit wary. I had loved the bitter sweet, tormenting ending of “Blackhearts” so much that I did not want a second book to ruin how I felt about the first. Seriously, readers, I should not have wasted my time worrying, because “Blacksouls” was so amazing and it exceeded all of my expectations!

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The second book of Ann and Teach’s story was dynamic, full of the perfect amount of drama and heartache, as well as tension and romance. “Blacksouls” was so well-balanced and wonderfully layered that it kind of blew me away; it was grittier and a bit more wild than “Blackhearts,” but I personally feel like that was the perfect match for how Ann and Teach’s story was unfolding. It was a truly magical experience to read a book that I instantly connected with, especially after a fairly disappointing spring for books!

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Nicole’s research skills were once again put to good use in “Blacksouls,” and I felt utterly transported to the time and place where Teach and Ann lived, fully experiencing the beauties and horrors of that era as their story unfolded before me. Nicole Castroman’s writing made the past come vividly back to life, and since I already have a weakness for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, it is no shocker that I fell more in love with this series and its characters because of how well-executed the historical aspects were!

Teach was (and is) the best pirate character that a reader and fangirl could ever ask for! (sorry, Jack!)

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He was equal parts swoony, wild, and determined, as well as good-hearted. Teach had been amazing in “Blackhearts” and I had completely fallen for him as a character, but underneath his strength, charm, and determination, Teach had felt like a boy during parts of the first book. In “Blacksouls,” however, Teach came in to his own, becoming a more quietly bold and strong young man. I loved seeing the character development that he experienced over the course of “Blacksouls,” especially since he and Ann were apart for half of this book. He was clever, charming, and intelligent in how determined he was to find Anne, which was pretty attractive, let me tell you. As much as I loved Ann and Teach together, though, I did like the fact that I could get to know each of them separately, and I liked seeing the friendship between Teach and John in action as they set sail together again.

I adored pretty much all of the characters in “Blacksouls”; I loved Teach and his fellow sailors, the young brother and sister that Ann sailed to Nassau with, and I loved to hate the villains of Ann and Teach’s story. Unfortunately, the only person I was not a huge fan of in this book was Ann herself, which surprised me because of how much I had liked her in “Blackhearts.” In “Blacksouls,” I had a hard time connecting with Ann, and I found her boldness and ferocity in certain situations to be a little unrealistic, feeling that her actions were sometimes foolish rather than brave, especially when the lives of others were at stake. I still liked Ann and Teach together when they had their reunion moment and they began to make plans together once more, but I really feel that Teach’s character development completely eclipsed that of Ann’s, which I am actually okay with. I would have loved to feel a bit more connected and attached to Ann like I had in “Blackhearts,” but me not being wholly on Ann’s side did not at all detract from my love for this book.

Ahhh, the romance. I still loved Ann and Teach as a couple, even if I was a bit more of a fan of him than her. It was wonderful seeing and experiencing the personalities of these two wonderful characters while they were apart, because I feel like I got to know both of them so much better that way. Them being separated for so long in this book also built the tension and made me more invested in their story and their situation as a whole. Nicole Castroman did such an amazing job of giving me as a reader just enough of their interactions to keep me reading and to be invested in their relationship, but not so much that it detracted from the rest of her book’s plot. I feel like the quote, “[his] parting was my pain,” basically describes this book and what it made me feel, especially when it came to the open ended ending!

Nicole was cruel once again with her ending, but I totally respect her because I AM HOOKED!

I do not want to spoil anything about “Blacksouls” for you, so I will just say that Nicole Castroman did an amazing job of creating another magical and well-developed book. I was held in suspense of what might happen to Teach, Ann, and the other characters in this book, and there was loads of adventure and drama, and piracy to boot! I adored seeing the characters grow and develop apart as well as together, and it was wonderful to see how complex and dynamic Nicole’s story and characters have become. I loved the adventure and intrigue that was woven throughout “Blacksouls,” and I appreciate the fact that this book did not wander away from the heart of this series’ story: the second installment to Nicole’s series still had the tug of war between the romance and relationships like the first book, but it was also more. More complex, more dynamic, and I honestly just wanted to read more. Here’s to hoping that there’s a third book coming out next year, because that cliffhanger will haunt me until I get another book!

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“Blacksouls” was a wonderful, adventurous, and refreshing read, and if you have any fondness for historical fiction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and/or “Poldark,” I think that you would absolutely adore this fantastic series!

Release Day: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Good morning, readers! I am so excited to announce that “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon is out today in bookstores and online!!!!!

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This is the YA contemporary novel that both my sister and I have been anxiously awaiting, and I am beyond excited that it is out today! The story sounds insanely charming (keep scrolling if you want to read the summary), and I started following Sandhya and she seems like the sweetest, most adorable author. Also, she loves Bollywood movies and her newsletter is called “Cupcakes and Tea with Sandhya Menon,” so….that’s like an instant win in my book! (If you are interested in following this author, here is Sandhya’s website.)

Do yourself a favor today and go pick up or order a copy of this beautiful and adorable novel, and enjoys the contemporary FEELS!

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Goodreads summary:

“A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.”

Spirit Followers by Lydia Redwine (Instruments of Sacrifice #1)

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Quality of writing: 4 out of 5 stars.

How much I enjoyed reading this book: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“When a Royal dies, the realms elect the one to take their place. By reasons Camaria does not know, her realm elects her as the next Royal. Now that she is the new-found sixteenth Royal of the nation of Mirabelle, Cam embarks on a journey with her sisters and a young huntsman to the four realms of the nation to complete training in the four kinds of magic. Once she has completed this training, she will then be permitted to consume her annual amount of magic and possess manifested powers. Her ventures are unexpectedly steeped in precarious events when Cam discovers a secret plan of revolt, a past she never knew, and an ancient people group thought dead who call themselves the Spirit Followers.”

This review has been long in coming, and I am grateful for Lydia’s patience with how long it took me to get to her book! College and life got the better of me, but I was finally able to read the review copy that Miss Redwine sent me, and I am excited to be reviewing it! In lieu of that, I just want to say ‘thank you’ to Lydia Redwine for sending me her book in trade for an honest review. In no way has this influence my opinion or review regarding “Spirit Followers.”

Lydia Redwine’s book, “Spirit Followers,” was a very good debut to what seems to be a promising career as a writer. Lydia is a talented writer, this book being a fairly complex novel for not only the first book in a series but also a debut novel. While reading “Spirit Followers,” I thought that the approach Lydia took toward the fantasy genre was fairly unique compared to some of the other books that I have read within the genre, and her world building was well done. The society and different “cultures” that Lydia introduced in “Spirit Followers” reminded me a lot of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series in how each teenager had to decide which magical inlet they wished to become a part of and to live in for the remainder of their lives, especially because of how each “district” was divided by certain abilities and cultural traits. Basically it was the factions renamed with a dash of magical giftings; that aspect was not particularly original feeling, but I don’t think that it was a problem or detrimental to the plot, despite the similarities between this book’s society and other dystopian novels’. Besides the differing magical enclaves, some of the other rebellion themes were reminiscent of other YA fantasy and dystopian books that have been written throughout the years, but I thought that Lydia Redwine did a good job adding different dynamics to her story that made a similar theme completely her own.

Lydia definitely started her debut off with a bang , but for me personally, I wished she had taken a bit more time to introduce her characters and the society before throwing me as a reader right into the thick of the plot. I didn’t feel like I got to know Camaria (AKA Cam) as well as I wanted to before her whole life started to implode and the drama started saturating the story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy action-packed, fast-paced plots, but I would have liked to have had the time to get attached to Cam and the other characters before their world suddenly went up in flames in the traditional YA way. The pacing was a little problematic for me in the beginning of “Spirit Followers,” but Lydia did a really good job of keeping her plot moving by introducing new characters and having Cam and her group travel around the different “factions” throughout this book.

As with Cam, I did not feel like I got attached to any character in particular. Oliver, Cam’s friend, made an appearance just in the beginning of “Spirit Follows” only to disappear for 90% of the book, and I was a little bummed by that because I thought that he could have been a more dynamic character if he had been present in this book for longer. Riah’s story was vague, but I totally got what Lydia was going for with this character, although I wish it had been more “fleshed-out,” so to speak. I don’t go for the bad boy type where they are actually the enemy, despite their inner struggle between good and evil; that’s just not my personal taste, so Riah was the kind of character that was fairly interesting, but I was not particularly invested in him. Fiera was probably the character that I liked the most, and she reminded me a lot of Nesta from “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” Normally I don’t like the prickly, super intense female characters, but she ended up being the most dynamic character in “Spirit Followers,” and she got business done, which I totally respected.

Besides the characters, I was quite surprised by Lydia Redwine’s world building. She did a fantastic job of not just telling her readers about all of the different regions of her world, but also showing them. Cam and her group of reluctant rebels traveled to most of the little enclaves where she (and her readers) learned about the different cultures and the magic that was present in the region. Lydia did a very good job of making her world feel expansive, and I think that there is a lot of potential in the next couple of books in this series to explore in-depth the history of Cam’s world.

Overall, I thought that Lydia Redwine’s debut was well-written and creative with a fast moving plot, but I do wish that certain aspects had been more developed (like some of the characters) before you-know-what hit the fan. I did not feel as attached to the characters as I had hoped I would be, but they were still very good. I have other things that I want to talk about regarding the plot and the loops that Lydia took her characters for, but I do not want to spoil anything for those of you wanting to read this book! I feel like “Spirit Followers” would be a great book for fans of both the fantasy and dystopian genres, especially fans of the “Divergent” series, and although this book had a high body count, I think that younger readers (middle school) would like this book, too.

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #1)

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“Blackhearts” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.”

“Blackhearts” was such an amazing read! The story and concept of Nicole Castroman’s debut novel had seemed quite promising from its summary, but the reading material of the first part of this year has been a little spotty; some good and some not so good. I was wary going into “Blackhearts” because I desperately wanted to fall in love with the story and its character, and goodness knows I have a weak spot for historical fiction, but I was afraid that it would turn out to be another novel that did not reach out to me. I should not have worried because “Blackhearts” was the diamond in the rough that I had been searching for, and I was deliriously happy by how wonderful Nicole Castroman’s debut novel ending up being!

Nothing makes me happier than when an author writes a book that honors the historical fiction genre. I love how books have to ability to not only transport me to a different place, but to also help me discover and learn about something that I had little to no knowledge of before picking them up to read. Historical fiction, when it is well done, is the icing on the cake for me because it combines the magic of literature with facts and knowledge, and my favorite novels usually involve historical themes and events or a fantastical world that mirrors ancient cultures. When I had heard that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel based off of the life of the elusive pirate Blackbeard, I was as excited as I was wary, because some historical books can read like a dream, whereas others can be a bit mundane to get through. But let me tell you, “Blackhearts” is the kind of novel that reads like a dream.

Nicole Castroman is a truly gifted writer, and I fell in love with how she wove history into her retelling of Blackbeard’s life. I felt like I learned new things about the late 17th century from reading “Blackhearts,” and it was one of those books that seemed to just pull me into its story, characters, and era from the first chapter. Another thing that I admire about Nicole Castroman was how she was able to write such vivid characters who seemed to belong in the late 1600s, but who also resisted the restraints and the prejudices that existed during their time. Anne and Teach pushed against the boundaries of the world they were a part of in ways that made sense for the time period and what they had been raised to think and believe about the world. How they fought against their situations in life made perfect sense to me, and it made this story, their story, feel real, as if it could have been a part of history. I was so pleased to read a book where the mindset of the era was not disregarded in the protagonists, however wrong it may have been, for convenience’s sake. I was happy to see Nicole honor the historical facts and atmosphere, while still writing two amazing characters who were era appropriate, but who also thought for themselves and saw the world differently than those around them.

I loved Anne as a heroine. I thought that Nicole did such an amazing job of writing a female character who had been mistreated most of her life, but was not jaded into becoming a mean, abrasive person. Anne had endured a lot over the course of her life due to her heritage and what people perceived as “polite” society, and despite being driven to do a few unsavory things, her past and present did not strip away the determination and goodness of her heart. She was a strong female who stuck to her guns without becoming too intense or overbearing, even when what she really wanted was to be with Teach. Nicole did an amazing job of writing a genuine feeling character who responded to situations and acted like a person from her time would have, while still being a witty, independent female with a mind of her own. The ease in which Nicole seemed to mix historical facts and what we all love to see in female characters together made me love “Blackhearts” all the more, and I also loved that Nicole Castroman wrote a male character who was just as intelligent and independent as Anne.

I did not fall for Teach Drummond right away. I had been hearing many good things about this book and its characters, and how Teach was very similar to Ross Poldark from “Poldark,” which is a new favorite BBC show of my sisters and me, and so I was quite excited to meet Teach Drummond. The opening of “Blackhearts,” however, did not paint him a hero’s light, which made for an uh-oh moment, and I was worried for a little bit that I would love everything about this book except its hero. Despite the more…abrasive introduction, I ended up falling in love with the character that Nicole Castroman wrote, and I adored how I gradually began to care for Teach over the course of “Blackhearts.” Edward “Teach” Drummond was destined to become the dreaded pirate Blackbeard, and that should have repelled me on some level, but instead I found myself slowly falling in love with this character as he began to show me that he was an extremely dynamic and likable character. The more I got to know Teach, the more I liked him, and I loved the side of him that Anne brought out whenever they were together.

I completely fell for the slow-burn romance that blossomed and bloomed between Teach and Anne in “Blackhearts.” I loved that Anne and Teach started out mildly hating each other, because that meant there was no love at first sight for this couple. I think that was great decision on Nicole’s part because it led her hero and heroine down the path of them getting to know one another for a little bit, rather than them just being obsessed with each other. Nicole Castroman’s approach to Teach and Anne’s romance was perfect for this book because of its historical and fantasy foundation, and the progression of their relationship felt deliciously slow, even if this book did not span over that much time. I also liked the fact that both Teach and Anne were kindred spirits because of how they felt confined by the meaningless perceptions and expectations of the upper classes and “polite” society, and how they wanted to travel and see the world. Teach and Anne were individuals who desired more out of life than to just play the game that those in power had created, and I liked that they did not read like rebellions teenagers but like mature individuals who saw what was wrong with their time and wanted for it to change. Anne and Teach’s relationship felt well founded, and I thought that it felt genuine and was perfectly paced for who they were.

Most of the people who did not like “Blackhearts” thought that it was not “piratety” enough, and they were right. This book is not a pirate book, it’s a story about a young man and his journey to becoming one of the worlds most infamous pirates. What people disliked “Blackhearts” for was exactly what I loved it for, though; it was a strictly historical romance novel with a twist, not an adventure novel. The majority of YA books that I read are supposed to be epic tales of protagonists going on a journey where they find themselves and become heroes, with maybe a little (or a lot of) romance thrown into the mix. Nicole Castroman’s choice to write something a little bit different from everything out there made “Blackhearts” feel unique in how I got to know the characters and how the pacing made this story unfold. This book was a coming of age story, but I loved that there was not much action because its absence allowed me to have enough time to bond with Anne and Teach and to feel truly worried about what might happen to them. The lack of action almost made this book more suspenseful because I was drowning in my fear and sadness as to how Teach and Anne’s story would end. Oh, and let me tell you, those last few chapters hurt. The ending of “Blackhearts” was what I deem a “quiet heartwrencher” (just read Nicole’s book and you will understand what I am talking about!), but I thought that it was, in sense, perfect for the story that Nicole Castroman had told and for who her characters were. It was beyond bittersweet, and I loved it!

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Overall, “Blackhearts” was the perfect read for me. This novel was a completely immersive experience with its beautiful, slow-burn romance, its wonderful main characters, who were just right for the time they were supposed to have lived in and for each other, and the historical facts woven throughout it. The ending was also perfectly bittersweet, and it left me with quite the book hangover. Nicole Castroman is an amazing writer, and I cannot wait to see what she has planned for her second book, “Blacksouls.”

Cover Reveal: Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

You all know how much I LOVE Katie McGarry and her books, so it’s probably no surprise to you that I would go full fangirl at any kind of news concerning her books. Tonight I entered that crazy fangirl zone because Katie McGarry just released her cover for “Walk the Edge,” the second book in her “Thunder Road” series!!!!! *shrill screaming* I wasn’t expecting for the cover to be released so soon, so I went a little crazy when I saw it pop up on goodreads…

e41ed85c76f4ee837d1e5e2876ef3d3bOkay, you probably don’t want a play-by-play of my excitement over seeing the cover for “Walk the Edge,” so I’ll get to the cover real part of this post. *takes deep breath* Here it is!!!!

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walk the edge by katie mcgarry book

The cover is so amazing that I wanted to cry/dance when I saw it…

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sue heckand now I have lost all ability to can!!! I’m just going to lie here in a puddle of FEELS until March 30th, 2016…