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 Every Little Kindness, by Marta Bartolj

Every Little Kindness

by Marta Bartolj

Chronicle Books, 2021. First published in Slovenia in 2018. 68 pages.
Review written October 2, 2021, from a book sent to me by the publisher
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely wordless picture book brought to us from Slovenia – and the pictures transcend culture.

As the book opens, a girl wakes up, but drooping. She puts on her red glasses and looks sadly at a pile of posters with a picture of a dog in a red collar.

She goes out to put up the posters, but on her way she sees a man playing a guitar with a cup out for donations, and she gives him her red apple.

A man carrying a red bag sees her kind act. On the next page, he does something kind for someone else. He is watched by someone else with something red, and then that person does something kind.

And so it goes. This book is full of a sequence of kind acts. People see a kindness, then do a kindness. And these are all highlighted with something red in an otherwise subdued-color scene.

The final act of kindness isn’t a surprise when someone finds the girl’s dog and gives her a call.

So we come full circle and end up with a scene including lots of happy people.

Because this is a wordless book, there are lots of things to notice, and I’m sure I didn’t catch everything. “Reading” this book with a child will give them lots to talk about. And besides that, this lovely book will leave you smiling.

chroniclekids.com

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Review of The Oxygen Advantage, by Patrick McKeown

The Oxygen Advantage

The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You

by Patrick McKeown

William Morrow, 2015. 352 pages.
Review written August 21, 2020, from a library book

This book took me a long time to read. The author rambles and digresses. But a lot of those digressions are stories of lives who were changed because of these ideas. More are about the science behind the ideas.

The basic theme here is that people get into trouble from overbreathing. That deep breath they tell you to take to relax? The sighs you use to let off steam? Not a good idea.

This book made me wish I were still communicating with my ex-husband, a tuba player. He did some research on hyperventilation syndrome (which can happen to tuba players), and this book bears that out – and gives exercises to counteract it.

This author claims he can cure asthma and increase sports performance. For me, just dabbling in the exercises has cleared up what used to be an always stuffy nose.

An interesting and counterintuitive chapter at the beginning explains that we need to increase our tolerance for carbon dioxide in our blood. I won’t copy the long explanation, but here’s a bit of it:

Think of it this way: CO2 is the doorway that lets oxygen reach our muscles. If the door is only partially open, only some of the oxygen at our disposal passes through, and we find ourselves gasping during exercise, often with our limbs cramping. If, on the other hand, the door is wide open, oxygen flows through the doorway and we can sustain physical activity longer and at a higher intensity. But to understand how our breathing works we must dig a bit deeper into the crucial role carbon dioxide plays in making it as efficient as possible.

The book also talks about the importance of breathing through your nose and not your mouth and the benefits that brings. I’m glad I sleep alone – because I’ve been trying his suggestion of taping my mouth closed at night. I haven’t noticed a dramatic difference when I wake up, but it is true that combined with the breath-holding exercises from the book, I’ve got a lot less nasal stuffiness than before.

I’m not an athlete, so I’m not going to try the exercises that simulate high-altitude training. But I would like the health benefits. He’s got a simple Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT) score you can use to measure your progress on this. If all he says is true, a higher BOLT score will help your overall physical health.

If any of this sounds at all helpful, the book is worth taking a look! The exercises are not difficult, and if the author is right, they can make a big difference.

buteykoclinic.com

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Review of Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker

Here in the Real World

by Sara Pennypacker

Balzer + Bray, 2020. 308 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 19, 2020, from a library book

I love Sara Pennypacker’s books. Her kid characters have agency. They don’t always ask permission, but they make their own choices – some choices better than others – and live with the results.

In this book, eleven-year-old Ware is planning to spend his summer at his grandmother’s house, when she has a fall and goes to the hospital with rehab to follow. But his parents are working extra that summer, so they need Ware to be in a safe place. They sign him up for all summer at the Rec Center, despite his objections.

Ware has spent lots of time at the Rec Center. He knows the drill. And he is not happy about being there again. When the leader has them march around the Rec Center, faster and faster each time, Ware realizes he won’t be noticed if he climbs the tree overlooking the parking lot. He can watch them go around several times and join them at the end.

But instead, once up in the tree, Ware notices that the church next door to the Rec Center has been demolished. In his new rebellious state, he gets down on the church side of the fence to look more closely.

But in the lot with the demolished church, there’s a girl named Jolene. She says the wrecked parking area is now her garden. She’s planting things in cans full of dirt. Ware says the lot can be her garden if the church can be his castle.

And that’s how Ware’s summer gets off to a much more interesting start than what his parents planned for him.

But how long can Ware and Jolene stay on the lot with the ruined church, planting things and turning the ruins into a castle? What will happen when Ware’s parents find out he’s not going to the Rec Center? Surely they’ll find out? And can Ware change himself into a Normal Kid – the kind of kid his parents want?

The title comes because when Ware says something isn’t fair, Jolene accuses him of living in Magic Fairness Land. But “here in the real world,” bad things happen. Can Ware, perhaps, even in the real world, find ways to fight injustice and unfairness?

sarapennypacker.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Parachutes, by Kelly Yang

Parachutes

by Kelly Yang

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 476 pages.
Review written November 23, 2020, from a library book

Parachutes is a story about a Chinese teen who’s been dropped by her wealthy parents into America to get an American education. Parachutes is the term used to describe these kids, many of whom end up on their own without any supervision, which comes with its own problems.

This book focuses on Claire, a junior in high school who’s sent to America from Shanghai, and Dani, also a junior in high school, whose single mother decided to get some much-needed cash by renting a room to a Chinese student, Claire. They both attend the same private school, but the parachutes are given separate classes from the American kids. Dani’s been working hard on the debate team, and with extra encouragement from her coach, she’s hoping to get to go to an elite debate competition and win a scholarship to Yale. Her after-school job is cleaning houses, where she gets a window into the lives of the rich, including some fellow students.

Meanwhile, Claire spends time with her fellow parachutes, who prioritize shopping and parties. She catches the interest of a boy whose father owns one of the largest corporations in China. Claire’s and Dani’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

There’s a content warning at the front of the book: “This book contains scenes depicting sexual harassment and rape.” So it’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that’s in there. My main reservations about the book have to do with how the book ended, so I’m not going to go into detail. This was colored by my recently having read Know My Name, by Chanel Miller, who was the victim in the famous Stanford rape case, and having read that book made me less enthusiastic about how this one ended than I would have been otherwise. (How’s that for vague?)

And I hate that it’s realistic that American teens – and international teens in America – have to deal with these things. The parachutes portrayed were at even more risk, being far from parental supervision and facing peer pressure to spend extravagantly and take advantage of their independence.

The story here was well-crafted, alternating between the two girls’ perspectives, so the reader was more aware than they were about how their lives were intertwining. The book kept me up late reading, and you will be rooting for both girls.

kellyyang.com
epicreads.com

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Review of Popcorn Country, by Cris Peterson, photographs by David R. Lundquist

Popcorn Country

The Story of America’s Favorite Snack

by Cris Peterson
photographs by David R. Lundquist

Boyds Mills Press (Highlights), 2019. 32 pages.
Review written February 8, 2020, from a library book

Fair warning: This book will make you hungry for popcorn. I’m a big fan of popcorn, so I couldn’t resist learning about it in this picture book.

I didn’t realize that popcorn is a special kind of corn grown specifically to pop.

There are four kinds of corn grown in the United States: dent corn, also called field corn, sweet corn, flint corn, and popcorn.

We see those other examples, then we learn how popcorn is grown, harvested, and processed, with photographs all along the way.

There are some interesting spreads when it tells how samples are tested for pop-ability. And then the popcorn is loaded on trucks and ships. I hadn’t realized that the United States produces nearly all the world’s popcorn.

There are more interesting facts at the back. The main body of the book itself is a lovely way to tell young elementary school kids where there favorite snack comes from.

crispeterson.com
boydsmillspress.com

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Review of Dare to Know, by James Kennedy

Dare to Know

by James Kennedy

Quirk Books, September 14, 2021. 294 pages.
Review written September 28, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent to the library.

If you like exceedingly clever and also bizarre books – think Douglas Adams as an example – then you should try James Kennedy’s novels.

His first book, written for young adults, The Order of Odd-fish, inspired my entire Sonderling Sunday blog series, because if ever there was a book with interesting language, that was it.

In this new book, written for adults, our story opens with a washed-up but once prosperous salesman desperate to make a sale, trying to close that sale in a Starbucks. His product is unusual: Dare to Know tells people the day and time of their death.

Our narrator, whose name we never learn, was in at the beginning of Dare to Know and had studied thanatons in college – a newly discovered particle intimately wrapped up in human death.

At that time, the company was called Sapere Aude – the Latin translation of “Dare to Know” and (as I just discovered via Google) a famous quotation from Kant. Our narrator was a physics and philosophy major – as was the author, according to his bio. There’s lots of philosophy in this book, with a glaze of plausible physics theory of thanatons and a new field of “subjective mathematics” which is required to work with this theory.

The math and physics in this book doesn’t actually make any sense, but we’re told the information with such confidence and plausibility that even my strong implausibility detector didn’t pull me out of the story. But as I said, you should enjoy bizarre stories to best appreciate this book.

At the end of his bad day that opens this book, our narrator calculates his own death time and learns that it happened twenty-three minutes in the past. And yet he seems to be alive. But if the calculations were incorrect, this is the very first time Dare to Know has been wrong. Their accuracy is 100%.

This begins our hero’s journey to figure out if he’s dead or not. He goes on a quest to visit Julia, his girlfriend back when they started together in the company, who calculated his death date long ago and kept it in a blue envelope. If she still has the envelope, will it match his calculations? Is he, in fact, dead?

Along the way, many surprising memories come forward which at first seem unimportant, but if his death date is wrong, then is something wrong with Dare to Know?

I’m afraid that while I did enjoy the book, it went a little too far toward the bizarre for my taste. It did remind me of the author’s other book, The Order of Odd-fish, which also heads toward the outlandish and also doesn’t shy away from a main character who seems to be in danger of causing the end of the universe.

Read this book if you dare!

jameskennedy.com
quirkbooks.com

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Review of Fred Gets Dressed, by Peter Brown

Fred Gets Dressed

by Peter Brown

Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written September 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Fred Gets Dressed is a book that’s playful about an everyday activity: getting dressed.

As the book opens, Fred is running around his house naked while his parents read books and let him romp. We do see his bottom, but he’s happily positioned not to reveal anything else. His expression and demeanor are sheer joy as he celebrates being “naked and wild and free.”

But then he runs into Mom and Dad’s bedroom and looks in the mirror on the inside of their open closet door. We see his big smile. Then he starts looking at the clothes in their closet.

Fred looks at Dad’s side of the closet.

He thinks about the way Dad dresses.

It might be fun to dress like Dad.
So Fred carefully picks out a shirt and a tie and a pair of shoes.

But he has trouble putting them on.

Then Fred thinks about the way Mom dresses. He finds an outfit from Mom’s side of the closet that he can put on. Then he decides to go to her dresser and try the jewelry and makeup.

Just as he’s smeared some lipstick on his face, Mom and Dad walk in. There’s a spread where they see him, and then a spread when everyone smiles at each other.

After that, the whole family joins in! Mom shows Fred how to put on some makeup, but Dad and even the dog get involved, too.

I love the way the parents aren’t shocked by Fred’s play – either when he’s romping naked or when he’s dressed up like Mom. And better yet, they join the fun.

I’m not going to say this is a book for gender nonconforming kids, though they will enjoy it. Don’t all kids love to play dress-up? I love the way this book doesn’t teach that this has to be limited by gender, and that even grown-ups can play, too.

And after reading the author’s blog post about the book, I like it even better. When he was a child who loved to play with paint, he was interested in what his mother used to paint her face. One day his mother found him with lipstick on his face, and his mother responded as Fred’s mom does, teaching him how to put it on. The author says he felt unconditional love when his mother responded by encouraging his curiosity rather than scolding.

Good silly fun with a playful message. And a wonderful example of affirming parenting.

peterbrownstudio.com
lbyr.com

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Review of Love for Imperfect Things, by Haemin Sunim

Love for Imperfect Things

How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection

by Haemin Sunim
translated by Deborah Smith and Haemin Sunim

Penguin Books, 2018. Originally published in Korean in 2016. 259 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2020, from a library book

This is a lovely and peace-inducing book written by a Zen Buddhist teacher. It worked well to read a chapter or half a chapter each day, as I had time, and I was uplifted when I did.

The book is illustrated with peaceful pictures. It’s a book about loving yourself and others, and about healing and going through the world with compassion – very general, nice things. The format is each chapter has a section or two of narrative and then several pages of shorter bits of wisdom.

The book didn’t give me any new, earth-shaking insights, but reading its wisdom helped me calm my thoughts and meditate on truth.

I’ll grab a few examples of the sort of sayings you’ll find here:

When someone does something to distress you
for no apparent reason,
or behaves completely unreasonably,
for your own sake, repeat to yourself:
“Big world, some weirdos!”

If you want to kindle firewood,
there needs to be space between the logs.
If you pack the wood too densely,
the fire will not take; the flames need room to breathe.
In the same way, if our lives have no breathing room,
we won’t be able to enjoy all the things we have,
no matter how great or precious they are.

If you point out someone’s faults,
don’t expect their behavior to change.
Often all that happens
is that they get hurt.
Instead, praise their strengths,
which will grow to overshadow their weaknesses.

There are many aspects of life that we cannot control.
When it comes to our children, spouse, relatives, and friends,
we can love them, pray for them, show them interest,
but we cannot control them,
even when we have good intentions,
since their happiness ultimately depends on themselves.
Let them take responsibility for their choices.
When we get through an illness, we develop immunity.
If we protect others from illness,
they may not develop proper immunity against life.

I found those quotations on pages I opened to at random – the quality of the observations is consistently good. You can see that they aren’t necessarily things you don’t already know – but they are things it’s good to be reminded about.

haeminsunim.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Review of Sweeping Up the Heart, by Kevin Henkes

Sweeping Up the Heart

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 2019. 183 pages.
Review written January 9, 2020, from a library book

Amelia Albright wanted to go on vacation during Spring Break like other families do, but her father, an English professor, didn’t want to, even though this year of 1999 his college was having a break at the same time. So Amelia ends up going to the clay studio every day to make objects with clay. This time, the objects she makes turn out to be rabbits.

But there’s someone new at the clay studio this year, a boy named Casey. Casey’s staying with his aunt, who owns the studio, while his parents are making a last effort to keep from getting divorced.

Casey is twelve years old, the same age as Amelia, and he has some fun ideas, like inventing names and stories for people who pass the shop where they are having lunch. But when Casey gets the idea that a strange lady looks like she could be Amelia’s mother – when Amelia’s real mother died when she was a baby – Amelia can’t get that idea out of her head.

This book tells about a week in the life of a lonely girl who finds that art and new friends can bring pleasant surprises, even in familiar places.

kevinhenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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