Bite-Sized Reviews of The Belles, The Hazel Wood, The Ambrose Deception, The Altered History of Willow Sparks

February 17, 2018 Reviews 36 ★★★★

I’ve got four bite-sized reviews for you today: two YA new releases (one of them is an audiobook), a MG contemp and a YA graphic novel. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Belles, The Hazel Wood, The Ambrose Deception, The Altered History of Willow SparksThe Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Series: The Belles #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 6th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 448
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Source: ALA
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, some violence)
My rating:
4 Stars

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.

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The central messages in this book are fabulous! The book highlights our images of beauty and how far we will go to attain them. This is a society that sees itself as “ugly,” so people will endure great pain (and spend tons of money) in order to “fix” themselves. This is such an interesting commentary on our world, and not that far off from the truth. How many people will go to great extents to achieve a certain standard of beauty? We’re sort of obsessed.

Camellia’s personal desire to be the Favorite (an official title of the Belle that works for the royal family) leads to a break in her relationship with her best friend (who is basically family). And then there’s the intrigue behind what’s actually going on with the princess—things look more than a little shady. These two issues keep you turning the pages. I did think parts of the book were a little slow, but overall this was a great read! I give it 4/5 stars.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via ALA Annual ’17 in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Belles, The Hazel Wood, The Ambrose Deception, The Altered History of Willow SparksThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Macmillan Audio on January 30th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 368
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Length: 10 hrs and 30 min
Source: The Publisher, ALA
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Some violence)
My rating:
2 Stars

Welcome to the Hazel Wood.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

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This book had some great qualities, but in the end, it just wasn’t for me. First off, Alice is a frustrating character. She is negative, angry and generally unpleasant. I was okay with this at first, but it really started to grate on me as the book went on. Ironically, Rebecca Soler’s excellent narration actually intensified this because she illustrated Alice’s negative personality so perfectly. The result was that I sat and listened to hours and hours of an annoyingly unpleasant person talking and I just… couldn’t. I considered DNFing several times, but I pressed on. Now, here’s the thing: there are reasons—actual story reasons—that Alice’s personality is this way. And those reasons make total story sense. But that didn’t take away my unhappiness while listening to it.

My other issue with the book was that almost nothing happened for the first half of the story (or more). It felt like a really extended backstory that we could have gotten in a much shorter time.

The one element of the story that I loved was the collection of creepy stories from the Hinterland. These were fairy tales worthy of the Brothers Grimm for sure. And the book actually did get much better once Alice makes it to the Hinterland (I had been almost ready to turn it off at that point, but I found myself actually wanting to hear about the Hinterland itself). For a little while, I thought that element might raise my rating to 3 stars, but unfortunately, while I loved a lot of the creepy stories and background, not much of it actually mattered to the story, so I found my attention drifting. I could have enjoyed this if it had just been a little bit of the backstory and Alice’s actual story in the Hinterland (with maybe a little extra Hinterland thrown in for creepiness’s sake)—it would have been about a quarter of the length of this book. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to give the book more than 2/5 stars.

But I can definitely see how some people may love it just based on the creepy stories alone (and some people aren’t as sensitive to unlikeable narrators as I am). This one just ended up not being for me.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Belles, The Hazel Wood, The Ambrose Deception, The Altered History of Willow SparksThe Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton
Published by Disney-Hyperion on February 13th 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Action & Adventure
Pages: 368
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: MG (Nothing questionable, in my opinion)
My rating:
5 Stars

Melissa is a nobody. Wilf is a slacker. Bondi is a show-off. At least that's what their middle school teachers think. To everyone's surprise, they are the three students chosen to compete for a ten thousand-dollar scholarship, solving clues that lead them to various locations around Chicago. At first the three contestants work independently, but it doesn't take long before each begins to wonder whether the competition is a sham. It's only by secretly joining forces and using their unique talents that the trio is able to uncover the truth behind the Ambrose Deception--a truth that involves a lot more than just a scholarship.

With a narrative style as varied and intriguing as the mystery itself, this adventure involving clever clues, plenty of perks, and abhorrent adults is pure wish fulfillment.

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This book is perfect for a middle grade reader (and for us moms who like to read middle grade too!). It has super fun characters, an educational element (that isn’t prominent enough to make it obvious it’s teaching you anything) and a cute and wacky mystery.

The book takes three unlikely scholarship hopefuls on an adventure across Chicago to try to solve riddles. The educational element comes in because you end up learning about some of the lesser-known sights in Chicago (and some of the more fun elements of the city as well, since Wilf doesn’t take his scholarship opportunity all that seriously). I really enjoyed the escapades that the kids go through to figure out their clues, and the ending to the book has some elements that kids will LOVE that I don’t want to spoil. What can I say? This book is adorable and adventurous and is pretty much middle-grade gold, in my opinion. I plan to give it to my daughter to read next because I’m convinced she’ll love it. I give it 5/5 stars!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Belles, The Hazel Wood, The Ambrose Deception, The Altered History of Willow SparksThe Altered History of Willow Sparks by Tara O'Connor
Published by Oni Press on March 6th 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Graphic Novel
Pages: 152
Source: ALA
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
My rating:
3 Stars

What happens when you can finally get everything you ever wanted?

Willow Sparks and her best friend Georgia Pratt are at the bottom of the social ladder at Twin Pines High School, just trying to get through each day relatively unscathed. But when Willow finds a mysterious book that allows her to literally change her life, it feels like her luck is finally turning. As she becomes more and more popular with each entry into the book, her old life, including her friendship with Georgia, seems miles away. Yet as Willow will discover, every action has a reaction, and the future has unusual—even dangerous—ways of protecting itself.

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I have mixed feelings about the messages in this book. I appreciate the idea that Willow tries to change her life in superficial ways and it backfires on her. The message that popularity isn’t everything is a good one. But some of the execution left me frustrated. First off, Willow’s best friend is very critical of her, right from the very beginning. At the beginning of the book, the only thing Willow changes about herself is that she gets rid of her pimples (and a bruise) and conjures up a new sweater. Immediately, her best friend accuses her of “tricking” people into liking her. I was thinking that was a little harsh for such minor changes. Then, Willow really does change quickly (which is probably due to this being a graphic novel) and leaves her friend in the cold. But the thing that bothers me the most (whenever I see it) is that Willow ends up solving a lot of her problems by punching someone—I can’t tell you how much that bugs me when I see it.

Still, the book did have some positive messages as well, especially at the end. I liked the illustrations too (I put a sample below, but I won’t even try to rate them because I have NO expertise on the subject). In the end, I gave this 3 stars.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via ALA Annual ’17 in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think?

 

36 Responses to “Bite-Sized Reviews of The Belles, The Hazel Wood, The Ambrose Deception, The Altered History of Willow Sparks”

  1. czai

    I’m sorry The Hazel Wood didn’t work out for you. I was really eyeing that one generally because of the cover. thank you so much for the review! I’ll probably pass it up for now. I’d rather not waste my time with a frustrating main character. so many books, so little time.

  2. Sam@WLABB

    I have The Belles, and really need to get to it. One of the things that attracted me to it (besides the author), was those themes you talked about. I am sad to see your review for The Hazel Wood (I have that one too), but I struggle with angsty characters too. I taught a bunch of angsty kids for more than a decade, and am pretty much over that. I don’t read a ton of MG, but I keep discovering more and more books that have me wanting to read them. I really liked the way MG author’s approach certain topics, and you really have me wanting to check out Ambrose. Great reviews!

  3. Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

    I like your bite sized reviews. I feel like you add enough to let us know what the book is about and why you did or didn’t like it. I’m planning to write mini reviews for most of my books so I will try to do as well as you have. I did do some mini reviews last year so I know I can…lol!

    I have looked at The Hazel Wood, but I don’t really like unlikable narrators so I don’t think it would work for me.

  4. Marie @ Drizzle & Hurricane Books

    Lovely reviews! I have my copy of The Belles right next to me as I’m typing this and I can’t WAIT to start reading it, I have been anticipating this book for a while now. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it 🙂
    I’m sorry to hear The Hazel Wood wasn’t for you :/ I had a great time reading it, but I understand where you come from, the main character was a bit frustrating at times ahah.

  5. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

    I’m excited to see such a positive review for The Belles. It’s such an interesting concept and I’m looking forward to picking that one up. I’ve read numerous reviews of The Hazel Wood that say basically the same thing about Alice – that’s she’s a truly unlikable character. That’s a shame because it surely impacts the enjoyment of the story.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books recently posted: Review: Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
  6. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    Sorry to hear Hazelwood didn’t work for you since I’ve heard great things from others. I get what you mean though about how, even when there’s a reason for it, sometimes a character is still unlikeable. The stories sound interesting at least!

    Willow Sparks sounds kind of interesting too, but yikes, I think it’d bother me too that she solves a lot of problems by punching :-/

    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      I just realized that I made it sound like Willow went around punching people all the time—she only did it once. But it was one of those storylines where the uncool girl suddenly becomes cool by punching a mean girl—that message is a huge pet peeve of mine.

  7. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer

    The Hazel Wood marketing really created the wrong expectations for that story. And I agree unlikable characters aren’t my thing… The Belles was one I thought about but it read like a book I would be on the fence about… no ones review has changed that opinion but I’m glad you enjoyed it. ♥️ I can’t stand the art for Willow… and from what you say it sounds random. 😭

  8. Jessica

    I’m kind of relieved that I’m not the only one who found The Hazel Wood was slow and frustrating. I really like this idea of bite-sized reviews, I discovered a couple I had never heard of.

  9. Wendy @ Falconer's Library

    I’m really looking forward to The Belles. Hazel Wood seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it. I won’t go out of my way to get it, but if it’s on the shelves when I’m at the library, I’m likely to give it a try. That cover…

    And yes, I’m another fan of your bite-sized reviews!

  10. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Aw crap, so I am not going to like Hazel Wood, eh? I agree with you about The Belles- love the story, if it wasn’t for the slowness it would have been kind of perfect. Speaking of, The Ambrose Deception sounds awesome! I may need to pick that one up. And I feel you, I don’t like that message in Willow Sparks either. Great reviews as always!!

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: March 2018 New Release Giveaway Hop Sign Ups!
  11. Fanna

    I can understand how The Hazel Wood cannot be everyone’s cup of tea and yes, Alice does sound angry throughout the book, lol. The Belles has received so much praise both before and after its release, I’m really excited to pick it off my shelf soon 😀 I just finished The Altered History of Willow Sparks and I’m having the same thoughts as you. The illustrations were pretty especially the color scheme but the character development held me off from enjoying it very much. Lovely reviews <3

  12. Jen

    YAY! I’m so glad that you enjoyed The Belles! First off, that cover is absolutely gorgeous! And secondly the story sounds like a lot of fun, so I’m happy to hear that it turned out to be an enjoyable book. Ohhh The Ambrose Deception….. adding that to my list for my boys to read when they’re older, thank you!!!!

  13. Cee Arr

    I suppose it depends who she punched! Lol, I’m totally responsible *shifty glances* Nah, to be fair, if she punched a random dude, that’s bad – but if it was like, a demon trying to steal her soul or something, I think that’s OK, lol. XD

    Cee Arr recently posted: Friday Fics Fix - Shuri, Girl-Genius
    • Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

      She punched the mean girl at school. I guess I’m just sort of tired of seeing that as a solution to the bullied kid’s problem—like they just punch the mean girl and then everyone likes them. I get frustrated with that storyline.

  14. Olivia Roach

    I saw a lot of hype about The Belles on twitter before it was released and I really want to read it now! I think it is a theme that will interest and be relatable to a lot of people. Because people definitely do a lot to pursue or feel beautiful. I was interested in The Hazel Wood but I have seen a lot of negative reviews so I’m not too interested in it anymore.

    Olivia Roach recently posted: Shatter Me [Book Review]

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