Rebel Rose – Emma Theriault

I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this book, which is a sequel to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (specifically the live-action one, based on certain details) set during the French Revolution.

I loved the worldbuilding, how Theriault fit the existing story into history, and how she kept us guessing about various secondary characters’ allegiances, particularly Marguerite and Bastien. Belle’s journey of learning to trust her instincts rather than constantly second-guess herself and/or let herself be over-ruled by higher-ranking male figures was compelling, though “trust your instincts rather than anyone else” is not really a great message for a ruler! The plot was tense and exciting, there were queer characters that were better depicted than what I’ve heard of the live-action movie, and the foreshadowing made sense in retrospect without giving away the whole plot. My main quibble was that we didn’t see enough passion for me to believe that [SPOILER] was a fanatical revolutionary. It would almost have made more sense if [SPOILER] was trying to take the throne rather than bring it down.

This is Theriault’s first published novel, and it’s for a very prominent IP. I was super impressed with how she pulled it off! I can’t wait to see what she does next, and what the next author will do with this series.

The Silent Stars Go By – Sally Nicholls

Disclaimer: I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is the heartbreaking though not ultimately tragic story of Margot Allen, a vicar’s daughter in 1919 who accidentally became pregnant at sixteen and whose son is now being raised as her younger brother. Meanwhile, the father, formerly Missing in Action in WWI, returns, and nineteen-year-old Margot still hasn’t told him what really happened or why she stopped speaking to him. Over Christmas, she gets a second chance to determine the course of her life, but can she overcome her fear to tell her maybe-ex-boyfriend that he’s a father, and can she reveal the truth and raise her own child without irreparably hurting her mother–who lost her own baby a few years ago?

There’s a lot of exposition that could probably have been handled more smoothly, though some of it is necessary as major events in the storyline took place years before the book starts. Margot is an unusual YA protagonist. She doesn’t have any big dreams or strong interests even before the depression that comes with her unwanted pregnancy and the trauma of giving up her child. She’s pretty and social and her intelligence is mostly ignored by others, but she doesn’t stress it herself. She was a child before she had her baby and her new adult self is a mess of hurt; her pain is her defining feature. She “funks” telling her boyfriend when he first returns, and is trying to figure out if she dares try again.

But she’s very real despite the vagueness of her character in many ways. The novel totally immerses you in Margot’s head over the course of a fateful Christmas break, and doesn’t provide any easy answers to Margot’s dilemmas. Nor does her brother Stephen have a closed arc–his dissatisfaction and trauma after his wartime service is left open, as many things in life are. Margot’s lover Harry is almost too good to be true, but he has complex feelings of his own. The ending is neither completely happy nor hopeless; it’s a bit abrupt but fits with the realness and messiness of the whole experience. I was crying by the end of the book. Despite some of the overly expository and simple style of writing, it was incredibly moving.