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Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

“And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”

The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue is the most enchanting release of 2020. I love a premise that sets up a question, one speculative element that creates a whole story. In V.E. Schwab’s latest adult novel, that question is: what if you were cursed to be forgotten by everyone you ever meet?

In 18th century France, Addie LaRue is forced into a marriage she does not want. Willing to sacrifice anything to avoid a life in captivity, Addie makes a Faustian bargain for her freedom. She is willing to trade her soul for an eternal life living by her own rules, but The Darkness will not agree without a time limit.

“You want an ending,” she says. “Then take my life when I am done with it. You can have my soul when I don’t want it anymore.”

The Darkness is intrigued by her offer, enticed by a new game. He grants her wish to become immortal, but in turn she is cursed to be forgotten by everyone has ever known, or will ever meet again.

One of the most compelling premises I have ever come across, and the story absolutely did not disappoint. The prose is indulgently purple, the similies were plentiful (three to an e-page at times, I counted), but the floweryness of the writing is the perfect fit for the type of story this is. It’s a slow walk along a river, it’s a late evening spent in good company, it’s a reflection on a what-if, but a reflection on ourselves as well. Who are we, without our relation to others? How do you build a meaningful life when it’s almost like you don’t exist? And, in Addie’s own words,

“What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?”

I loved how the story is laid out, jumping back and forth between Addie’s early years struggling with immortality and the consequences of being forgotten, and present day when she meets another special character – Henry, the first person to remember her in three hundred years. As a character, Addie is not exactly overflowing with personality. She is a muted character, but her quietness worked with the quietness of the story, and she shows a lot of quiet strength in her own ways – and that was refreshing to read about. The non-linear set-up really works for the story, as we can learn about Addie’s early pain and troubles, but skip to in and out of her future where she has overcome, learnt, and devised her own manner of making her way in the world. I was really invested the minutia of her life – I wanted to know how she could eat, how she could afford anything, how was she going to solve this problem and the next? But where I was most compelled were when it came to Addie’s relationships.
There are many throughout the novel, and no matter how small, all are poignant. Her biggest relationship is the one she has with the Devil who granted her wish, who shows up every year on their anniversary, to see if she is ready to hand over her soul. The story of a human and the Darkness they make a deal with is nothing new, but in Schwab’s hand it is fresh and peculiar and intimate – and just fantastic to read.

“Do not mistake this—any of it—for kindness, Adeline.” His eyes go bright with mischief. “I simply want to be the one who breaks you.”

Though I loved their dynamic, the game they played for Addie’s soul, their whole relationship, really … I feel like it could have been structured better. We do get to a point in the novel where the Devil is just showing up in each consecutive chapter, dancing the same dance, throwing her the same lines and arrogance, not really progressing the story or their relationship in a meaningful way. This did slightly impact my enjoyment of that particular subplot, just because the repetition got so tedious.
Another area I didn’t connect with so much was Henry’s storyline. I really liked what he represented, his struggles with mental health and addiction were very well portrayed. But as a character, he didn’t grab me. He, much like Addie, was a quiet character, but in Henry’s case he needed to be a bit louder because I just could not hear him – connect with him. We got a lot of backstory on Henry (and his friend circle which, to be honest, didn’t bring anything to the table – they were just annoying), and for me, it just turned into a bit of a skip-fest. I kind of wish we had just stuck with Addie and her POV for the whole book; that said, the Henry chapters definitely had their moments, so that’s not a hill I’ll be dying on!

Though I may have stumbled over a few parts in this story, my whole reading experience was nevertheless and absolute delight from start to finish. This is one story that will never be forgotten, even if its title character is cursed to be. It is lyrical and melodic, genius in its own quiet way, and will stir up thoughts inside anyone who opens its pages. A real gem of a novel, not one to miss out on.


5 AMAZING BOOKS TO HELP YOU TEACH YOUR CHILD ABOUT RACE AND RACISM

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on 14 November 1960. When she entered the school, every other child was removed by parents. Teachers refused to have her in their classrooms. The daily threats and protests persisted. An emotional story illustrated with beautiful watercolours, featuring the brave and strong Ruby, who grew up to become a prominent civil rights activist.
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Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

A gorgeously illustrated biography of some immensely important figures in black history, each with a thoughtfully written page on their life. Fascinating and easily understood by younger readers, this is a great book to enjoy with your child – both the young and the older have things to learn from a book like this!


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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcome. A school where children in patkas, hijabs, baseball caps and yarmulkes play side by side. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions. A school where diversity is a strength. This is a must for any child’s library – an absolute gem of a book.


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Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o

Darkest in her family, Sulwe believes that her skin makes her unattractive and prays to be lighter, but when a shooting star tells her the story of sisters Night and Day, she finally understands that she doesn’t need to change. This is a stunning book about the heartbreaking problem of colourism and an important lesson for all kids (and grownups). Most of all though, it’s a gorgeous celebration of Black girls.


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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This NYT bestseller is a modern classic. It is heart-wrenching and real and should be required reading for anyone over the age of 13. It follows sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice, and is one of the best books to read and to read with your child this year.


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I support the Black Lives Matter movement.
There are so many ways each of us can contribute and do our part to raise awareness, demand justice for the countless victims of racism, and herald in a new and better world. We have been complacent for far too long. This must end.
Please consider supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, any way you can. Click the button for further resources and ways you can help to make a difference.


IT’S OKAY TO COVET EXTERNAL VALIDATION

Every day, my brain tells me that my stories are rubbish. Every damn day, my brain tells me that everyone thinks my work is awful, but no one has the nerve to tell me to my face. And every day, my brain tells me I am so utterly stupid that I can’t even see how talentless I am.
I don’t know why my brain does this. Something to do with vulnerability and the brain not quite fancying putting itself out there for judgement in the literary world. Maybe? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not alone. I’d be hard pressed to find a fellow writer, or indeed any creative, who doesn’t have similar feelings on the regular. Some days are easier. Some days are harder. Unpredictable. The only constant is the cycle you’re stuck in.
And no, it doesn’t help that the industry is riddled with rejection! Of course it’s going to breed these feelings – how can we not internalise that? But bless us, we try to keep out chins up and press on. This community does everything in its power to lift each other with love and support, offering tips and advice on how to deal:

“Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.”
“The industry is sooooo subjective!”
“You’ve just got to stay strong and have faith!”

How often do we hear the same phrases? How often do we regurgitate them back, to another agonising friend? All the damn time, in my case. And these phrases aren’t wrong. They’re helpful reminders. But there’s certain phrases I haven’t heard that I think ought to be part of that repertoire. Starting with: it is okay to crave external validation.

I don’t understand much about the brain, but I absolutely know that the need for external validation is basic human nature. There’s probably a word for it, my therapist would know — should’ve asked — but that’s not the point. The point is: how we view ourselves is, by design, in part a reflection of how others see us. The same can be said of our work. It is normal and totally not shameful or weak to want others to say “oh hey, I like that writer’s work”. I don’t think we acknowledge this enough, when we’re stuck in our own heads and depressed with our writing. Sometimes it really does feel like the overwhelming rhetoric is to just take our rejections and criticisms, find value in them, and generally just buck up and keep going. Like…no. Hang on a minute. I see why you’d be confused, but I’m not actually Wonder Woman.

Positive reinforcement is crucial. It doesn’t have to be there all the time, but it needs to be there *sometimes*. But sadly it can be very hard to come by in a writer’s world, especially if they are pursuing publication. And when we do get feedback it’s the constructive sort, which is not without value, but when that’s most of what you’re getting, the message your subconscious absorbs is “you’re not good enough”. That has been a huge part of my experience as a writer, and it’s a streak I’m trying hard to break.

I do not believe it is possible to constantly believe in oneself 100% of the time. Sometimes we’re going to feel a bit knocked down because no one has an unbreakable ego. No one’s faith in themselves is unshakeable. Fake news. But oddly enough, perhaps that’s the key to everything. By acknowledging our humanity, by understanding what kind of thoughts your brain tends to concoct and allowing for them, that is how you learn how to deal with them in a healthier way.

I have learned that my self-belief is not moulded by mastery of the human condition, but by seeing it for what it is. My (semi-frequent) feelings of inadequacy come from a lack of external validation – that’s it. They don’t come from fact or reason, they are a product of me not getting enough positive reinforcement.

And once I understood that, I knew that I had to make a habit of refilling that well. Too long had I taken my rejections ‘on the chin’ without balancing them out with a bit of positivity. I had remained too focused on critiques, forcing myself to improve, without taking the time to seek out a positive answer from my readers: ‘hey, what did you really like about my chapter?’
This is why I’m so glad that more and more people in writing communities are offering ‘positivity passes’, which is exactly what it sounds like: a reader offering entirely positive feedback on a sample of a writer’s work. I’m not suggesting this should be the only form of critique you submit your manuscript to, but I definitely think it is an essential part of a writer’s diet!

This is perhaps just my extended way of saying: be kinder to yourself. We, as creatives and as humans, are so damn self-critical while simultaneously expecting so much of ourselves. And I am certainly trying to remember to take that step back when I need to, and goddamn if I need a little bit of a confidence boost in the form of a compliment, that’s okay!
Be kind, go get yourself a positivity pass, offer one to a friend. You need love too, you deserve love too, and I know you’ll get it. Don’t be afraid to ask.



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MY FAVOURITE READS OF 2020

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

What better way to lean into a lockdown than to pick up a book about another pandemic? The story takes place in Dublin, 1918, over three days at the height of the Great Flu. It is a short, claustrophobic tale of Nurse Julia Power and the women she meets, works with and takes care of in the maternity ward at an understaffed hospital in the city centre. In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways.

I was more than a little bit destroyed by this one. I found it so powerful, the characters so brilliantly portrayed, and the scene and the atmosphere gave me chills. Absolutely loved it.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

In 18th century France, Addie LaRue is forced into a marriage she does not want. Willing to sacrifice anything to avoid a life in captivity, Addie makes a Faustian bargain for her freedom. Her wish is granted, of sorts, she becomes immortal – and free! – but is cursed to be forgotten by everyone has ever known, or will ever meet again. This is a perfect quiet story, but one that leaves ripples and waves in your mind nonetheless. One story that will never be forgotten, even if its title character is cursed to be. It is lyrical and melodic, genius in its own quiet way, and will stir up thoughts inside anyone who opens its pages.

The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart by Margarita Montimore

This is an absolute gem of a novel, all about a woman living her life out of order. A premise so completely my cup of tea, and the story was just as emotional as it promised to be. I loved the writing style. Very polished and clean, no messing around with purple prose, no focus on imagery. Everything was focused on bringing the characters to life, which Montimore achieved with a clear expertise. All of the characters were enjoyable, likeable, and 100% felt like real people – real people I immediately connected with. Highly recommend.

Why We Eat Too Much by Andrew Jenkinson

Quite possibly my favourite Health book of all time. A bold claim, but the scope of this book, everything the author delved into and how brilliantly he explained everything was remarkable. And as far as non-fiction, goes I don’t think I have ever felt so compelled by a read. We We Eat (Too Much) is a great starting-point book for further personal research on your weight loss journey. Understanding my own biology has been a massive part of my weight loss journey, and this book was an incredible help. Excellently-written and easy to understand, with game-changing research and health advice.

Circe by Madeline Miller

An excellent telling of the Greek myth Circe; feminist and thrilling – a really enjoyable read. The story definitely stirred my dormant childhood obsession with Greek mythology, and brought along Miller’s additional insights and flair. Circe is a phenomenally complex, yet relatable character. I cared about her from the start and was enthralled with her story and her relationships from the start. Beautiful, poignant, and quietly, thoroughly badass. Such recommend!


2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019

MY MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2021

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

I love a different feel of Fantasy, and The Chosen and the Beautiful is giving me all the right vibes. Set in the US in the 1920s, Vo’s debut is a queer, Asian-American reimagining of The Great Gatsby, with what looks like a strong focus on spirits, East Asian folklore, and the lives of magicians.

I have never been a Gatsby fan, but I’m always down for a retelling, especially with elements as interesting as these: magic and jazz, drama and politics, spirits and queerness in a coming-of-age Fantasy – sign me the hell up.

In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

A pansexual bloodmage reluctantly teams up with an undead spirit to start a rebellion among the living and the dead.

Need I say more?

In a world where magic-wielders are assigned undead spirits to guard them—and control them, Rovan is thrown into a world of palace intrigue and deception when her spirit starts to control her. Rovan will have to start a rebellion in both the mortal world and the underworld (oooh!), all while navigating a love triangle (less oooh), and honestly I’m already hooked.

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas

The first in an unconfirmed trilogy (?) sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses, aka my second favourite book series of all time. This sequel follows Nessa, the fiery and angry sister of Feyre I can’t wait to read more about. I didn’t quite get her when I first read the trilogy, but by my second reading I was living for her. I am 1000% ready to continue this story and really get into the nitty gritty with Nesta, and all my beloved characters from this series. Cannot bloody wait.

(I’m not sold on the cover though. Had to add that. Legally.)

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

As much as I loved The Fault in Our Stars, John Green is, in my opinion, a better podcaster than he is a novelist. He has several shows (which I listen to religiously), and this book is based on one of them: The Anthropocene Reviewed, wherein Green self-indulgently reviews miscellaneous aspects of the current geological age and the human experience within, such as Tetris and viral meningitis. The paperback version adapted from the podcast is said to be ‘a deeply moving and insightful collection of personal essays‘, and will probably be just as fascinating and meaningful as the podcast I have enjoyed for years.

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

I have never been tempted by a Jay Kristoff novel, but this one is just too intriguing. It’s a … Christian lore-based vampire epic dystopia? Whatever it is, it sounds like it has a lot going on, and I’ve somehow ended up vibing with it.

This is a world where the sun has not risen in twenty-seven years, and vampires have basically claimed the land because why not. Protagonist Gabriel de León is part of a holy order and has killed the vampire king, and while imprisoned he tells he story of his life, including his quest to find the Holy Grail along with the one person in the world who knows where it is: a smart-mouthed teenage urchin named Dior. *adds to cart*

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

A future-y, science-y, but also mystery-y thriller-y sort of novel – a bit of a vague description but a compelling one nonetheless. It’s pitched as Black Mirror meets We Were Liars and follows two separated sisters, one living on an abandoned island with an android with no idea how she got there, the other a STEM prodigy on a potential path to save humanity.