The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton, narrated by Rosie Jones
Audio Published by Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles starts out with an ever-so-brief history of Bellehood and we are instantly set on Camillia, a brown girl living with her adopted sisters, trained from the very beginning to bring Beauty to a world where people are born ugly and gray. Clayton created a world where Belles are trained for years in order to transform those that could pay, into beautiful creatures. Camillia not only wants to be a Belle; she wants to be the Favorite, chosen by the queen to live in the royal palace and to tend to the royal family and those at Court. However, Favorites must be recognized as the most talented Belle in Orleans. However, things do not go as planned as Camillia and her sisters arrive at court. When her sister Amber is chosen as the Favorite, Camillia’s world seems to teeter.
Camillia is sent to the Chrysanthemum Tea House to serve customers. While biding her time, she starts to unravel the darker side of being a Belle. There are unexplainable creaking of floorboards and cries at night. Soon, she finds out that her other sisters are working just as exhaustingly as she has been. They too are also witnessing strange comings and goings. Not to mention: Amber hasn’t been sending messages. When news breaks out that her beloved sister fled her Belle duties: it sends Camillia into a spiral of worry and a sense of danger. Shortly after, she receives a message to come to the royal court.
Making allies at court is easier said than done. Camillia is given a stony-faced and sometimes, vexatious bodyguard. Although Camillia later on deems him trustworthy: their friendship is quite complicated– if things aren’t already so at court! Camillia discovers that the Queen’s health is at stake: her last wish is for Princess Charlotte to wake from her seemingly deep coma before her eldest daughter, who is as malevolent as one can get, can think twice about taking the crown.
Clayton has her reader guess at every turn about who can be trusted and who cannot. While this book is not for the faint of heart, it does establish a topic that has long reigned contemporary social circumstances. Vivid imagery of body modifications are used within this novel and will make readers squirm. All in all, Clayton’s novel will have you question the topic of beauty, body image, body modifications, and the like for all walks of life, past and present.
Recommended for young adult readers, ages 14 and up.
Together at Midnight by Jennifer Castle
Narrated by Arielle DeLisle and James Fouhey
Audio published by Harper Audio
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Set during that magical limbo week after Christmas but before the start of the new year, Together at Midnight follows two teens, Kendall and Max, who are both staying with family in New York City. Kendall, who struggles with ADHD, has recently returned from a semester abroad, and she doesn’t know if she can handle going back to traditional school. Max has just graduated, and is taking a year off to care for his grandfather while trying to decide what his next move in life will be. The two are stuck in liminal spaces, not quite sure where to go next. After witnessing a bus accident in which a young woman is severely injured, Kendall and Max experience bystander guilt and decide to perform seven acts of kindness for complete strangers before the end of the year, a challenge that helps them look at their own lives with fresh perspectives.
The story is told in first person, alternating between Kendall’s perspective, performed by Arielle DeLisle, and Max’s, performed by James Fouhey. The actors do a wonderful job of capturing the characters and their unique struggles. Their emotions feel authentic without being overdramatic. Brief interludes are narrated from the perspectives of the secondary characters that Kendall and Max help along the way, and DeLisle and Fahey both excel at creating realistic characters that vary in age, gender and background. The voice of Max’s grandfather, Big E, is particularly well done. While the plot is a bit predictable, Together at Midnight is sure to have wide appeal among both younger and older teens. Hand this book to fans of New York City romances like Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, and stories that take place over a short period of time but pack a big punch like The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
–Jessica Hilbun Schwartz
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