The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Inside cover blurb:

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 publisher


The Belles was kind of a let down.

The premise sounds totally amazing- a  dystopian setting where the girls competing for the crown’s favor have the power to manipulate beauty.

I loved the idea of the opulent court setting, but it went a little far for my taste, with miniature exotic animals and tiny balloons that deliver news and gossip…

I felt like the whole book was overselling itself. Everything was so grand and luxurious, but it never actually delivered on anything. I was left disappointed at the end of it all.

Camellia was a boring and rather unperceptive main character. She stuck around way longer than anyone with sense would have, although somehow her best friend managed to be even more dense. I just wasn’t very invested in what was happening to her.

I honestly thought the evil princess girl was more interesting.

Having read the author’s note, I can appreciate the reason why the book was written. But The Belles just didn’t click with me.

Plus: There’s a worthwhile message here about the dangers of worshiping beauty and appearance above all else.

Minus: While the message is deep, the story feels shallow.

If you like this book, try:


Uglies by Scott Westerfeld- The pinnacle of dystopian novels about physical appearance. Basically a modern classic in my book.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Inside cover blurb:

“Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero.

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.”

-from publisher



Not only is Deadnought a fantastic action/adventure story, it is one of the best coming of age novels I have ever read.

Imagine getting superpowers as a teenager…that would be hard enough. But getting superpowers and finally becoming the gender you’ve known you were all along- so your friends and parents no longer recognize you? And they willfully refuse to recognize you? Sheesh.

The relationship between Danny and her parents literally killed me. Her dad is infuriating, refusing to accept that she’s trans and outright bullying his own child, while her mom takes the much more insidious route, claiming that Danny is only thinking of herself when she refuses to give up the Dreadnought mantle and resume her life as a boy.

And I have not in recent memory wanted to smack a character more than I wanted to smack Danny’s childhood friend when he reveals what a chauvinist jerk he is.

The strongest aspect of the book is Danny and her personal journey, however. The superhero part is good, but it’s just not as good. I mean how can any sci-fi/fantasy plot compete with the raw emotion of Danny’s complex interpersonal relationships? That sounds like sarcasm, but it seriously isn’t. A superhero book has never made me feel this many emotions before.

I would like to enthusiastically applaud April Daniels (and then give her a giant hug), for writing a trans superhero novel, and one that was so spectacularly well done!

Plus: Trans superhero. Seriously, do I need to say more???

Minus: The fight/action scenes were often waaaaay too long and drawn out.

If you like this book, try:


Sovereign by April Daniels- DID I MENTION THERE’S A SEQUEL?? I’m a bit hesitant to read it because sequels often fall short. But I loved the first one so much, I will at least have to give this one a shot.


Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Inside cover blurb:

“For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.”

-from publisher


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NERD LOVE AT ITS FINEST. And I am in love with this book!

I’ll admit, I was not impressed at first. Word such as “squad” were used in a completely unironic way and I was initially a bit repulsed by this. It’s that feeling you get when authors try too hard at teen dialogue.

But eventually Emergency Contact unfolded into a love story so close to Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl on the scale of relatability and pure excellence…. Sam and Penny fall in love over text. This is the epitome of romance in the modern age.

And they both have such good backstories- Penny with her embarrassing mom and social anxieties, Sam with his broken relationships, with his mother and with his on-again off-again girlfriend, Lorraine.

The way their relationship unfolds is just so dang sweet. I bet I looked like a huge dork, grinning so hard while reading it. I really appreciate that Sam and Penny are able to maintain their identities and their respective passions while falling for each other, even when love can be so all consuming.

And I love that a nerdy girl wins the day and finds her happiness! We need more stories like this.

Plus: Great characters, great contemporary story. It’s the must read novel of the spring.

Minus: This book is so millenial it hurts. Just look at the rose gold cover. But do not let this dissuade you because it is millenial perfection.

If you like this book, try:


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell- You thought I was going to recommend Fangirl? Well I still do, but I also recommend Eleanor and Park, another fantastic story of an unlikely couple.


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Inside cover blurb:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.”

-from publisher



Children of Blood and Bone manages to be great at everything- fantastic setting and world building, realistic and relatable characters, fast paced and intriguing plot…There has been a lot of hype about this book and I believe it is totally deserved.

Historically, I haven’t always enjoyed these kinds of dystopian fantasies with different classes of peoples and powers. But I thought this one was skillfully done. No info dumps here, the details of this world are are explained naturally as the story unfolds.

The main character, Zélie, is very relatable. She is powerful, but doubts herself. She is angry about what has been done to her and her family, but she is also weary and scared at the thought of what she must do to bring magic back for her people. The POV alternates among Zélie, and the prince and princess of  Orïsha, Inan and Amari- who are on opposite sides of the struggle by the way.

This book is clearly a reflection of current events that we face on a daily basis- discrimination, oppression, and fear of the other. That itself is a noble framework for a novel. However, not only does Adeyemi write about these difficult topics, she has seamlessly woven them into a fantastical, magical world.

When do we get book 2???

Plus: A magical kingdom, complex characters, ancestor worship, teens working together to overthrow oppressive power structures.

Minus: There honestly wasn’t anything I would have changed about this book!

If you like this book, try:


Akata Witch by Nnedi Okarafor- A book about a Nigerian witch! And even better, the sequel, Akata Warrior, came out late last year.