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)
Goodreads

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: The Phlebotomist, by Chris Panatier

BOOK REVIEW: The Phlebotomist, by Chris PanatierTitle: The Phlebotomist by Chris Panatier
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 8th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In a near future where citizens are subject to the mandatory blood draw, government phlebotomist Willa Wallace witnesses an event that makes her question her whole world.To recover from a cataclysmic war, the Harvest was created to pass blood to those affected by radiation.

But this charitable act has led to a society segregated entirely by blood type. Patriot thanks and rewards your generous gift based on the compatibility of your donation, meaning that whoever can give to the most, gets the most back. While working as a reaper for the draw, Willa chances upon an idea to resurrect an obsolete collection technique that could rebalance the city.
But in her quest to put this in motion, she instead uncovers a secret that threatens her entire foundations…

Chris Panatier’s The Phlebotomist is a wild dystopian ride that took a turn I was not expecting but by which I was completely thrilled. It starts out as a Bladerunner-esque dystopia in which people must sell their blood to Patriot, the government, in order to survive and to help those in the Grey Zone, an area suffering from the aftermath of bombardment. This differs from the usual dystopian fare in that the main character is a grandmother, and I truly love seeing older characters in the spotlight. Yes, the younger ones can be fun, but having the experience of life while also learning that you don’t know as much about the role you play in society is such a refreshing thing for me to see.

If you’re bothered by blood and medical terminology, definitely be aware that this has a lot of it. It’s so well done that even I was feeling a bit squeamish at some of the scenes, but I think that added to the grim reality of selling blood every month to the government for survival. I loved the medical definitions related to blood at the beginning of each chapter that kind of clued into where the story was going. Around a hundred pages in is where the twist happens, and it’s better if you don’t know what it is, because that’s when the puzzle of this future world starts piecing itself together and making its reveal. I went into this only knowing it was about a phlebotomist in a dystopian setting, and that twist got me excited to finish reading this to see how everything ended. All of the characters brought so much life to the story, and the unusual cast was another reason I was hooked, even though I knew no one could possibly be safe.

While this isn’t your typical gritty dystopia, I recognized a lot of throwbacks to dystopian favorites while also being fresh and innovative. There are a lot of WTF moments that pulsed throughout because it’s full of secrets, political intrigue, and class exploration that feels so relevant toward today, especially with COVID, society collapse, and its criticism of governments exacting control over their citizens. Because it blends together elements of so many different genres — thrillers, science fiction, mysteries, and dystopias — I think it’ll appeal to a wide variety of readers. It’s definitely a fun, fast read, and I hope someday there’s another book set in this universe! It reads as a standalone with enough of an open to add more.

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Head Over Heels, by Hannah Orenstein

BOOK REVIEW: Head Over Heels, by Hannah OrensteinTitle: Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
Published by Atria Books
Published: June 23, 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.
Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.

I have loved every single one of Hannah Orenstein’s books since her debut Playing With Matches, and I have it on good authority that I will love every single book she’ll write, too. Head Over Heels follows the (now-alternate universe) trajectory of Avery, a former gymnast with the Olympics in view, becoming a coach to an up-and-coming gymnast when Avery moves back to her hometown after a breakup and a need to start fresh in some way. However, when Avery returns home, she feels like she’s living in the shadow of her former life. Reconnecting with her past and reconciling the future that never was, Avery has to confront everything she has tried to leave behind — her childhood friend who ended up going to the Olympics and doing everything she dreamed of doing, her parents, her former coach, her former crush, and all of the intricacies and difficulties associated with what she has tried to leave behind.

One thing that Orenstein does really well in each of her books is a balance between that perfect rom-com fluff and an engaging amount of emotional and thematic depth. To me, the characters and their reactions and responses to the world in which they live seem true and well-balanced. The settings in which these characters exist and the world created for them feels like something I could watch on a big, cinematic screen and in which I could get lost for a few hours. I don’t know the first thing about gymnastics aside from a casual viewing here and there whenever the Olympics are on television, but Orenstein makes you care and makes you want to know more, and it’s obvious this is a subject dear to her heart. She tackles the heavier subjects and the #metoo movement within the gymnastics sphere incredibly well and with a lot of grace, and that’s something I think is difficult to achieve.

This is a well-rounded contemporary romance that kept me hooked from the first page, so if you’re looking for a bright summer romance with a lot of heart, check out Head Over Heels, and then read the rest of Orenstein’s fiction if you haven’t yet!

Many thanks to Atria for sending me an advance reader’s copy; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: This Earl of Mine & To Catch an Earl, by Kate Bateman

BOOK REVIEW: This Earl of Mine & To Catch an Earl, by Kate BatemanTitle: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #1
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: October 29th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 325
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

Introducing the Bow Street Bachelors―men who work undercover for London’s first official police force―and the women they serve to protect. . .and wed?

WILL A FALSE MARRIAGE
Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?

LEAD TO TRUE AND LASTING LOVE?
Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him―and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together…until actual death do they part?

A wealthy heiress who needs to marry and become a widow to run her business in peace? YES. Georgiana chooses a prisoner on death row to marry, though little does she know she’s chosen an earl. I’m not entirely up to par on writing about romance since I had avoided the genre for too long, but I really enjoyed the chemistry between Georgiana and Benedict. The dance they do after Georgiana figures out he’s not only a prisoner, but an earl working as a Bow Street runner, feels realistic and drew me in immediately.

When I had requested and been approved for To Catch an Earl, I hadn’t realized it was the second in the series, so I borrowed this from the library as soon as I could! I read it in like two sittings because I wanted to know how everything developed and resolved, and I was left completely satisfied.

BOOK REVIEW: This Earl of Mine & To Catch an Earl, by Kate BatemanTitle: To Catch an Earl by Kate Bateman
Series: Bow Street Bachelors #2
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: June 30 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A case of secret identities finds reunited lovers on opposite sides of the law in this fun, flirty Regency romance.

There's only one case Bow Street agent Alex Harland, Earl of Melton, hasn't cracked: the identity of the mysterious woman who stole a kiss from him before he left for war. He's neither forgotten—nor forgiven—her for leaving him wanting. When he starts investigating the Nightjar, an elusive London jewel thief, he keeps running into the alluring Emmy Danvers, who stirs feelings he hasn't felt in years.

Even though Emmy's loved Alex for years, she can’t risk revealing her heart, or her identity as the Nightjar. With Alex on her case, Emmy knows that her secrets are in danger of being discovered. Their cat and mouse game heats up with every interaction, but when Emmy’s reputation—and life—is at risk, will Alex realize that some rules are made to be broken for love?

The second of the Bow Street Bachelors was not as strong of a connection between the main characters as I felt there was with the first. Emmy, for a jewel thief, wears a personalized signature scent even when she’s thieving, and it seems a little obvious that if, narratively speaking, she excels at this work she wouldn’t wear such an obvious tell? Alex, having inhaled that scent four years previously, is driven to distraction by that scent in his memories until he meets Emmy again.

The tension and connection didn’t seem as polished or as well developed as I felt it was in the first in the series, but the twists and the plot otherwise kept me engaged! The enemies to lovers trope didn’t play out as promised on the cover copy, and I felt Alex had it figured out too soon (with little reaction between both of them about it until much later), so I felt like it dragged in some places as well because of that. It’s an enjoyable read nonetheless and sets up for the third in the series.

An advance reader copy was provided by the publisher and Netgalley; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Beheld, by TaraShea Nesbit

BOOK REVIEW: Beheld, by TaraShea NesbitTitle: Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: March 17th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Wives of Los Alamos comes the riveting story of a stranger’s arrival in the fledgling colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts―and a crime that shakes the divided community to its core.
Ten years after the Mayflower pilgrims arrived on rocky, unfamiliar soil, Plymouth is not the land its residents had imagined. Seemingly established on a dream of religious freedom, in reality the town is led by fervent puritans who prohibit the residents from living, trading, and worshipping as they choose. By the time an unfamiliar ship, bearing new colonists, appears on the horizon one summer morning, Anglican outsiders have had enough.

With gripping, immersive details and exquisite prose, TaraShea Nesbit reframes the story of the pilgrims in the previously unheard voices of two women of very different status and means. She evokes a vivid, ominous Plymouth, populated by famous and unknown characters alike, each with conflicting desires and questionable behavior.

Suspenseful and beautifully wrought, Beheld is about a murder and a trial, and the motivations―personal and political―that cause people to act in unsavory ways. It is also an intimate portrait of love, motherhood, and friendship that asks: Whose stories get told over time, who gets believed―and subsequently, who gets punished?

Nesbit’s Beheld offers a glimpse into the lives of the Plymouth settlement ten years after their arrival told through the eyes of some of the women who lived there. I don’t really recall reading much historical fiction about the early Plymouth settlement, but I loved the imagery and the tension Nesbit explores in this novel. It’s a short novel, but it’s filled with the right amount of empathy for each of the women’s situations. The Plymouth settlement is fraught with disagreements, underlying and unresolved emotions, and flat out hatred that’s often glossed over in popular history’s retelling of a perfect new world for religious freedoms. At least for me, anyway. It wasn’t until I was an adult and in college that I began to really learn about the realities of Plymouth settlement.

Nesbit’s strength in this is making you care for and understand each of the women’s perspectives, even when they clash with someone else’s views. I understand why each of the women made the choices that they did and didn’t, and each of the characters felt so real to me. For me, sometimes characters in historical fiction almost feel like standees or caricatures, but characterization and character development is where Nesbit excels.

Beheld is a short historical crime novel that packs a punch and will leave you thinking about it and the early American settlements long after you’ve finished reading.

Thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for an advance reader copy! All opinions are my own.