Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: To read or not to read?

Not so invisible

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, published 06 October, 2020.

Addie LaRue was born in the late 17th century. On the day of her wedding, or better after dusk has fallen, she strikes a Faustian bargain with an ancient god. A bargain that will grant her immortal life, but she will not be able to be remembered by anyone. And then, after 300 years of being unremembered, Addie meets Henry, and Henry remembers her.

I’m going to be honest here. I wanted to read the book so very much. Schwab herself said, she’d been working on the story for about ten years. So, as soon as the first ARCs were made available, I requested one. I was actually very sad when I first didn’t get an ARC and then didn’t even get a pre-ordered signed copy, because somehow the book-gods effed up.

Now, I have to say, I am no longer so sorry that I didn’t get a signed copy. The story was okay. But after all the raving I had read about it, after all the anticipation that Schwab herself built up with her posts about how much she loved the characters and the story, I was quite underwhelmed.

Throughout the book, Addie points out over and over that people meeting her have a sense of Déjà-vu. Just like these minor characters in the book, the whole story reminded me of so many other books I had recently read, but also of books/stories I hadn’t thought about for a very long time. It’s a story of possibilities, not unlike The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, or Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Addie’s musings about the advantages of men’s clothes and her wearing a tricorn hat that she pulls low over her face reminded me of Lilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic; only to realise a second later that this novel was also by VE Schwab. I gave myself a face palm and a huge eye-roll while chuckling. Furthermore and moreover, Addie and the Darkness and even Henry reminded me of Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

It will not come as a big surprise when I say that I anticipated the big plot twist and the ending of the book long before I got there. It was as predictable as Addie’s memories of her life throughout the 323 years of her existence. The reader is constantly reminded that she had encounters with people who forget her soon after meeting her.

Although the writing of the book is good, and clearly shows how much affection the author has for her main character, a blatantly obvious historical inaccuracy kept throwing me out of the story. No, I don’t mean the anachronistic white wedding dress. I can forgive this blunder since it might have been white for a thousand reasons other than wedding dresses today being white. My peeve are the chapters set in Paris in the 18th century.

Soon after becoming immortal, in 1714, Addie goes to Paris. There Addie at first lives a life on the margins of society. All of this is depicted relatively historically accurate, but Addie mentions Paris’s Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre. In one scene she even sits on the steps of the church. A church that wasn’t built until the late 19th century though. It kept hurting my brain every time it was mentioned. I understand that rewriting those scenes would have thrown the whole story, but it was an avoidable mistake from the start. Or should have been worth a mention of the author taking artistic license.

Pirates on a Sea of Grass

The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson, published 19 January 2021, is the first book in a new environmental fantasy series.

Imagine yourself on a ship in the middle of a sea of miles deep prairie grass, pirates, a war over water between two floating cities. These are the ideas I had, when I read the blurb and saw the cover of the book.

Alas, that’s not what I got. Instead of a fantasy adventure, I got a Bildungsroman with a heavy climate change moral tale that could have been so much better with a bit of pruning from an experienced editor.

Kindred, the main character, is a hearth keeper on a harvesting vessel crossing the Forever Sea harvesting grasses and wildflowers used for food, medicine, or magic. She has to take care of the magical fire burning bones harvested from captains that keeps the ship afloat and propels it forwards. When she receives a missive from her grandmother – a larger than life figure which the reader is reminded of over and over – Kindred wants to follow her grandmother into the depths below the prairie grass that makes up the Forever Sea. Something must still be down there, something other than monsters.

For years there has been a war over the water stores between Arcadia, an island city which basically enslaved nature, and the Once-City, a floating ship like city travelling endlessly along the edges of the Forever Sea which “lived with the world,” acting in tune with nature. The ship Kindred had signed onto has to flee Arcadia, the crew is badly injured in a fight and has to seek the Once-City for help. Unsurprisingly, neither city is the refuge it seems to be.

What didn’t work for me:

  • Miles deep grass and wildflowers? I would really liked to have seen an explanation of how this is supposed to work. Even knowing I’m reading a fantasy novel it was very hard to ignore this. Plants need light to grow. It is very hard to imagine plants growing miles in length to reach the light. Not to mention that these plants need water that makes its way miles up within tiny capillaries?
  • Water shortage. These above mentioned plants get their water from the ground. So why not dive down into the depth of the grass ocean and find the ground water? Yes, there are terrible monsters down there, but obviously they can be fought. In an ocean of grass you don’t have to worry about not having enough oxygen for your dive.
  • The framing story. It certainly has a purpose other than adding to the page count of the book.
  • The pacing. Even in the middle of a fight we get ruminations about Kindred’s past. In another already slow spot of the story we get descriptions of each individual blade of grass as the light is reflected off it.

Some of the ideas of this book where really good. But, I would have liked a faster pacing and less repetition, also of the moral tale.

Ugh, so cliché!

One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London, published 07 July, 2020.

Unpopular opinion! Contains spoilers!

The premise: plus size woman, who is body positive and fashionable, is looking for love on a The Bachelorette-like show.

Bea is a plus size fashion blogger. She’s been pining after her best friend for years. They share one night together after which Ray, who’s engaged, basically ghosts Bea. After a wine induced social media rant about a reality TV show, the producers of the show want Bea to be their next bachelorette to find love among 25 contestants.

Bea is hesitant to go on the show, knowing what kind of trolling she might have to deal with due to it. She still signs the contract and meets the initial 25 men. The majority of them are handsome and not at all what Bea had expected. Here we get my first big issue: although body positive on the outside, Bea is not very positive on the inside. She’s insecure and despite the evidence pointing to the opposite she thinks the men despise her for her size.

I have the feeling that the author had a list of boxes that needed ticking while writing this book. Include a gay person, a black person, an asian person, someone asexual, someone who’s gender non-conform, someone with a fat-fetish, … They are all there! Are they handled well? Nope! Scratched at the surface of what would have been possible. Used as cliché? You bet!

Same for the body positivity. Do we get to see Bea eat healthy? Enjoy a dance lesson? Nope! We are being told that she eats healthy, but then her shopping list contains only snacks, not a single veggie. She tells us she does yoga and cross fit, but nearly freaks out when some of the love interests are personal trainers. Perfect opportunity to show that you don’t have to be stick thin to be fit.

Ray! Bleurgh! A guy who cheats on his fiancée with his best friend? Then there is radio silence? And she keeps pining after this guy?! A girl who takes her best friend to bed knowing he’s engaged to another woman? *hand me a bucket, please* Suddenly he shows up, a week before the finale show, to make sure she knows he loves her before she accepts the hand of another man. Bea’s best friend Skypes in and tries to reason with Bea, but, of course, they argue about the idiot who has been stringing Bea on for the past decade. And, of course, on their date Ray has lots of arguments why he suddenly noticed that Bea is the woman he wants to spend his life with. *where’s that bucket?*

Cue the very predictable finale!

2 very generous Goodreads stars

Sapphic Love and Pirates

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, publishing date 5 May, 2020.

YA standalone about pirates, mermaids, the Sea as an entity, witches, imperialism, slavery, misogyny, arranged marriage, torture, …

A story about love between two women from very different sides of the tracks, the love of a mother for her children, the love of two siblings, the love between a found family, the love of profit. But it fell very flat.

There is Evelyn, a high born woman sailing towards her arranged marriage. She’s leaving behind her servant/lover/best friend without a care about the girl’s future. There is no love between her and her parents, she feels like a pawn in their game.

There is Flora/Florian, a black orphan, who, together with her brother, became a member of the crew of the Dove out of desperation. She turns a blind eye on the captain’s plans to sell the passengers into slavery once they are far enough from their port of departure.

The world-building is a Japan-inspired imperialistic world. There is lots of commentary about colonialism and misogyny.

Witchcraft is introduced in the second part of the book. It was intriguing, but there are only a few instances where magic is used.

The Sea as a mother caring for her children and plotting revenge on the men who kill her offspring is as interesting as the witchcraft element. It’s elaborated on similarly, too.

The romance between Evelyn and Florian is a set thing, soulmates, match made in heaven, why elaborate and show how they fall for each other? I didn’t buy the insta-love. Further, their love for each other is supposed to be what the whole plot rotates about, but we hardly see the two of them have meaningful dialogue.

The middle of the book was rather boring, compared to the interesting and well-paced first part and the rushed ending. Not all issues were resolved.

I wanted to like this book very much. It had a lot of potential. The execution though disappointed me.

2.5/5 Goodreads stars (that’s 3 stars then)

Spies and Aliens in Cold War East Berlin?

That’s basically what made me request the ARC for this GN Strange Skies Over East Berlin by Jeff Loveness and Lisandro Estherren, publisher Boom!, publishing date: August 18th, 2020.

The premise was very interesting, 1973 in East Berlin, a hot-spot of spies from both sides of the Cold War. Some of these spies so deep undercover that they themselves don’t remember who they really are. Into this keg of powder crashes an alien.

This is where the tropes start. Spies distrust each other and everyone else. Aliens are bad and drive the humans crazy. We never get to know why the alien crashed here on Earth, nor how it can and why it would draw out the secrets from a human’s mind.

It feels like two different stories, forced together; or one story where a large part of the plot is missing.

The story doesn’t contain any fresh elements to the tropes mentioned. The artwork is okay-ish, but nothing outstanding. There is nothing new here but the setting.

2/5 Goodreads stars

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