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)
Goodreads

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: Siri, Who Am I?, by Sam Tschida

BOOK REVIEW: Siri, Who Am I?, by Sam TschidaTitle: Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida
Published by Quirk Books
Published: January 12th 2021
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 343
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Goodreads

Mia might look like a Millennial but she was born yesterday. Emerging from a coma with short-term amnesia after an accident, Mia can't remember her own name until the Siri assistant on her iPhone provides it. Based on her cool hairstyle (undercut with glamorous waves), dress (Prada), and signature lipstick (Chanel), she senses she's wealthy, but the only way to know for sure is to retrace her steps once she leaves the hospital. Using Instagram and Uber, she arrives at the pink duplex she calls home in posts but finds Max, a cute, off-duty postdoc supplementing his income with a house-sitting gig. He tells her the house belongs to JP, a billionaire with a chocolate empire. A few texts later, JP confirms her wildest dreams: they're in love, Mia is living the good life, and he'll be back that weekend.

But as Mia and Max work backward through her Instagram and across Los Angeles to learn more about her, they discover a surprising truth behind her perfect Instagram feed, and evidence that her head wound was no accident. Who was Mia before she woke up in that hospital? And is it too late for her to rewrite her story?

The description of this book sounded really interesting to me, so I requested it and got approved for it via Netgalley, and then it took forever for me to start reading and continue reading. It wasn’t what I expected it to be. The writing is bright and quippy, and I’ll be interested to see what Tschida does next, but the execution of the concept seemed to fall apart in the second half of the book because the concept is #ambitious to say the least.

What I liked most about it is that it is a commentary and satire of modern millennial culture and the social media use within famous/rich circles. It pokes fun at food bloggers, influencers, and high society in Los Angeles, and that glimpse into the glossy pages of a gossip magazine is what kept me reading through til the end. However, the characterizations started off strong but by the middle of the book seemed too contrived and so much felt contrived and convoluted to fill the space created by the concept. Ultimately though, I think this story would work better in a visual medium and would make a super cute movie! I just don’t think it worked for me in written form because it took almost a month for me to finish this, mostly because I was dragging my feet every time I thought about reading it. The best part about it for me was Mia’s self-discovery once she figured out that her behavior before the accident was nothing like she was once she woke back up and the reconciliations she had to do with herself and the people around her once she decided to take her life in a different direction.

This might be for you if you really enjoy Instagram culture and celebrity gossip magazines! Thank you to Quirk Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

BOOK REVIEW: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienTitle: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien
Series: The Lord of the Rings #0
Published by Del Rey
Published: September 21, 1937
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 305
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

According to Goodreads, I hadn’t read The Hobbit in eight years. EIGHT! I had been waffling for a few months about revisiting Tolkien’s stuff, and once I saw that it had been that long, I decided to start rereading! The Hobbit is my least favorite part about The Lord of the Rings saga, but it also feels wrong to start reading The Lord of the Rings without beginning with The Hobbit. I think part of the reason it’s been so long in between rereads (I used to read it all at least once a year!) is that I have such a nostalgic view of it because it was a series I was obsessed with right around the time the movies were released. So after seeing how long it’s been since I’ve read them and seeing the films again in IMAX this year, it’s time for a journey back to Middle Earth.

It was everything I remembered it being, and I appreciated the story for what it was! It definitely reads like a children’s book in some places and feels a little over-told sometimes. I also tend to forget the huge gap in between the publication dates of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and it’s evident already as I’ve already started The Fellowship. Tolkien developed so much about Middle Earth that it’s astounding, and with all of these new covers and editions being released in 2020 and in the near future, I want to revisit as much of it as possible.

Bilbo is one of the most relatable fantasy characters to me, someone who only wants to stay undisturbed in his little hobbit hole with a few small adventures here and there, until Gandalf comes along and takes him on a real, true adventure. The whole adventure, Bilbo is “puzzled, yet cheered” and carries on no matter what happens to him. Even though he’s a grumpy hobbit, he’s a grumpy optimistic hobbit, and that sort of optimism helps get him untangled from the worst sorts of situations.

And Bilbo’s last riddle with Gollum certainly wasn’t a riddle.

BOOK REVIEW: The Heiress, by Molly Greeley

BOOK REVIEW: The Heiress, by Molly GreeleyTitle: The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh by Molly Greeley
Published by William Morrow
Published: January 5th 2021
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher, Work
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In this gorgeously written and spellbinding historical novel based on Pride and Prejudice, the author of The Clergyman’s Wife combines the knowing eye of Jane Austen with the eroticism and Gothic intrigue of Sarah Waters to reimagine the life of the mysterious Anne de Bourgh.

As a fussy baby, Anne de Bourgh’s doctor prescribed laudanum to quiet her, and now the young woman must take the opium-heavy tincture every day. Growing up sheltered and confined, removed from sunshine and fresh air, the pale and overly slender Anne grew up with few companions except her cousins, including Fitzwilliam Darcy. Throughout their childhoods, it was understood that Darcy and Anne would marry and combine their vast estates of Pemberley and Rosings. But Darcy does not love Anne or want her.

After her father dies unexpectedly, leaving her his vast fortune, Anne has a moment of clarity: what if her life of fragility and illness isn’t truly real? What if she could free herself from the medicine that clouds her sharp mind and leaves her body weak and lethargic? Might there be a better life without the medicine she has been told she cannot live without?

In a frenzy of desperation, Anne discards her laudanum and flees to the London home of her cousin, Colonel John Fitzwilliam, who helps her through her painful recovery. Yet once she returns to health, new challenges await. Shy and utterly inexperienced, the wealthy heiress must forge a new identity for herself, learning to navigate a “season” in society and the complexities of love and passion. The once wan, passive Anne gives way to a braver woman with a keen edge—leading to a powerful reckoning with the domineering mother determined to control Anne’s fortune . . . and her life.
An extraordinary tale of one woman’s liberation, The Heiress reveals both the darkness and light in Austen’s world, with wit, sensuality, and a deeply compassionate understanding of the human heart.

I love books that reimagine classic works, especially adding onto the Jane Austen world, and Molly Greeley’s The Heiress explores the life of Anne de Bourgh during and after the events of Pride and Prejudice. This a slower historical fiction novel that explores Anne’s coming of age, and her realization that without Darcy’s hand in marriage her place in the world falls apart and because of that she takes steps to overcome her parents’ abuse and her reliance on laudanum. As an heiress, Anne’s “appropriate” life choices included getting married to advance her status, but Anne takes back the agency of her life and truly seems to bloom.

Even though this is a slower paced novel, it’s so rewarding and a joy to read. The historical details are lush and vivid, and I felt completely immersed in Anne de Bourgh’s world. The characters of Pride and Prejudice make small appearances, and I loved seeing their place in Anne’s story after Darcy marries Elizabeth. The romance in the book is sapphic and well-placed, I thought. It’s not a historical romance, but romance for Anne plays a big part in her own liberation.

Anything else I could say about this might be a spoiler, so definitely check this one out! I thought the entire story, including the ending, was satisfying and added so much to Anne’s story who has no speaking lines in the entirety of Austen’s book.

I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work, and many compliments to William Morrow for sending it to the store!

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.