The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

In making a Faustian deal, an eighteenth century young woman escapes an arranged marriage. But the devil is in the details.  

Addie LaRue gets her freedom and her wish to be her own person, even gaining immortality, but no one she meets remembers her.  In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab cleverly spans three centuries across Europe and the United States in a time travel fantasy examining the value of a legacy.

Addie initially struggles through the hardships of suddenly being without family or any means of support, but she does have her freedom, including the ability to steal what she needs and being instantly forgotten for doing it.  She makes it through the plague (not the current one), fashions herself into a well-read and astute thinker when women were not expected to do more than marry and bear children.  As she gallops through the centuries, her accomplishments are bittersweet because no one knows about her, forgetting her almost instantly.  Later, this talent to reintroduce herself to the same person gets a little strained.

Known by her seven freckles resembling  a galaxy of stars across her face, she discovers she can make her mark through others as artists use her as their muse. She fills art and music with the memory of ideas she has planted. Her devil appears occasionally over the years to taunt her with difficulties but she is never willing to surrender her freedom and her soul.

Suddenly, after 300 hundred years, she finds a soulmate in Henry, a bookstore owner who has made his own deal with the devil.  To her surprise Henry does remember her, and for the first time she can hear her real name from her lover. Although Schwab nurtures the romance, true love really does not lie with these two characters.  Addie’s true love is her freedom and, despite the devil’s machinations, she finds a way her to leave her mark and be remembered.

As I finished the story, with its unlikely and clever ending (I won’t spoil it for you), I remembered my own much shorter journey so far, and the marks I’ve left behind.  Like Addie, most have morphed into an amalgam of pieces leading to others’ adaptations.  The ideas I created may not have the same name, but most are still viable and progressed with the times, as they should.  Yet, we all want to be remembered.

Caitlyn Paxson for NPR said: “Addie LaRue manages to pull off like the prestige of a particularly elegant magic trick, leaving us with the feeling that we too have been a part of Addie’s long and invisible life. I for one will most certainly remember her.”

So will I.

 “Strive not to be a success but to be of value.” Albert Einstein

Reading My Way Through Fantasy Land

Although it may seem these days as though we are living in a strange world, with the virus continuing to spread its tentacles, the government in limbo, and hurricanes blowing furiously, advertisers continue to try to lure shoppers into the fantasy land of everything being fine as long as the latest toys, electronics, and clothing can be acquired for gifts, either to self or others.  After all, don’t we deserve a little comfort?  I’ve been telling myself that for weeks as I munch on cookies and chocolate.

A safer and less caloric path to escape is, of course, reading books.  These days I am indulging in two at once, alternately giving my attention to other worlds in The House in the Cerulean Sea on my Libby Library ebook account, and Alix Harrow’s new The Once and Future Witches, a hardback I can hold in my hands and throw at the television when the news gets too frustrating. I do conveniently miss; I wouldn’t want to destroy my source of old movies and fictional drama.

A friendly librarian recommended The House in the Cerulean Sea a while ago, and I was happy to see it appear on my phone with a Libby notification.  Linus is an uptight and meticulous auditor sent to review and write a report on an orphanage for magical children, located on the bluest sea imaginable.  Only six orphans are under the care of Arthur  and each has a specialized talent, both scary and humorous – one is a blob, something I can relate to feeling like lately.  As Linus is getting to know each of the children, his initial fears dissipate and he becomes their protector.

In her review, Colleen Mondor notes: “it is about the false promise of blind faith in authority and the courage it takes to challenge that promise. But mostly, it is proof that such precious books as this can still exist and still succeed and are still, very much, needed. Do not discount what TJ Klune has done with this novel, and do not ignore importance of this marvelous treasure he has unearthed for us all..

I am still reading and enjoying this wonderful distraction from the real world, and today, Friday the thirteenth, seems an appropriate day to finish it.

In her second book, The Once and Future Witches, Harrow explores American history and it is just as entertaining as her first book, The Thousand Doors of January.  The witches are three sisters, reunited after years apart, just as the women’s suffrage movement is becoming a force in America in the nineteenth century.  Klune’s book has priority for me right now, so I am including Jessica Wick’s marvelous review for NPR, to tease you into reading.  If you are a fan of Alice Hoffman, you may want to start with this one: “Once Upon a time there were three witches.”

Review of The Once and Future Witches

My Review of The Thousand Doors of January

 

The Starless Sea

I had expected the unusual from Erin Morgenstern after reading her Night Circus, but The Starless Sea goes beyond my expectations for strange and complicated. The book has elements of Scheherazade in her storytelling, and bits of Lewis Carroll in her references and visits to fantastic worlds, but the story Morganstern most reminded me of – even referencing it in the beginning of her book – was Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind.

Just as in Carlos Ruiz Zafón‘s Cemetery of Lost Books, Morgenstern creates her own secret underground library and a mystery involving the hero and books, as well as their pages and words, sifting them through a tangential plot sometimes hard to follow. If you have read The Westing Game, you might see some of its elements too.

But it’s the many stories, not necessarily the one following the main characters, that become pieces that can be taken by themselves – fairy tales of fantastic places and sometimes horrible creatures. I was tempted to skip over these chapters to follow the main line, but after a while they seduced me into reading, and then I wasn’t so concerned about Zachary Rawlins, the graduate student on a quest – I knew he’d be back somewhere in later pages as the time warp flexed.

If all this sounds wild and ambiguous, it is – probably because the book is written that way too. The pages are crammed with symbolism – The Owl King, a sea of honey, magic doors – mixed with real places – the New York Public Library, posh hotels, and a professional fortune teller. Read it if you dare, but be prepared to get lost. In the end, I thought I caught a moral from the Never-ending Story, but maybe I just imagined it.

Review of the Night Circus: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2011/10/06/the-night-circus/

 

Mysteries with Ghosts, Murder and Magic

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

With a cast of quirky characters, including a handsome stranger, a dead billionaire, and a weird heroine, Kate Bacculia creates a puzzle-solving mystery through a citywide treasure hunt in Boston in Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts.  The promise of a fortune, as well as the possibility of finding a murderer, drives Tuesday Mooney,  clever and intelligent researcher, who dresses in black and usually tries to avoid most social contact. Her sidekicks, a gay friend and a teen neighbor, help her face a painful past as well as propel her to a future with promise as they search out strange clues and coded messages.

Not for everyone, this story has elements of Edgar Allen Poe mixed with Agatha Christie, with a touch of Sophie Kinsella, and allusions ranging from Ellen Raskin to King Arthur.  I’m not sure I caught them all but the ones I did connect were hilarious.  Suspending belief is key as the reader gets involved in these strange and sometimes nefarious doings.

The Last House Guest

Megan Miranda’s The Last House Guest involves a mystery in Maine with tension between the rich with summer houses and the locals. The death of Avery’s best friend, Sadie, triggers the story, with the action going back and forth over the years. Eventually, Sadie’s suicide is ruled as murder, with Avery as prime suspect. As she works to clear her name, Avery solves not only the mystery of her friend but sadly discovers more deceit leading back to her parents’ car accident when she was a teenager. A whodunit with a sad twist.

 

Ninth House

Leigh Bardugo’s strange tale in Ninth House involves ghosts and dangerous magic at Yale University. Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a high school dropout, has a second chance at the good life with a scholarship to Yale; the quid pro quo requires her using her powers (seeing ghosts) to watch over the famous Yale secret societies. The most well known “Skull and Bones” can read the future of the stock market in blood and guts (both Bush presidents were members).  Bardugo lists all the societies at the end of the book, with the names of the famous alums.

Alex’s freshman outsider problem – the poor girl who doesn’t fit in – quickly gives way to her struggles to solve a murder noone wants solved, with ghosts hovering nearby.

With a nod to Harry Potter some of the magic seems harmless at first, like the library conveniently shaking its stacks to deliver books requested through a special portal, but Bardugo has a flair for more adult consequences.  When the magic goes awry, lethally burying someone under books cascading down from the walls, she notes ironically “Suffocating beneath a pile of books seems an appropriate way to go for a research assistant.”

Although Bardugo is noted for her children’s fantasy books, Ninth House is for adults only.  As the story gets more complicated, so do the magical malfunctions, often with lethal results.  I enjoyed following the witches, demons, and ghosts, and if you are a fan of Deborah Harkness books, you might too.

 

Easy Reads When You Just Need – Something

It’s not that I haven’t been reading at all; I just haven’t felt like writing about the books.  But, a dear friend and writer – who happens to be blind – noted that if a blind person could do it, that is, write – so I should be able to drag myself into a motivational state and write – something.

Easy reads have called to me – all happy endings – maybe one will become a comma in your daily pursuits…

9780525429258_p0_v2_s192x300The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marion Keyes

Marion Keyes is an Irish author who offers the usual angst you would expect from an Irish tale, but, unlike many of her contemporaries, she offers a happy ending. The story alternates between the drama of the narrator paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome syndrome, and her life after she recovers.  Conveniently, the editor has changed the font to identify when Stella Sweeney is bedridden – blinking her thoughts to her handsome neurologist with the sexy bedside manner – and when she is recovered in Ireland, trying to deal with a husband jealous of her success as a first-time author of a book of motivational sayings, titled “One Blink at a Time” from her mute communication with her doctor.  Keyes includes hilarious excerpts from the blink book.  Although Stella’s husband claims she has stolen the life of fame and fortune he was meant to have, the title surprisingly refers to another tangent in the story.

The story reminded me of a mix of Sophie Kinsella and Maeve Binchy, with a touch of Oscar Wilde.

9781620408339_p0_v4_s192x300-1The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

If you believe in fate, and the power to change it, Pulley’s magical story of a British telegraph worker who inadvertently becomes a spy, combines clairvoyance with espionage – again ending with a life made better.  I found this book after reading Helene Wecker’s review in the New York Times. Wecker is the author of “Golem and the Jinni,” and Pulley’s book had some of the same elements mixing fantasy with mystery, requiring the reader to suspend belief, immersing the reader in realistic impossibilities, and sprinkling the narrative with enough factual history – in this case, in Victorian London, Oxford, and Japan – to drive the narrative – my kind of story.

Thaniel Steepleton finds an intricate gold pocket watch on his bed one night, after receiving a report of a bomb threat from Irish separatists.  Just before the bomb goes off, the watch sounds an eerie alarm minutes before a terrorist explosion in Scotland Yard, saving his life.  Examination of the watchworks leads him to a strange Japanese watchmaker, Keita Mori, a mechanical genius and a clairvoyant, who has the skill to create life-like mechanisms with diamond studded gears – birds, fireflies, an octupus.  On orders from his superiors, Thaniel moves in as a boarder in the watchmaker’s home, and changes from milk toast government worker to spy, to gather evidence to prove the watchmaker had created the bomb. But the two become friends, and Thaniel’s life begins to improve. Is it coincidence or is Mori making things happen?  The story has a few unlikely surprises, and creates a charming and easily readable tale.

And then there are the graphics (comic books?):

9780545448680_p0_v13_s192x300The Marvels by Brian Selznick – for a child-like escape into history from the author of Hugo Cabret. With over 600 pages and gold-leaf trimmed pages, the size of this book seemed intimidating at first, until I realized the first half was all in pictures.  Selznick has an artistic style reminiscent of Chris van Allsburg (“The Polar Express”), and he can tell a story without words.  The illustrations tell the story of  Billy Marvel who falls off a whaling ship, and his descendants who all become famous theater actors.  The second half of the book is in print, two hundred years later in 1990, telling the story of Joseph, a runaway, who finds his long-lost eccentric uncle in London.  As Joseph uncovers his uncle and his family’s history, he is convinced he is descended from the famous Marvels.  The story has an unlikely twist at the end, combining historical fact with Selznick’s brilliant imagination.

9780307908278_p0_v1_s192x300The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua  – with a New Yorker cartoon style, Padua spins a tale about the real invention of the computer, with help from Lord Byron’s daughter, and its unlikely possibilities.  Although Babbage did create the idea for the hardware, and Lovelace for the software, their machine never materialized before they died.  In the second half of the book, Padua imagines what their computer could have done in a fictionalized story where the two “live to complete the Analytical Engine, and naturally use it to have thrilling adventures and fight crime!!”  The footnotes are overwhelming and take over the page at times; Padua seems determined to provide all the facts.  I got lost about midway through and found myself skimming through to the end – but then I do that with New Yorker cartoons too.