Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Bear and the Nightingale”

It’s standard wisdom: Never judge a book by its cover.

Yet it’s hard not to when a book’s cover–and title–are so fantastic. Beautiful, atmospheric, and a bit eerie, these appealed to the fairy tale/folklore lover in me. Between these exterior flourishes and the novel’s story–main character Vasilisa dares condemnation as she uses her supernatural communion with creatures of Russian folklore and an alliance with winter demon Frost to safeguard her people from a nebulous dark–I knew Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale was a book I had to have.

I’m happy to say the cimmerian ambiance promised by the cover carried into the novel. The aesthetics throughout–whether descriptions of the rusalka (a water sprite), or the harsh beauty of a wintery Russian forest–were striking and resonant. Even now, months after finishing the novel, I can summon to mind a multitude of scenes, lovely and ominous alike.  Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Bear and the Nightingale””

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Texas Pride Takes on Harvey

Last Sunday, I wrote about Hurricane Harvey and what it felt like, watching that beast steer toward my hometown, family, friends… so much of what I treasure most.

A week later, I can’t help reiterating my gratitude. Every one I love is alive, safe. Their homes are (mostly) intact. Even as I hear about the damage done to the Port Aransas house my father inherited from my grandmother, and the many spots of which I have fond memories that have been devastated, I cannot help bowing in humble gratitude. Yes, part of the roof was ripped off the Port A house and thrown to the ground. Yes, the ground floor storage unit beneath the house (many houses in this area are built on stilts in case of hurricanes) was flooded with roughly 4 feet of water, ruining everything. Yes, the electrical loop was ripped off the house, the siding shredded.

But nobody died. And the house still stands. So many other Texans have lost infinitely, heart-breakingly more.

Continue reading “Texas Pride Takes on Harvey”

Hurricane Harvey: Sorrow & Joy

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, I’m a Texan, born and bred on the Gulf Coast. In Corpus Christi, to be specific. A huge hunk of my heart is still there, tied to both the place and the people (all my immediate family, and many treasured friends and their families).

As those of you following the weather can imagine, the latter half of this week has been a surreal, tempestuous time. Harvey, a weather formation that began as a mere tropical storm (life-long Gulf Coasters tend to shrug at these) morphed into a monster storm almost overnight. Almost out of nowhere, a category 3 hurricane was barreling down–predicted to make landfall–on almost everything dearest to me.

Thousands of miles away in South America, I was obviously well out of danger. But it was sickening being so far away. I desperately wanted to be there to help my family prepare and evacuate–buy water and generators, board up windows, gather precious photos and important documents, offer a positive word, a hug, a hand on the shoulder and a prayer.

Continue reading “Hurricane Harvey: Sorrow & Joy”

Craving Those Comfort Reads

No doubt about it: I have Book Lust Syndrome. I already have far too many books on my “to-read” list. But that doesn’t keep me from adding new ones to my shelf when something catches my eye, or a trusted friend makes a reading recommendation (talking about you, Courtney!) In short, I’m a textbook (pun intended) victim of this adage:

 

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London
Photo credit: Olivia Harris/Reuters.

But as giddy as I get over cracking a new book’s spine and exploring the possibility contained within, there are times when a familiar read offers much-needed comfort. These comfort books aren’t always the most refined or revolutionary. But there’s something in their familiarity, in their resonance of a simpler time, that is soothing.

Life at this moment is definitely making me want to hide in some well-worn pages. The deadline for my massive, months-long work project is approaching with terrifying rapidity. I’m still juggling my writing and my full-time “real” job at the Embassy, along with all my other responsibilities, my relationships. It’s all I can do to get in my lap-swimming sessions. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in months and that makes me sad.

Continue reading “Craving Those Comfort Reads”

Wine Not? When in Texas….

At a party this weekend, a dear friend (another American diplomatic spouse) and I were chatting about our home states. She’s a California/Colorado girl, and I’m Lone Star State born and bred.

“But you aren’t one of those annoyingly proud Texans,” she said, reassuringly.

I felt obligated to come clean. “Oh, no, I totally am. I just try to keep it at least a little bottled up, for the sake of my Indiana husband.”

And that’s the absolute truth. As proof, here’s Exhibit A: Today’s coffee cup, last night’s wine glass, our welcome mat, a piece of decor in our living room:

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Given all this, it likely comes as no surprise that some of my favorite wines are also Texas born and bred. Continue reading “Wine Not? When in Texas….”

Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway

In my last post, I mentioned that I was recently in Key West, soaking up the sea and much longed-for time with family. I got to swim in turquoise waters, stuff myself silly with seafood, and wander streets lined with tropical trees and homes that, to my untrained eye, blended the beach architecture of my childhood with southern-Victorian and Spanish styles.

But of course, no writer’s visit to Key West would be complete without a stop at one house in particular: The Hemingway Home and Museum.

I’m always a bit embarrassed to admit this–after all, I have a Masters in English and American literature–but I haven’t actually read all that much Hemingway. I did read his “Hills like White Elephants,” a short story that exemplifies Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory (the concept of writing around a particular subject–here abortion–without ever explicitly naming it). But my research emphasis in my degree was Romantic, Victorian, and Post-Colonial British literature, and Early American and 19th-century literature. Chronologically-speaking, Hemingway came a little too late for me.

But a few years ago, I picked up Paula McLain’s historical, Hemingway-themed novel, The Paris Wife. Obviously, this book is A) fiction (and therefore, a not-necessarily-rigidly-factual interpretation of history) and B) more focused on Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, than Hemingway himself.

Continue reading “Key West: Hangin’ with Hemingway”

All Key-ed Up

You may have noticed my blog has been quiet of late. Part of this is a result of busy months at work. But the last few weeks of silence have been for the best of reasons.

Vacation.

I find coming home to the U.S. after living overseas is like a big gulp of oxygen after holding your breath underwater. It’s not that Suriname is such a dreadful place to live. It just feels so good to be home.

This particular trip back was a whirlwind: a day in Houston, a weekend jaunt to the Midwest, down to Key West to meet my family on their vacation, a few more days in various Texas locales, then a week in my hometown on the Texas Gulf Coast (and surfing!).

With all that travel time, I wasn’t going to be caught without a book in my hand.

So one night in Key West, while my dad and twin brothers were being awesome and doing a night dive around an old shipwreck (their tales of octopus, shark, and fish sightings have made me determined to finally get my scuba certification), I was cheerily getting my nerd on at a local bookstore. Continue reading “All Key-ed Up”