the Little Red Reviewer

Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

Posted on: July 29, 2019

Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

publishes on Sept 17th 2019

where I got it: Received ARC, Thanks Tachyon!

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So, this book is going to get a lot, and I mean a LOT of hype in the next few months. Hype makes me nervous. It makes me worried that some slick salesperson is trying to separate me from my money. Here’s everything you need to know about Ivory Apples, and hype:

  1. the hype is well deserved. This book was everything I want storytelling to be
  2. Ignore the hype, go get the book
  3. My literature hot take is that Neil Gaiman hasn’t written anything half as good as Ivory Apples.

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This book is mythology given new life, it’s folklore happening in your backyard. Remember a few weekends ago, when I disappeared off the face of the earth, when I wasn’t online, when I wasn’t answering texts, tweets, or e-mails? It’s because I was immersed in this book and I didn’t want to come up for air until I’d finished it. To be honest, I wanted to stay immersed, I didn’t want to come up for air, ever. On page one I fell in love with the narrative voice, by page three I decided I wanted to be Maeve when I grew up, and by that afternoon I was halfway through the book.
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I’m gonna talk to you about mythology and folklore and storytelling and art for a minute, ok? We use mythology and folklore to explain things that we have no explanation for. Our favorite stories are the ones that give us hope that one day we too, can steal fire from the gods. That one day we too, might do something legendary, might go on our own hero’s journey. Storytelling is powerful, it enables us to do things we didn’t think possible. And the storytellers and the artists! They create magic out of thin air, and somehow make it look easy! Imagine if you could have just a piece of their gift. What wouldn’t you give to be as talented as your favorite writer, your favorite poet, your favorite musician, or your favorite artist?
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Anyway, Ivory Apples opens in the late 90s. The eldest of four sisters, Ivy is eleven years old when the story starts. All four girls are old enough to understand that they must always call their great-aunt by her not-real name, Maeve. They must never tell anyone her real name, what her phone number is, or where she lives. Their reclusive great-aunt Maeve is really Adela Madden, the author of the runaway hit novel Ivory Apples. She wrote the novel decades ago, and never wrote anything else. Maeve could care less about the royalty checks, she’s not interested in fan-mail or conventions held in her name, she’s not interested in talking about the book that made her famous. She’s mostly interested in staying hidden from the world, and lets a relative deal with the fan-mail and the banking.
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Ivy was such a wonderful character to follow! When we meet her she’s a care-free preteen, who bickers with her sisters and often forgets what adults have asked her to do. She’s too young to understand what she’s stumbled on, but knows she can’t tell anyone but Maeve, because no one else could possible understand. I won’t go into details, but I loved watching her learn about what was going on, and learn to live with what happens to her. Once you get to know her, maybe she’ll remind of someone in your life, maybe you’ll say to yourself “maybe what happened to Ivy happened to them”, and you’ll smile.


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After a tragic turn of events, and Ivy and her sisters are sent to live with a guardian who most certainly does not have the girls’ best interests at heart. Years of flippant, casual cruelty causes now teenage Ivy to run away from home, she figures life on the street has to be better than being in that horrible place. A teen girl living on the street? Luckily Ivy has an ace up her sleeve, something that keeps her safe while at the same time often putting her in danger. She’s got to find her great-aunt, get her sisters out of that terrible house, and keep the family secret safe. Ah, but maybe the family secret isn’t much of a secret after all? Ivory Apples starts out rather Lemony Snicket, and ends in pages upon pages of beauty, hope, and the truest story that was ever told.
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Complete with magic hidden in plain sight, lovers who have lost each other through time and space, an eldest sister trying to protect her family from a witchy person, good intentions gone wrong, and people getting far more than they bargained for when they mess with things they don’t understand, all mixed with the early days of online message boards and fandom conventions, Ivory Apples is modern mythology at its best.
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There’s this wonderful meta thing happening in this novel, where all of the characters are referencing a book they’ve all read – Ivory Apples, by Adela Madden. But me, the reader? I haven’t read that book, and I want to! I’m jealous that they got to read it, and I never will. I want Adela Madden’s book Ivory Apples to exist. I want to meet the watchmaker, I want to walk past the statue of the founders and their dog, I want to watch the clocktower in the town square strike the hour. Yeah, yeah, I know I’d just be a townsperson, but in a weird sad way, I want what Kate has. She has her fandom community, they talk for hours about their theories and guesses and researches. I want a love that deep, I want to be so into something, so obsessed with something, that the shiny of it never wears off. By the end of the book, I felt a little bad for Kate. Thinking on it for a couple of weeks, I find myself jealous of her passion, jealous that she found something that she never got bored of.
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I’ve purposely been very vague about the plot, as I believe that like Steven Brust’s Agyar, Ivory Apples is the kind of the book that the less you know about it going in, the better your experience will be. What little I’ve told you can either be found on the back cover copy, or happens fairly early in the book.

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When you read this book (and I know you will), join me in my love for it. Let’s start message boards and talk about our fan theories and have panels at conventions and talk about Piper and his life and Maeve when she was younger and what will Ivy’s youngest sister remember when she’s older? Let’s make some of that magic real.

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If you can’t tell, I loved Ivory Apples. It was pure joy to read, I couldn’t put it down! This is the kind of book I love, one that grabs me in the first few pages, draws me in, gives me relationships and characters to root for, and focuses on what’s important. I keep comparing this book to mythology or folklore, and one of the many reasons is because of how Goldstein keeps the narrative tightly focused. There is worldbuilding, but only what you absolutely need. It’s as if the characters and the room they are in are very tight visual focus, and everything else is in a softer focus – it’s there, but the details aren’t required to move the story forward. What I mean to say is there is no infodumping to tell you about the city or the details of how the house is decorated or some such. It’s almost like an optical illusion – Goldstein has given you exactly what you need so that your brain can easily fill in the details.

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If you enjoyed books such as The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, or War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, you’ll love Ivory Apples.

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4 Responses to "Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein"

I’m so excited to read this one – I’m sitting on it for a little while because it’s not due in the UK until October so it will more than likely be a September read – if I can wait that long.
Lynn 😀

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oh, i don’t know if you’ll be able to wait that long!! don’t sit. read it now!

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Oh man! This sounds amazing … 😀 😀

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Oh, it was SOOOOO good!!!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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