Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V. E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V. E. Schwab
narrated by Julia Whelan

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 17 hours, 10 minutes.
Review written October 5, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This is the amazing epic tale of a girl who sold her soul to the god of Darkness.

She was at her wits’ end. She lived in a small village in France in 1714. At 23 years old, her family had decided she must marry an older man from the village. Her life stretched out before her bleak and hard. She wanted to live! And she wanted to be free.

But when she prayed desperately to the gods on the day of her wedding, she hadn’t realized that the sun went down and it was the Dark who answered. He was happy to give her the wish – but when she got tired of living, her soul would be forfeit.

However, in granting her wish to be completely free, the Dark cursed her to never be remembered. She could interact with people, but as soon as they turned their back or a door closed between them and Addie, they would completely forget her. And there was more – she couldn’t speak her name or tell her story. If she tried to write words or make any kind of mark, it was instantly erased. In fact, the only person who remembered her and knew her name was the god of Darkness himself.

First, her family and the friends in her village forgot her, as if she had never existed. But Addie quickly learned that it was difficult even to order food or rent a room. Eventually, she learned that she could steal, because that is anonymous. But if someone saw her stealing and was able to stop her, she would still suffer.

She could suffer – but she did not age or get illness or lasting wounds. She had immortality – and the Dark underestimated her stubbornness, as well as her excitement in discovering new things. She wasn’t willing to forfeit her soul. She even learned, over the years, that ideas are more lasting than memory. While she never could have an accurate painting or photograph made of her, she could and did inspire art and music.

But one day in New York City, almost 300 years from the day she was cursed, she brings a book back to a bookstore that she stole from it the day before – and the bookstore clerk remembers her! And it continues! She finds she can even tell him her name.

And so, after almost three hundred years, Addie LaRue’s life changes. But the reason why this boy can remember her brings with it a new set of problems.

This story tells about Addie’s long life and adventures interspersed with scenes from the present (2014), weaving a rich tapestry of an amazing life, which may not have been entirely invisible.

And of course it raises many questions. Would it be worth living a long life if you couldn’t leave any mark on the world? Is it possible to love people who forget you? What are the things that make life worth living? And of course the big one: What would you be willing to give up your soul to get?

The audiobook was wonderful, giving Addie a slight French accent and distinguishing the characters well, but it’s very long. I enjoyed a trip through Skyline Drive in early Autumn to finish it off, and it made the drive all the more incredible.

macmillanaudio.com

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Review of Da Vinci’s Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Da Vinci’s Cat

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
decorations by Paul O. Zelinsky

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), May 2021. 278 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the author
Starred Review

I’ll admit it – time-slip novels aren’t really my thing. My logical mind gets caught up in the contradictions inherent in changing the past, so that I can’t properly enjoy them. However, because this one was written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, who won Newbery Honor the year I was on the committee with The Book of Boy, I was able to squelch my logical objections and enjoy this book. I suspect most kids will enjoy it, too.

In this book, we meet Federico II Gonzaga, eleven years old in 1511, in Rome as a hostage of Pope Julius II for his family’s good behavior. But he was treated well in Rome, became friends with his Holiness, and got to pose for the painter Raphael, as well as maybe see some of what Michelangelo was doing while painting the Sistine Chapel.

Then one day, there’s a strange large box, a sort of closet, in a deserted hallway, made by Leonardo da Vinci. A kitten comes out of it.

Federico has fun with the kitten, but it dashes back into the box – and disappears. The next night, it comes out of the box again – but now it is a fully grown cat.

Federico’s adventures really begin after the cat disappears again – and comes back with a stranger, wearing strange clothes. This man is terribly interested in Raphael’s and Michelangelo’s sketches, as well as seeing the paintings in the Vatican Palace “when they are new,” whatever that means. The man promises Federico a wonderful sweet called “chocolate” in exchange for more sketches.

But after a couple of adventures with this man, Part II of the book begins in the present day with a girl named Bee, who is house-sitting with her moms at a place in Brooklyn. When Bee finds a cat outside killing birds, she takes the cat to the house next door. The old lady there stares at her in wonder – and shows Bee a drawing of herself – drawn by Raphael. So later, when Bee sees a large box in that house in a hidden study, the reader is not surprised when she follows the cat into the box that looks like a wardrobe and finds herself in Federico’s time. And she’s got a quest – some things to set right.

Like I said, if you don’t let your mind get hung up on how this would actually work, but just accept that of course Leonardo da Vinci could have invented a time machine, the story is a whole lot of fun. I love the details of life in Rome in 1511 and what Federico thinks is normal, and how Bee can slip into that and pass for a page. Did you know that Michelangelo smelled terrible because he didn’t bathe? And that he and Raphael had a rivalry going? And that they hadn’t tasted chocolate in Rome in 1511?

A fun story of a cat moving through time and bringing two kids together across centuries.

catherinemurdock.com
greenwillowbooks.com

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Review of The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T. J. Klune, read by Daniel Henning

The House in the Cerulean Sea

by T. J. Klune
read by Daniel Henning

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 12 hours, 12 minutes.
Review written June 29, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I listened to this book based on several recommendations from my Silent Book Club Facebook group as a feel-good read. I was delighted with the story. It felt like a familiar children’s fantasy book opening, but then I realized the twist is that the main character is a man in his forties.

Linus Baker has worked for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth for seventeen years. His reports are meticulous and he cares about the children in the orphanages that he inspects. No matter what their alarming magical capabilities, children deserve to be well-cared for.

However, when Linus is not in the field inspecting orphanages, his life at the office and at home is gray and dreary. Besides the constant rain and the rows of desks a little too close together for someone of Linus’s girth, there’s a supervisor always looking for reasons to give demerits. So one day when she calls out Linus and tells him to report to Extremely Upper Management, he thinks he’s in big trouble.

But because of those meticulous reports, Linus has been asked to inspect an orphanage that is Classified Level Four because of some very unusual magical powers in the children. He’ll spend a month there, and he’s expected to keep an objective demeanor.

And that’s where if the story were a film, it turns from black-and-white to technicolor. The orphanage is a house on an island in the Cerulean Sea. And this is where the book turns to one of those stories where the adult’s life is transformed because of the love of children – but again, the twist is that this time we’re seeing it from the adult’s point of view. Oh, and also because the children are extremely unusual.

The master of the orphanage, Arthur Parnassas, is also unusual. As Linus gets to know the children and Arthur, he sees someone training some rather alarming children with wisdom and grace. He needs to stay objective, but he also wants to do what’s best for the children.

It’s not too much of a spoiler to tell the reader that one of the children’s files says he is the antichrist, and his father is the devil. If you know anything about what the Bible has to say about the antichrist, as I do, you’ll know that they get every detail about that wrong. However, if you can shake that aside and think of Lucy as a fantasy creature and a little boy who is presumed to be evil because of his parentage, and who plays on all the stereotypes of that parentage – but who Arthur teaches Linus to see as a child with as much potential for good as any other – then you will still thoroughly enjoy this book.

I didn’t like the narrator at first, because I think he puts pauses in odd places, but he grew on me and seemed right for Linus Baker, a bureaucrat who lives his life by the book – the book of Rules and Regulations that he carries around with him.

This is a lovely warm story of transformation and the wonder of children – even wildly diverse children. And there’s even a nice bit of romance.

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Review of Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Without a Summer

by Mary Robinette Kowal

Tom Doherty Associates (TOR), 2013. 381 pages.
Review written June 25, 2021, from my own copy
Starred Review

My sister Becky gave me this book years ago (Thank you, Becky!), but alas, like so many non-library books that don’t have a due date, I didn’t get to it right away. But the time was finally right when I signed up for the 2021 Jane Austen Summer Program, a four-day virtual symposium on Jane Austen, and Mary Robinette Kowal was one of the speakers, giving two wonderful talks about putting fantasy into your Jane Austen adaptation.

At the conference, I also learned that the year 1816 really was a year without a summer. The note at the back says that after a volcano erupted in the West Indies, the ash disrupted weather everywhere, and there was snow in Washington DC in July. In fact, Mary Robinette was able to determine the weather in London for the days covered in this book. I had assumed when I started reading that it must have been a side effect of magic – so I was quick to believe that people would have looked for magic users to blame for the strange weather, which turns out to be a key point in the book.

This book is another Austen-like story, with magic. The author does write each book as a stand alone. In this third volume of the Glamourist Histories, Jane’s sister Melody needs to find a husband and is running out of options in the country, so Jane and her husband take Melody to London while they work on a glamural for Lord Stratton.

The author worked in ideas from Jane Austen’s Emma as Jane tries and fails to be a good matchmaker for her sister. But there’s a lot more going on as well. Sir David’s despicable father wants to renew their relationship and meet his wife – but there are some plots afoot. And the coldmongers are getting blamed for the wintry weather in summer – even though that is not how glamour works. It all builds to a big climax that puts Jane and her husband in danger, with Melody’s happiness also at stake.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed Mary Robinette’s sessions at the Jane Austen symposium tremendously, and gained a new appreciation of her craft in writing these books. She wanted to write a fantasy novel similar to the books Jane Austen wrote – where the fate of the world is not at stake, but instead the happiness of a few people. She wanted magic, but in order for it to be one of the womanly arts, it had to be magic that didn’t do much. The “glamour” in these books is all about illusion. And it’s typically done by women – except for professionals glamourists, who of course are men. So Sir David working with his wife is breaking ground and defying convention.

Another thing I found out when I looked in the back of the book is that my sister-in-law Laura (then Plett) is acknowledged! She does calling for English Country Dances, and gave the author some tips about how the dances were done in Regency England. So it was fun to come across her name in the back of my book.

This series is lovely and highly recommended. I hope this will give me the motivation to set aside the recently published books I need to read for Capitol Choices and read a couple more Austen-with-fantasy books purely for my own enjoyment. There are two more in the series, and it’s high time I caught up.

maryrobinettekowal.com
tor-forge.com

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Review of The Hidden Palace, by Helene Wecker

The Hidden Palace

by Helene Wecker

Harper (HarperCollins), 2021. 472 pages.
Review written July 14, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com
Starred Review

I loved The Golem and the Jinni so much, I preordered this book as soon as I heard that there was a sequel. I think you’ll enjoy this more if you’ve read the first book (and you definitely want to read it!), but even though it had been eight years since I read the first book, the important parts came back to me as I read.

Like the first book, I’m tempted to call this Historical rather than Fantasy, because the historical details of life in New York, both the Syrian neighborhoods and the Jewish neighborhoods, ring true. This comes after the crisis of the first book, and talks about what’s next for the golem and the jinni, now they’ve found each other. How do you build a life when your lifespan goes far beyond your human neighbors?

Meanwhile, we find out about two other creatures like our heroes: There’s a golem whose master is the young orphaned daughter of a rabbi, hiding in an orphanage. And across the sea, there’s a jinniyeh, outcast from her own kind because she can tolerate touching iron, but who hears about the iron-bound jinni who lives across the sea.

Chaya the golem still hears the thoughts of all around her, so she discovers when they notice that she’s not ageing. She’s going to need to make a new life for herself. Ahmad the jinni is much less deliberate. When his partner dies, he becomes obsessed with making a palace out of metal inside their warehouse. And when someone who doesn’t need to eat or sleep becomes obsessed, he can truly withdraw from the world.

This is another rich tapestry of a book, dealing with two people who aren’t actually human, but who are full of nuance. Can they stay in each other’s lives, or are they too different? This book feels completely realistic as it explores this question. We also see how each one has become part of a community, and lives all around them are touched by their existence. And we’ve got further thoughts about what it means to be human from the perspective of those who, technically, are not human at all.

This is a wonderful follow-up to an amazing story.

harpercollins.com

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Review of A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2020. 445 pages.
Review written October 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Heart So Fierce and Broken is the second book in the series begun with A Curse So Dark and Lonely. And no, the series is not finished yet. The first book finished with a dramatic breaking of expectations with big implications for what would happen next – and so does this book. Both books seem to resolve most conflict brought up in the book – and then our tidy sense of completion is totally disrupted.

The first book is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Harper is brought from DC in an attempt to break the curse. Meanwhile, the kingdom isn’t getting much governing, but she helps the prince get through that crisis and an attack from a neighboring kingdom. At the end of the book, though, without giving details, we learn there’s a secret older brother who should be the rightful heir to the throne. And he is the child of a magesmith and has magic in his blood.

This book is about that heir, who doesn’t want to claim the throne but also doesn’t want to be killed. We also follow the fate of a princess of the neighboring kingdom who was not chosen to be her kingdom’s heir but wants to see if she can bring peace.

I like the way the author puts realistic political problems (needing a harbor for trade) into the fantasy kingdom. There’s some horrific cruelty in both books which I didn’t like, though it does make the people working for peace shine more brightly.

I enjoyed this second volume greatly. It now doesn’t have much to do with the “Beauty and the Beast” story, but is an excellent tale of a group of travelers trying to navigate dangers on every side and figure out what course of action is best.

Yes, I’m going to want to read the next book. Amazon says it’s called A Vow So Bold and Deadly and will come out on January 26, 2021. And yes, Amazon says it’s the conclusion to the series. It’s been set up well.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.com

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Review of A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education

Lesson One of the Scholomance

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 2020. 320 pages.
Review written May 21, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book is wonderful. It’s the story of magical kids sent to wizard school – but this wizard school wants to kill the students.

Naomi Novik’s world-building in this new series is incredible. All kinds of details about this school for wizards, existing in the void, where maleficaria – monstrous creatures – come to feed on people who use magic. And the heroine of the story, Galadriel, daughter of a good witch who lives in a mundane commune and is loved by everyone – was born to balance that out, destined to be a powerful sorceress wielding death and destruction. And nobody likes her.

Here’s how the book begins:

I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life. I hadn’t really cared much about him before then one way or another, but I had limits. It would’ve been all right if he’d saved my life some really extraordinary number of times, ten or thirteen or so – thirteen is a number with distinction. Orion Lake, my personal bodyguard; I could have lived with that. But we’d been in the Scholomance almost three years by then, and he hadn’t shown any previous inclination to single me out for special treatment.

Selfish of me, you’ll say, to be contemplating with murderous intent the hero responsible for the continued survival of a quarter of our class. Well, too bad for the losers who couldn’t stay afloat without his help. We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.

Ah, but what about me, you ask, since I’d needed him to save me? Twice, even? And that’s exactly why he had to go. He set off the explosion in the alchemy lab last year, fighting that chimaera. I had to dig myself out of the rubble while he ran around in circles whacking at its fire-breathing tail. And that soul-eater hadn’t been in my room for five seconds before he came through the door: he must have been right on its heels, probably chasing it down the hall. The thing had only swerved in here looking to escape.

The whole elaborate world-building is fascinating and surprising. In that world, kids brought up in wizard enclaves have big advantages – being able to share power, and with automatic alliances. You need alliances to survive graduation – when the seniors on the bottom level of the school have to get out through the graduation hall, where maleficaria have been building up.

Those who aren’t in an enclave, like El, are at a disadvantage. It turns out she’s got amazing abilities – but her natural affinity is toward death and destruction, and she’s determined not to suck the life force out of any living creatures. Which makes things more difficult for her. And when Orion is anywhere near, anything dramatic she pulls off is assumed to be his work.

It’s hard to explain the charm of this book. If you like elaborate world-building at all, this one is amazing. And you’ll be pulled in by the grumpy witch trying not to become an evil sorceress, but trying to survive. And she might have to make some friends and kill some monsters to do so.

The book ends in a way that hints at a big conflict in the future. Nothing’s ever simple for El! I plan to preorder Book 2, coming out in September. I don’t even want to wait for a library copy.

TheScholomance.com
naominovik.com
randomhousebooks.com

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Review of The Kingdom of Back, by Marie Lu

The Kingdom of Back

by Marie Lu

Putnam, 2020. 313 pages.
Review written December 26, 2020, from a library book

The Kingdom of Back is a story of Nannerl Mozart, the big sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, based on things we know about her life.

We know that she was a child prodigy before her little brother came along, and she performed with him before the royalty of Europe. We also know that she composed music – but we don’t know about any of that music existing. We don’t know if some of her music got published in the name of her brother.

We’re also told that she and her brother invented a country, the Kingdom of Back, and had their family’s servant draw a map for them of this country. In this novel, it’s an actual magical kingdom they got to visit, and it’s tied to young Nannerl getting her heart’s desire – to be remembered in her own right.

Nannerl meets a princeling of the magical kingdom who tells her he can grant her desire, but first she needs to complete three tasks for him. Those tasks get more and more sinister, and Nannerl isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing. But she loves her music and wants to be able to compose.

Here’s a magical look at the young Mozarts that will leave you thinking about what it was like to be a creative young woman in a time when making art was the province of men. This isn’t a typical fantasy novel, but it is a beautifully woven tale.

marielubooks.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Review of Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore

Winterkeep

by Kristin Cashore

Dial Books, 2021. 518 pages.
Review written May 11, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Winterkeep is a fourth book in the series that began with Graceling. Like the rest, it deals with enough new characters and situations that you could enjoy it perfectly well without having read the earlier books. Though I always have to add that you should read them, they’re wonderful! In fact, I checked my reviews, and it’s been nine years since I read Bitterblue, so I’m thinking it’s time to reread them all, and no wonder the details were vague as I read this book. The author caught me up with anything I needed to know.

Bitterblue has now been queen of Monsea for five years, but they have recently learned about Winterkeep, a country across the sea. Bitterblue’s emissaries who last visited Winterkeep never returned, and she’s afraid they’re dead and wants to find out what happened to them. She has also learned that several merchants were cheating her by buying cheap zilfium from her mines – it turns out to be a valuable source of fuel in that other country.

Bitterblue wants to find out more, so she plans a voyage to Winterkeep, along with Giddon, her friend and a member of the council, and Hava, her half-sister, who is graced with the ability to make people see her how she wants them to see her. But the voyage does not go as planned.

I wondered that we had characters who are adult in a young adult novel, but then the reader learns about Lovisa Cavenda, a student in Winterkeep. Her parents are powerful in Winterkeep politics, even though they are part of opposing parties. They plan to host the visiting delegation, but it begins to become clear to Lovisa that they are up to something.

Winterkeep doesn’t have gracelings or monsters like the lands we’ve heard about before, but it does have telepathic foxes, who bond to one human – or so people think. There are also silbercows – seal-like creatures living out in the sea that communicate with selected humans with mental images. And the silbercows know about a giant creature with tentacles – they call her the Keeper – who lives in the depths of the sea.

There are plenty of mysteries and plots winding you through this intriguing and magical world. We learn about nefarious things happening, but not until the end do we find out why. And then our characters must work to thwart those responsible.

Something I love about Kristen Cashore’s books is that she does put her characters through trauma – but she’s realistic about what that costs them and about their struggles to heal from trauma. Even defeating a villain can be costly to a person’s mental health, especially if the villain is your own father, and her books show this more than once.

All of her books pull me in and absorb me and make me want to stay immersed in them until I finish – which is a big problem since they are so long. Be forewarned! This is a magical world that will feel real and will make you care about the fate of its characters.

kristincashore.blogspot.com
penguinteen.com

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Review of How Big Is Zagnodd? by Sandra Boynton

How Big Is Zagnodd?

by Sandra Boynton

Little Simon, 2020. 16 pages.
Review written December 4, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is the very first time I’m reviewing a board book. But it’s a new Sandra Boynton board book!

Honestly? I don’t often even notice the board books that come into the library because you can’t put them on hold so I can’t look them over as they come in. But today I was pulling a bag of board books for a customer (we’ve had them on an ask-for-a-bag basis during the pandemic so they don’t collect drool), and saw this one, read it and was utterly charmed.

Spoiler alert: Zagnodd is SO big!

And then we’re asked more questions about other aliens. “How long is Boknuk?”, “How fuzzy are Fleeb, Fleeeb, & Fleeeeb?”, and “How bright is Igwak?”

But the place where I laugh out loud is, “How dancey are the nimble Klorggix of Planet 9?” And after that, we see one earthling named Steve who is SO lost.

If you delight in reading nonsense words, obviously this is the board book for your family.

Sandra Boynton’s genius is in making books that are short and sweet but delight little ones and adults alike. My own 32-year-old daughter had a set of Boynton board books and I swear her first word was “Fffff!” when reading the book called Doggies that had a WOOF! on each page. How Big Is Zagnodd? is a worthy addition to her offerings.

sandraboynton.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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