BOOK REVIEW: Malice, by Heather Walter

BOOK REVIEW: Malice, by Heather WalterTitle: Malice by Heather Walter
Series: Malice Duology #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 13th 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 470
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

Sleeping Beauty is probably one of my favorite fairy tales, especially when the tropes are explored and subverted, and the second I heard about Malice I knew I needed to read this. It was everything I hoped for!

Malice deftly weaves the familiar and the new, setting up the familiar Sleeping Beauty tropes while fleshing out the fantasy world in which Alyce and Aurora live because the history, politics, and landscape add so much to the story. Alyce is a Dark Grace, assisting the palace and its courtiers with her skills, when she meets Aurora and her world begins to shift. Alyce’s struggle with her true self and wanting to fit in add so much depth, and I loved that her identity scared even herself. It ties in so much with the feeling of being queer, that society tends to tell us we’re wrong for being who we are or that it’s evil. This is the first half of a duology, so there’s a lot left to be discovered in Alyce’s true self and how much of a villain she becomes later on, but I hope that it’s explored more and that she learns more about her own history.

The romance between Alyce and Aurora is so layered, and I hope there’s a lot more buildup and exploration of their romance in the second book. So much of this first one felt like an introduction to the world and these characters that the last third of the book felt rushed, so I hope the second one develops more specifically with the characters now that we have this world set up for us to explore. Aurora is nothing like what we often expect from Sleeping Beauty retellings – a quiet, almost simple girl who has one set of desires and nothing else – because this Aurora is feisty, willing to fight for what she believes in, and questions everything. She also surprises Alyce by saying that she wants to be just like her, something Alyce never thought she’d hear anyone say. The romance in this feels natural and right, never forced (though sometimes a little insta-love, but it is a fairy tale after all), and it’s all I want out of a sapphic romance – fantasy with both fluff and depth.

Overall, I enjoyed this so much, from the characters to the worldbuilding, and I’m looking forward to the sequel and anything else Walter releases in the future!

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. SchwabTitle: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 6th 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Schwab is one of my favorite writers. I love the way she uses language to create worlds, and I love the connections between characters she develops. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of my favorite reads of 2020, and even though it’s been a few weeks since I’ve finished reading it, I can’t stop thinking about it in both good and not so good ways. I understand some of Schwab’s reasoning about choosing not to include very overt and specific historical things due to a fear of not writing it correctly, but they were still choices. I’ll try not to spoil it too much, but be forewarned that there might be spoilers below!

Addie LaRue made a deal with the devil to escape a life she doesn’t want, and an aftereffect of the deal is that no one remembers her. Throughout her life, throughout hundreds of years, she travels the world but the parts Schwab wrote about are so obviously eurocentric and white. There is no mention of the slave trade, not even in passing, and no mention of the civil rights movements occurring throughout the last hundred and fifty years. Is it because Schwab didn’t find it comfortable to write about or include, or is Addie so self-centered that she is only concerned about her day-to-day life and influencing artists rather than seeing what she could do, however small and incremental (as she does with the artists’ lives with whom she engages), to the grander scope of society? I feel like it’s a little of both, and I just wish there was something. Addie can’t be photographed, make any kind of physical written mark or brush stroke, but she can influence people in their art?? This is the main frustration I had with the book because it paints such a soft, sanitary version of the world. I know that’s not the point of the book, but I do wish history in its terrible reality had been included more.

But to me, Addie’s plight, her desire to be herself and live as she wished resonates a lot with me on so many levels. I often feel invisible, wanting to be recognized but finding myself stopped short by some invisible force.

“I do not want to belong to someone else,” she says with sudden vehemence. The words are a door flung wide, and now the rest pour out of her. “I do not want to belong to anyone but myself. I want to be free. Free to live, and to find my own way, to love, or to be alone, but at least it is my choice, and I am so tired of not having choices, so scared of the years rushing past beneath my feet. I do not want to die as I’ve lived, which is no life at all.”

Addie lives each day being forgotten by other people until Henry, the boy from the bookshop, remembers her. Everything she has known up until that point is thrown into a topsyturvy mess, and she spends a lot of time figuring out what that means while also falling in love with Henry. Knowing Schwab’s style from books in the past, I had an inkling about where the story would go, and it lived up to all of my expectations. I loved the ending because it felt like the right choice for her. All she wanted was to be known for who she is, not for who she could be; and for Henry, there were a lot of could bes involved.

Even with my frustrations about the history included in this book, I still enjoyed it a lot. Schwab’s style has grown and evolved since I first started reading her work, and I’m looking forward to what comes next. This is a novel that is best read without knowing too much about it (and I know I probably spoiled it a lot in this review), but the day-to-day explorations and trials Addie faces as someone who can’t be remembered resonated with me a lot, and a reread of this book is likely in my near future.

BOOK REVIEW: Culture Warlords, by Talia Lavin

BOOK REVIEW: Culture Warlords, by Talia LavinTitle: Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy by Talia Lavin
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 13th 2020
Genres: Cultural Studies, Non-Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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A HARROWING JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF WHITE SUPREMACY

Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers. Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online.

Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more.

By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within. Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.

Talia Lavin’s Culture Warlords is a compelling, terrifying glimpse into white supremacy. This is by no means a complete examination of the many facets white supremacy reveals itself online and in our culture, but this is a good starting point and a good place to open up the conversation and personal research regarding why it feels like white supremacy has run rampantly unchecked lately.

I started reading this on the Friday after the attempted coup on January 6 because it felt like the right time to read it. I’ve always known white supremacy is deeply entwined in American history, but watching the events that unfolded last week brought it to the clearest forefront.

Lavin’s research and deep dives into white supremacist communities online and off are harrowing, brave, and gutsy. I know I don’t have the wherewithal to catfish on any level, so to me the levels she took this to are incredible. She risked so much going undercover to expose these internet communities, and I can’t even begin to imagine the emotional toll this endeavor has had on her.

One of the things I found most interesting about this is her exploration of the internet being a strikingly new tool at radicalization. It’s only in the last thirty or forty years that we as a planet have had the capabilities to share thoughts and information like this, and the more our society moves online to communicate, the more opportunities there are for unchecked, unmoderated spaces for white supremacist groups to connect.

I couldn’t put Culture Warlords down, and I finished it within a few hours of starting it. This is a necessary read, and it’s a necessary conversation opener.

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary review copy my way!

BOOK REVIEW: One Writer’s Beginnings, by Eudora Welty

BOOK REVIEW: One Writer’s Beginnings, by Eudora WeltyTitle: One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty, Natasha Trethewey
Published by Scribner
Published: November 3rd 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Featuring a new introduction, this updated edition of the New York Times bestselling classic by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author and one of the most revered figures in American letters is “profound and priceless as guidance for anyone who aspires to write” (Los Angeles Times).

Born in 1909 in Jackson, Mississippi, Eudora Welty shares details of her upbringing that show us how her family and her surroundings contributed to the shaping not only of her personality but of her writing as well. Everyday sights, sounds, and objects resonate with the emotions of recollection: the striking clocks, the Victrola, her orphaned father’s coverless little book saved since boyhood, the tall mountains of the West Virginia back country that became a metaphor for her mother’s sturdy independence, Eudora’s earliest box camera that suspended a moment forever and taught her that every feeling awaits a gesture.

In her vivid descriptions of growing up in the South—of the interplay between black and white, between town and countryside, between dedicated schoolteachers and the children they taught—she recreates the vanished world of her youth with the same subtlety and insight that mark her fiction, capturing “the mysterious transfiguring gift by which dream, memory, and experience become art” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
Part memoir, part exploration of the seeds of creativity, this unique distillation of a writer’s beginnings offers a rare glimpse into the Mississippi childhood that made Eudora Welty the acclaimed and important writer she would become.

I don’t even remember requesting this from Scribner, but when it showed up on my doorstep, One Writer’s Beginnings made me feel entirely delighted. I saved it for a day off so I could dedicate the entire day to reading it, and I’m glad I took the time with it. I’ve only read one of Welty’s stories for my American Lit class in college, but this makes me want to visit everything she’s written. Her perception of the world just speaks to me on so many different levels. Welty’s description of her life in Mississippi has an undercurrent of truth to it that’s difficult to ignore and easy to be enchanted by. I was fascinated by her recollections of the 1918 pandemic and how certain things then correlated with today. It seems at times so strange that this was only one hundred years ago, and not many things are different.

What I loved the most about this memoir were Welty’s recollections of her reading life and how her reading life developed her writing life. The passages in which she says she yearned to listen to a story reminded me of my own childhood where I felt like I was hungry to just know everything about my family’s life. It’s always somewhat of a shock to discover who your parents and extended family were and are outside of the familiarity with which you grew up, that your parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents were and are people with minds of their own outside of their roles in your life, and that upon looking back you are able to pick out the narrative threads in the past that lead people to become who they are in the present. Fiction helps bring these threads together, though people are by no means mere stories in themselves.

This slim memoir is by no means short. I found myself getting lost in the recollections and explorations Welty puts forth in each of the three sections. I wanted more, but I was satisfied with what I was given; and Welty’s memoir made me consider my own history and my own relationship with words and writing.

Of course the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory — the individual human memory. My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me, in my life and in my work as a writer. Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The memory is a living thing — it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remember joins and lives — the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.

As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.

This would make a wonderful gift for a reader, and I’m so pleased to have had the chance to experience it myself.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy for review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn Harkup

BOOK REVIEW: Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn HarkupTitle: Death by Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings and Broken Hearts by Kathryn Harkup
Published by Bloomsbury SIGMA
Published: May 5, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, History, Science
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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An in-depth look at the science behind the creative methods Shakespeare used to kill off his characters.

In Death By Shakespeare, Kathryn Harkup, best-selling author of A is for Arsenic and expert on the more gruesome side of science, turns her expertise to Shakespeare and the creative methods he used to kill off his characters. Is death by snakebite really as serene as Cleopatra made it seem? How did Juliet appear dead for 72 hours only to be revived in perfect health? Can you really kill someone by pouring poison in their ear? How long would it take before Lady Macbeth died from lack of sleep? Readers will find out exactly how all the iconic death scenes that have thrilled audiences for centuries would play out in real life.

In the Bard's day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theater was a fairly likely scenario. Death is one of the major themes that reoccurs constantly throughout Shakespeare's canon, and he certainly didn't shy away from portraying the bloody reality of death on the stage. He didn't have to invent gruesome or novel ways to kill off his characters when everyday experience provided plenty of inspiration.

Shakespeare's era was also a time of huge scientific advance. The human body, its construction and how it was affected by disease came under scrutiny, overturning more than a thousand years of received Greek wisdom, and Shakespeare himself hinted at these new scientific discoveries and medical advances in his writing, such as circulation of the blood and treatments for syphilis.

Shakespeare found 74 different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions--shock, sadness, fear--that they did over 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the science to back them up?

I love reading books that provide some kind of external context about other books or works — whether it’s historical context, criticism, and, in the case of Kathryn Harkup’s Death by Shakespeare, scientific context. Death by Shakespeare explores the many deaths in Shakespeare’s plays and provides insightful looks into how contemporaries handled disease and death, and Harkup explores these topics with clarity, empathy, and humor. Shakespeare’s body of work can be daunting and difficult for modern readers, but Harkup presents her research in an engaging way that is entertaining and in reach.

I loved the intersections of contemporary and modern medicine, as well as the examinations of how the deaths in the plays were (or weren’t) performed on stage. Death today seems so far removed from our society, yet in Shakespeare’s day, death was actively part of every day life. This was also something weird to read at this present time with the coronavirus pandemic because I’m confronted by death daily and still so far removed from it because no one I know has contracted it, but Shakespeare and his contemporaries confronted death in all its causes in such close proximity that it was difficult to ignore, even in his own work. The thing I loved most about Death by Shakespeare is the connection of the historical and everyday life with the science because it made everything feel so much more real. Like death, history seems something so far removed from us that we sometimes forget that history is populated by people living lives with emotional scope and depth as people live today, so in a way, putting Shakespeare’s plays into context like, along with any contextual criticism, this brings the humanity of these plays to the surface.

This is something that would be beneficial to anyone reading and studying Shakespeare as it provides an engaging and accessible look into the reasons why Shakespeare likely used certain kinds of poisons, murders, and avenues of death in his work. Personally, I know having this historical/literary/scientific context when I was taking my Shakespeare course in undergrad would have added so much to my enjoyment and understanding of the plays, but I’m glad to have read it now!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me an early copy to review! All opinions are my own.